What We Saw – Patriots at Steelers

A brief flurry of entertainment in the first half quickly gave way to a second half of utter incompetence

Patriots @ Steelers

Final Score: Patriots 21, Steelers 18

Senior Writer: Benjamin Haller (@benjaminhaller1 on Twitter)


Against all the odds, this Thursday Night Football contest exceeded all expectations as a first half blitz from Bailey Zappe and the New England Patriots forced the hand of the usually conservative Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin having no option but to play dangerously after falling behind 21-3 early in the second quarter. Zappe threw three first half scores, two to tight end Hunter Henry as the Pats established a dominant lead. Mitch Trubisky, on the other hand, was awful. The Steelers faithful let him know about it after every play but he did survive a benching to find Diontae Johnson late in the half to give the Steelers some hope.

The second half was more what we expected this game to be – turgid. Both offenses stuttered and failed to execute to extend drives, penalties were the biggest factor and it was a difficult watch. Trubisky scrambled in from a yard out early in the fourth quarter and a two-point conversion to Pat Freiermuth made it a three-point game with eleven minutes to play. Trubisky failed to complete on fourth down twice, however (the play calling must also take some of the blame) and the Steelers went for it all when they could have tied the game with a field goal. The Patriots did not score in the second half and escaped with an unlikely victory.


Three Up

  • Bailey Zappe – there is no doubting who the starter at quarterback will be for the Patriots for the rest of the season after Zappe energized his team single-handedly in the first half to earn the win
  • Hunter Henry – this is the tight end production we expected from the expensive free agent when he joined New England but days like this have been very rare – Henry has given a big boost to those managers who rolled the dice on him this week
  • Ezekiel Elliot – eight targets, 72 yards and a score out of the backfield?! We’ll take that!

Two Down

  • George Pickens – footage of Pickens “taking plays off” and earning “an earful” from his coach added to a frustrating night for the young wideout who just has zero chemistry with Trubisky
  • Jaylen Warren – an afterthought on a night when he should have been primed for a big night on the ground and out of the backfield – averaged just 1.6 yards per carry on seven rushes, yikes!


New England Patriots




Bailey Zappe: 19/28, 240 Yards, 3 TDs, INT, 2 Sacks | 3 Carries, 13 Yards


The “Bailey Zappe Show” lasted for about 30 minutes as the young quarterback balled out early in this contest with some aggressive throws and pinpoint accuracy. Zappe twice connected with his big tight end Henry for touchdowns, and the second was an elite throw over the cornerback that Henry laid out for. Zappe has had a rollercoaster career so far but he came out with a point to prove in this game, buzzing on the sidelines and showing determination and quality on the field. Zappe’s three scores were his first touchdowns of the season. He mainly operated over the middle and targeted the slot when the Steelers linebackers showed to blitz. It really is hard to advocate him as a fantasy commodity, however.



  • Electric in the first half, managed out of relevance in the second due to the play calling, Zappe showed he has top level vision and an ability to make throws at every level
  • Hardly attempted a pass over 10 yards in the second half as the Patriots seemed happy crashing into the Steelers line on predictable run plays – would have been good to see him asked to go and win the game with his arm


Running Back


Ezekiel Elliot: 22 Carries, 68 Yards | 8 Targets, 7 Receptions, 72 Yards, TD


It has taken long enough for the veteran running back to find the opportunity to take full control of the lead back role and the injury to Rhamondre Stevenson has opened the door for the rest of this campaign potentially. Elliot handled all the work and looked competent if not spectacular. In the second half he was hampered by the predictability of his rushes. What was encouraging was the volume of targets as Zappe looked to check down often to Elliot if his early reads were not there. That wasn’t the case for the touchdown, however as a designed screen to Elliot was perfectly executed and the former Cowboys superstar rumbled into the end zone like the Zeke of old. He could be a sneaky good flex option in the fantasy playoffs.


Wide Receiver/Tight End


JuJu Smith-Schuster: 6 Targets, 4 Receptions, 90 Yards


Former Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster would have enjoyed this win especially with the fact he had outpaced his season-high in receiving yardage midway through the second quarter. JuJu had plenty of joy early and beating his marker on a slot route that he raced away for extra yardage was his best play of the year.


JuJu also hauled in a deep ball earlier in the game that was significantly underthrown. JuJu adapted his body well and reached back for the ball under heavy contact and coverage, making an excellent grab. We haven’e seen that kind of skill from the wideout all season.


Hunter Henry: 3 Targets, 3 Receptions, 40 Yards, 2 TDs


When you only catch three balls and two of them go for touchdowns you know you are having a special night. Henry is probably one of the biggest free agent flops in recent times but fantasy managers who started him this week won’t care. Henry’s 19 fantasy points are comfortably a season high and the tight end showed his playmaking ability on both catches. The first was a high throw at the back of the zone, a catch he made for fun for the Chargers.


Ty Montgomery: 2 Targets, 1 Reception, 17 Yards

Tyquan Thornton: 5 Targets, 3 Receptions, 17 Yards

Pharoah Brown: 1 Target, 1 Reception, 4 Yards

Jalen Reagor: 1 Target


Pittsburgh Steelers




Mitch Trubisky: 21/34, 169 Yards, TD, INT, 2 Sacks | 8 Carries, 30 Yards, TD


The statistics are what they are but to the naked eye this performance from Mitch Trubisky was a complete disaster. Consistently slow and indecisive in the pocket, the former number one overall pick looked lost and devoid of confidence for much of this game. A meagre 5.4 yards per passing attempt tells a dour story of ineffective play and a lack of belief in the play calling. Strangely, Mike Sullivan and Eddie Faulkner decided to show belief in Trubisky at entirely the wrong times – asking him to go deep on two successive fourth down plays late in the game was frankly bizarre. Trubisky threw a terrible pick in the second quarter that allowed the Patriots to jump ahead and put the crowd on his back. It was the type of throw that rookies make early in their career. Disastrous! It should be noted that he added 45 passing yards on the final two plays of the game as the Patriots offered up the field to run the clock out.


Trubisky did vulture a goal line touchdown after a trick play on first down was nearly picked and taken the other way. Trubisky has always been a good goal line threat and this saved his fantasy night.


Running Back


Najee Harris: 12 Carries, 29 Yards | 3 Targets, 3 Receptions, 19 Yards


This could effectively be the end of Najee Harris ever commanding a lead back role. Completely stuffed by one of the best defensive units against the run, Harris’ limitations as a runner were all too obvious as his lack of speed and inability to break tackles showed out on every carry. His 2.4 yards per carry has dragged down his season’s average to 4.1 and we can only see this dropping further with Warren still a big factor as a runner and receiver.


Jaylen Warren: 7 Carries, 11 Yards | 5 Targets, 4 Receptions, 29 Yards


As the Steelers offense struggled on the ground and through the air you would have expected Warren to be the catalyst but he just couldn’t make things happen all night. His biggest play was a dump off for 12 yards but he was largely ineffective and mustered just 1.6 yards per carry on the ground.


Wide Receiver/Tight End


Diontae Johnson: 7 Targets, 3 Receptions, 57 Yards, TD


Diontae Johnson hauled in his second score in as many weeks benefitting from his quarterback’s only decent throw of the night, a back shoulder fade that dropped perfectly into Johnson’s basket towards the end of the second quarter. It was a lifeline for Pittsburgh but it was only one of three connections on seven targets. Johnson was visibly frustrated on not being targeted regularly and his status as a primary receiver does not match the targets coming his way. He was been a disappointing aspect of 2023.


George Pickens: 6 Targets, 5 Receptions, 19 Yards


A rough night for the second-year wideout who is showing signs of petulance and immaturity, traits that have claimed a number of Steelers receivers in recent years. Pickens was seen hardly going through the motions on a number of plays provoking a dressing down on the sideline from Tomlin on a couple of occasions. You can understand his frustration but great players rise above the limitations of their teammates and lead by example. Pickens isn’t doing that. He clearly misses Kenny Pickett, who he has good chemistry with and a miserable 3.8 per reception is frankly criminal. He has little fantasy value in this offense with this quarterback.


Pat Freiermuth: 7 Targets, 3 Receptions, 18 Yards


The howls of “Muuuuuuth” from the Steelers crowd were the only thing drowning out the booing of Trubisky, and the three times he caught the ball all night were far from enough. The tight end did pad out his fantasy stats with a two-point conversion after Trubisky’s score going into the final quarter. After showing promise in the recent week, Freiermuth has weaved back to the unproductive normal.


Connor Heyward: 0/1 | 2 Targets, 2 Receptions, 15 Yards

Darnell Washington: 2 Targets, 1 Receptions, 12 Yards

Calvin Austin III: 1 Carry, 12 Yards, Fumble (Recovered)

Allen Robinson II: 2 Targets


Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@justparadesigns on Twitter/X)

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