Sloppy Steelers' playoff hopes take another hit with loss to Patriots

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers had an opportunity to create some separation in the race for an AFC wild-card spot.

Instead, they came crashing back to the pack and saw their playoff hopes take a serious hit with consecutive home losses to two-win teams in five days. The latest, a 21-18 setback against New England on Thursday night in which the Steelers fell into a second-quarter 18-point hole and couldn’t recover.

“Obviously, this stings, but we’ll be back,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

Pittsburgh (7-6) is the first team above .500 in NFL history to lose consecutive games to teams both at least eight games below .500. Pittsburgh began December atop the race for the top wild-card spot in the AFC.

The Steelers were sloppy Sunday ing an uninspiring 14-point loss against rebuilding Arizona. On Thursday, Bailey Zappe threw three first-half touchdown passes and New England (3-10) snapped a five-game losing streak.

“I have to play better,” Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “I feel like I let the guys down. It’s disappointing. I didn’t play good enough to win.”

Trubisky made his first start in nearly a year for Pittsburgh in place of the injured Kenny Pickett, who is out indefinitely after undergoing right ankle surgery.

But Trubisky, despite a late second-half surge, couldn’t make a difference, as he finished 22 of 35 for 190 yards. He had a rushing and passing touchdown, but also threw an interception that led to a Patriots touchdown in the second quarter.

“I thought he got better as the game went on,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, it wasn’t the type of start we needed.”

The Steelers, after averaging 171 yards rushing the last five games, managed just 82 yards on the ground against New England, the NFL’s No. 3-ranked run defense. Trubisky was the Steelers’ leading rusher with 30 yards. Najee Harris ran for 29 yards on 12 carries and Jaylen Warren had 11 yards on seven touches.

The Steelers saw a brief flash of what its offense could be in a 421-yard outburst during a victory over Cincinnati on Nov. 26, a game played just days after firing offensive coordinator Matt Canada. But the same inconsistencies that plagued the Steelers during their loss to Arizona just five days earlier resurfaced, as an inability to sustain drives, penalties and a poorly-timed turnover contributed to another home upset loss to a two-win team.

Pittsburgh went 3 for 14 on third down and 1 for 3 on fourth down, including a deep pass to a well-covered Diontae Johnson on fourth-and-2 at midfield with less than two minutes to play.

“We play to win,” Tomlin said. “We wanted to be aggressive. We just didn’t get it done.”

Trubisky got the Steelers within striking distance with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Johnson late in the second quarter, and a 1-yard sneak with 11:44 to play that brought Pittsburgh within three points, but it wasn’t enough.

“We played like crap in the first half,” Trubisky said. “We did better in the second half to give us a chance, but I have to play better. That’s the bottom line.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

 

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