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Halftime analysis: Patriots 24, Steelers 10

11.03.13 at 5:58 pm ET
By

FOXBORO — Two quarters are in the books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots hold a 24-10 lead on the Steelers. Here are a few quick notes:

‘€¢ The big connection for the Patriots has been Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski. The big tight end accounted for 110 of Brady’s first 161 yards through the air, and the two hooked up on a second-quarter touchdown pass that gave New England a 14-0 lead. Gronkowski has eight catches for 119 yards and a touchdown. Danny Amendola (91 yards on two catches) also had a big first half for New England. On the other side of the ball, Ben Roethlisberger is 11-for-15 for 173 yards, and had his best throw of the first half at the end of the second quarter when he connected with Antonio Brown on a 27-yard touchdown pass.

‘€¢ The Patriots opened up in a 3-4 on defense, with newcomer Isaac Sopoaga over the nose and Chris Jones and Joe Vellano at defensive ends; Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich were at outside linebacker/edge-of-the-line players. (New England also flashed a look with Andre Carter in for Sopaga, a scheme that saw Chris Jones move to the nose.) Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower were the two inside linebackers. In the secondary, it was Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard at corner (Logan Ryan rotated in as the nickel corner), and Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory at safety.

‘€¢ The two highlights of the first half defensively for New England came on takeaways. First, there was a third-down play at the end of Pittsburgh’s first drive. Ninkovich sacked Roethlisberger and knocked the ball loose. Vellano came away with the ball. New England couldn’t do anything with the takeaway, but it marked the 36th consecutive game where the Patriots registered a takeaway, the longest active streak in the league. And second, McCourty pulled down a wounded duck from Roethlisberger late in the first quarter and took it back to the Steelers 34.

‘€¢ Pittsburgh eventually got on the board midway through the second quarter when Roethlisberger put together a seven-play, 68-yard drive — highlighted by a 42-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders — that ended with a 30-yard field goal from Shaun Suisham. They added to that with 1:55 left in the second quarter when Roethlsiberger hit Brown on a sweet 27-yarder over the top of Alfonzo Dennard to make it 17-10. It was the 200th touchdown pass of Roethlisberger’s career.

‘€¢ The Patriots put together their best and most complete offensive series late in the first quarter, but couldn’t punch it in for a touchdown. Brady and Co. engineered an 11-play sequence, with the two big connections coming on passes to Gronkowski — first, there was a 34-yard pickup that allowed New England to convert in a 3rd and long situation. That was followed up with a 27-yarder to Gronk that got the Patriots into the Pittsburgh red zone. The Patriots couldn’t convert when the Steelers stepped up on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line.

‘€¢ That inability to convert was rendered moot when the Patriots struck like a thunderbolt later in the first half. Following the McCourty pick, Brady hit Amendola for a 34-yard touchdown strike on a play where Amendola was so wide open, it appeared he might have materialized right out of thin air. Seriously: no one was within at least 10 yards of Amendola when he caught the ball and cruised into the end zone untouched to make it 7-0. They piled on shortly after that with their first touchdown of the second quarter — a six-play, 67-yard drive was capped off by a 19-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski to make it 14-0 with 10:30 left in the second quarter. And they got more points at the end of the first half when Stevan Ridley banged one home from one yard out with 10 seconds left in the second quarter to make it 24-10.

‘€¢ Amendola had another Houdini moment on a 57-yard pass play toward the end of the first half, a connection that set up a 20-yard field goal with 3:51 left in the second quarter.

‘€¢ There were no injuries to report over the first half.

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