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What a difference a week makes.
Just seven days previously, the Patriots completely laid an egg in Cleveland, getting their butts handed to them in their worst loss in a real long time. This week, they looked to rebound in Pittsburgh against the mighty Steelers… no easy task, to be sure.
But the Pats made it look easy. Their offense was clicking, with Brady using all of his weapons and spreading the ball around nicely. Their defense was physical and ferocious, outmuscling the battered Steelers’ offensive line and making quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have to survive a tough day at the office. At the end of the night, the Pats rode out of Pittsburgh with their biggest win of the year, 39-26, leading them to a 7-2 record, tied for best in the NFL with the Jets and Falcons.
With few exceptions, the entire team stepped up their game and deserved “PATS on the Back” for Sunday night’s performance, but here of course, we narrow it down to just three. I saw two obvious choices emerge from the game on offense, but my third choice was a little tougher to come up with. Here now, this week’s “PATS on the Back”…
No-brainer. Gronk caught not one, not two, but three touchdown passes in Sunday’s win, doubling his season total to six, and setting a new team record for most TDs by a rookie tight end. After a dismal showing in the loss to the Browns, Gronkowski came out with something to prove against the Steelers, and he certainly did so, hauling in five balls for 72 yards on the day. You have to like what we’re seeing out of the team’s pair of rookie tight ends, with Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski teaming up to be great options in the passing game.
Another no-brainer. It’s been a while since Brady deserved one of my three POTBs, but this week, he certainly gets a “that-a-boy” from me. TB12 racked up 350 yards on the night, his first 300+ yard game of the year. He threw for three TDs and ran for another, his first four touchdown game of the year as well. He completed 30 passes for the first time since the 2009 season opener against Buffalo, and led the team to a 13-point win over the Steelers, a team who hadn’t lost by double-digits at home in the four seasons under Mike Tomlin. For everything said about Tom Brady this season, he certainly rose to the occasion when the team needed him most. And is there any doubt about his intensity last night? Watching him on the sidelines Sunday night should prove to anyone that Brady’s got his focus squarely on earning a fourth Super Bowl title. Crazier things have happened, right?
I wanted to get at least one representative from the Pats’ defense in this week’s “POTB,” and I could’ve probably gone with a half dozen different valid nominees. But I chose to go with Mike Wright, one of the big contributing factors in Sunday’s pass rush for the Pats, a pass rush that got to Big Ben for five sacks, a season high. The team had only 13 sacks through the first eight games, so to put up a five-spot on a physical team like Pittsburgh says a lot for the amount of effort and grit the team had in the trenches. Their defensive schemes were creative, and Mike Wright had a lot to do with the team’s success. He and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain led the way with 1.5 sacks each in the game, which helped Wright remain the team’s sack leader, with 5.5 on the season.
For a guy who, if it weren’t for the injury to Ty Warren probably would be riding the bench this year, Wright has certainly filled the void admirably. Alongside captain Vince Wilfork, the two big boys up front have done a great job clogging up the middle of the field, forcing teams to go after the outside of the field instead. You have to love what you’re seeing out of Wright, and you had to like what you saw out of the entire defense in Sunday’s big win at Heinz Field. They’ll have to be even better against Peyton & Co. this Sunday, but now I have more confidence that they’ll be up to the task.