5 things we learned from Steelers’ season-opening loss to Patriots
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Five things we learned from the Patriots’ 33-3 win over the Steelers in the season opener:
1. Shortage of yards
The Steelers came up short in one crucial area, which made for a long night against the New England Patriots in their season opener at Gillette Stadium.
Four times in the game, including three in the second quarter when the Patriots turned a 10-0 advantage into a comfortable 20-point lead, the Steelers faced a third or fourth down while needing a yard to convert.
That the Steelers bungled all four opportunities explains how the Patriots turned a close game into a rout.
• On third-and-1 from the Steelers 30, James Conner was stuffed for no gain. Jordan Berry punted.
• After getting the ball back following a three-and-out, the Steelers faced another third-and-1 from their 44. Conner took a pitch toward the left end and was brought down for a 4-yard loss. Berry punted again, and the Patriots went 80 yards in six plays to take a 17-0 lead.
• On fourth-and-1 at the Patriots 47 with two minutes left in the half, Donte Moncrief couldn’t hold onto a pass, and the Patriots took over on downs. Stephen Gostkowski kicked his second of four field goals to give the Patriots a 20-0 advantage.
• On the opening drive of the second half, the Steelers got to the Patriots 1. On third-and-goal, a fade for Moncrief fell incomplete, and Chris Boswell kicked a 19-yard field goal. Four plays later, the Patriots used a 58-yard touchdown pass to wipe out any good feelings and take a 27-3 lead.
2. Bad to the last drop
Moncrief, signed in free agency to help make up for the loss of Antonio Brown, had a cringe-worthy debut. He dropped a handful of passes and finished with three receptions on 10 targets for a measly 7 yards.
After one week, Moncrief’s catch percentage of 30 ranks the lowest among NFL qualifiers. He also was called for a false start that turned a third-and-15 into a third-and-20 on the Steelers’ second drive of the game.
Moncrief, it should be noted, was not one of the worst offenders last year in terms of dropping passes. Cleveland’s Jarvis Landry had an NFL-high 11 drops, but Moncrief was credited with four during his lone season with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
3. Lack of turnovers
After setting a mandate to get more takeaways, the Steelers got none against the Patriots. Not a good debut for a defense that tied a franchise-low with eight interceptions last year and forced the third-fewest turnovers in the NFL.
The Steelers did apply a sliver of pressure on Tom Brady, getting credited with five quarterback hits. Bud Dupree had the lone sack, which came in the third quarter with the Steelers trailing 27-3.
On the back end, the Steelers had just one pass defensed — by strong safety Terrell Edmunds. Free safety Kameron Kelly, starting in place of injured Sean Davis, allowed two big pass plays, including the 58-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Phillip Dorsett.
4. Where was Vance?
Given that the Steelers were debuting an offense that was minus Brown, one player who figured to get his share of targets was veteran tight end Vance McDonald.
McDonald was coming off a season in which he established career highs with 50 catches and 610 yards and tied a career best with four touchdown catches. Yet, McDonald was surprisingly absent until the game was well out of hand.
It wasn’t until 2 minutes, 6 seconds were left in the 30-point blowout that McDonald received his first target. Over the final seven snaps, McDonald had four passes thrown his direction, and he caught two for 40 yards.
McDonald often was on the sideline when the Steelers went with four receivers while they desperately tried to get back in the game to no avail.
5. Key players banged up
The Steelers could be short-handed in practice this week and perhaps the home opener Sunday against Seattle.
Several significant starters exited with injuries against the Patriots. Cornerback Joe Haden, who suffered a shoulder injury, returned to the game, but three other starters left and didn’t come back. Center Maurkice Pouncey injured his ankle in the fourth quarter, T.J. Watt left with a sore hip and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster exited late with a toe injury.
Injuries will test any team’s depth. But when you are trying to rebound from a 30-point loss, it usually is favorable to have your best players on the field. Coach Mike Tomlin didn’t label any of the injuries as serious, but more won’t be revealed until Tuesday at his weekly news conference.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .