Photo: Don Wright (AP)

There was no Jesse James horror play this time around for the Steelers. Although Tom Brady did make all of Pittsburgh nervous with a methodical and eerily familiar fourth-quarter drive, it was hindered by a holding penalty and ended with a turnover on downs. The Steelers maintain their slim lead in the AFC North, and the Patriots look quite mortal.

With today’s 17-10 loss and last Sunday’s Miami Miracle, New England has now lost back-to-back games in December for the first time since 2002. Before these past two defeats, the Pats were 65-13 under head coach Bill Belichick in the final month of the year. It’s still far too early to dump dirt into the grave, but this team shouldn’t expect a rest week in the playoffs.

The Patriots have been beatable in Miami with a 1-4 record in the last five meetings there, and that game ended with a once-in-a-lifetime play, but they were just totally sloppy today. Some might call it “uncharacteristic,” but “toilet water” would also be apt. Although Pittsburgh only sacked him once, Brady was jumpy in the pocket, and he had a puzzling arm-punt caught by Steelers corner Joe Haden on second-and-goal in the fourth. It was the QB’s first red-zone interception in the last two seasons.

The penalties really killed New England, though. The Yinzers were loud, and Brady wasn’t the only Patriots player who was skittish, even if they won’t admit it. The team committed five false starts tonight, with a total of 14 penalties for 106 yards. That’s the most they’ve had in a game since 2014.

Advertisement

The pass defense was fine, considering that the secondary had the task of covering Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Pats safety Duron Harmon picked off Ben Roethlisberger twice, too. But the run D was soul-sucking. A rookie running back like Jaylen Samuels should not be tearing up a good team’s front for 142 rushing yards on 19 carries. Last week the Raiders held him to 28 yards on 11 touches, for fuck’s sake. The Raiders!

The Pats can take solace in the fact that they play in the AFC East, and get to finish their season with home games against the unimpressive Bills and Jets. The bad news is that because of their five losses, the most in a regular season since 2009, their chances of a first-round bye and home-field advantage aren’t very good.