Patriots Steelers Football

Running back Damien Harris got the tough yards at the end of the game to help the Patriots clinch a 17-14 win over the Steelers.

It wasn’t pretty, but there are no points for style in the NFL.

The New England Patriots had to go to Pittsburgh, which upset the Super Bowl runner-up Bengals in Cincinnati last week, and win.

They did.

OK. It was the Mitchell Trubisky-led Steelers, which deserves an asterisk, but he beat the Bengals last week.

Anyway, “the win” wasn’t the only key element in Pittsburgh.

The Patriots may have – and I mean “may have” not “have” – started the germination of an identity.

With just under 18 minutes remaining in the game, after getting a freebie turnover on a muffed punt – Thank you, Gunner Olszewski – the Patriots converted a 3rd-and-goal from the 2-yard line and scored the biggest touchdown of the game.

That means something. On the road. In Pittsburgh.

Damien Harris ran it into the gut of the Steelers defense, up the middle, and scored.

The best part, though, was in the fourth quarter, with 6:33 remaining in the game, the Patriots got the ball.

And they never gave it back.

A short pass play. Nine running plays, including another Harris dart through the line on 3rd-and-3 for a first down, allowing Mac Jones three kneel downs.

What was Harris thinking on that last run?

“End it!” he said. “End the game.”

You have to understand that while we live and die watching the ball float all over the field, it usually comes down to one or two yards. Or Harris’ case in the fourth quarter, three yards.

The other team is 90% sure you’re running the football. and you still succeed.

It’s inspiring for one team. It’s devastating to the other team.

These “rugged” sequences aren’t enough to carry a team to football in January, but they are occurrences that bring football teams together. Toughness, particularly on the offensive line, is a must. Also some brain-power, which is needed to protect the quarterback (Jones wasn’t sacked once).

The offensive line was called out after last week’s debacle in Miami and that group answered the call.

As for other standouts, Nelson Agholor deserves some big-time kudos. He was an $11 million non-factor in 2021.

But he stood out for most of training camp and the preseason, and this day in Pittsburgh was his best as a Patriot not only statistically (6 rec., 110 yards, 1 TD), but his 44-yard TD reception was that of Davante Adams territory.

The ball was underthrown by Jones, but Agholor snared the 50-50 ball from Steelers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who fell to the turf, and scored on the 44-yard connection.

Better yet, it occurred with 22 seconds remaining in the half, putting the Patriots ahead 10-3.

The Patriots needed to create a big play. Any big play. and that was the best one.

The other “big play” was Mack Wilson’s first-quarter full-extension dive into the passing lane, deflecting the Mitchell Trubisky pass, which was intercepted by Jalen Mills at the Patriots’ 26.

A probable Steelers field goal was taken off the board.

The rest of the game was uneventful.

Jones was OK. He hit on a few nice plays to the Patriots early 2022 MVP in Jakobi Meyers, but had one bad interception and another that would’ve been worse but was mishandled by Cameron Sutton.

He has to get better or the rest of this “stuff,” including toughness, and turnovers won’t matter come early January.

But that’s a topic for another day. and he’s still basically on his honeymoon.

The 2022 Patriots got a much-needed win in Pittsburgh.

They host the Baltimore Ravens, which is a talented team in turmoil, after blowing what appeared to be an easy win (leading 35-14 after three quarters) against the Dolphins, losing 42-38.

The Patriots season, a week later, doesn’t look so bleak while chewing on your Cheerios this morning, does it?

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.

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