The New England Patriots raised Banner No. 6 in front of a packed house at Gillette Stadium Sunday night. The Pats then went out and dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers on the way to a convincing 33-3 opening night win. Here are five quick thoughts on the Patriots’ victory.
1. Defensive masterclass
Ask yourself a question, who is the weak link on the Patriots defense right now? Can you think of anyone? I can’t, and that was readily apparent on Sunday as the Patriots summarily dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense.
New England held Pittsburgh to three points, outgained the Steelers 465-309 and limited them to a 3 for 12 conversion rate on third down and 1 for 3 on fourth down.
2. No harm done
Pittsburgh’s big-ticket players were largely invisible. James Conner only managing 21 yards rushing and 44 yards receiving while Stephon Gilmore held Juju Smith-Schuster to just six catches for a relatively harmless 78 yards.
Ben Roethlisberger went 27 for 47 for 277 yards, averaging only 5.9 yards per completion. He threw a late interception to Devin McCourty in the end zone that effectively sealed the New England win.
3. Creative play design
We typically only see the Patriots break the emergency “Julian Edelman pass play” glass in big spots — think moments like the 2014 AFC Divisional Round thriller against the Ravens or the late stages of Super Bowl LI against the Falcons.
Well, we got an Edelman pass in the first quarter of the first game of the season this year, and it was a 32-yard beauty to James White to set up a 23-yard touchdown to Josh Gordon on the next play.
Gordon was also the beneficiary of another unique play call later on in the third quarter. On second and 6 at the New England 14, the Patriots lined up with Rex Burkhead wide left, fullback James Develin out wide right, and three receivers lined up near the hashmarks. Gordon was among them, and after gaining initial separation he shook off a huge hit to bring in a 42-yard completion from Brady to move into Pittsburgh territory.
Going 20 personnel with the backs out wide? That actually happened, and it actually worked.
4. Dorsett’s big day
Often overshadowed by higher profile teammates like Gordon, Phillip Dorsett has been one of Tom Brady’s most reliable targets since his arrival in 2017, and Sunday was perhaps his best game yet. Dorsett led the Patriots with 95 yards receiving while catching all four passes thrown his way, including two for touchdowns.
His first was a 25-yard grab up the middle on a beautiful throw by Brady, which made it 17-0 late in the second quarter. He followed that up with a 58-yard grab after blowing by his man to walk untouched into the end zone for the deep score.
5. Cannon goes down
There weren’t a lot of negatives to point out in Sunday’s opener, but a big one came midway through the fourth quarter when right tackle Marcus Cannon went down with an apparently left arm injury. Cannon hit the ground hard and held his arm as he walked off the field, throwing his helmet in frustration as he went to the blue medical tent for evaluation.
Cannon did not return, and with only two tackles dressed for the game, left guard Joe Thuney was forced to shift over to his spot at right tackle. Jermaine Eluemunor came in to fill in at left guard.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @MacCerullo.