Three Positives Takeaways from the New England Patriots Loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers

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I'm sure the New England Patriots recent two-game skid has you down, but I'm here to spread a little holiday cheer. Yes, Sunday's loss was just the latest in a string of disappointing road defeats. However, believe it or not, there are a few positives coming out of that game. Allow me to enlighten you.

Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports
1. J.C. Jackson

Stephon Gilmore was great on Sunday, as he has been all season. That's why he was named to this year's Pro Bowl. We've come to expect that type of play from him. That doesn't diminish anything he did, but he wasn't the story on Sunday. J.C. Jackson, and the way he played, was. Jackson's play on Sunday should have Patriots fans excited. Here's a guy who is an undrafted rookie, didn't play in the the first two games of the season, and for a large part of Sunday's game lined up opposite a 1,000 yard and 100 catch receiver in JuJu Smith-Schuster. 

In what some would consider a mismatch on paper, Jackson more than held his own. I would argue that he won that battle; holding JuJu to just 4 catches for 40 yards on 10 targets. It was just the second time this year that Smith-Schuster caught less than half of his targets. Jackson was practically velcroed to JuJu in this one. Even the passes that Smith-Schuster caught, Jackson was right by his side.

Jackson in my eyes has been outplaying Jason McCourty, who is slowly regressing to his preseason form. The play that stands out came on Pittsburgh's final drive. On a third down late in the game, Ben Roethlisberger took a shot to the end zone, in hopes of closing out the game. With Jackson in coverage, Smith-Schuster went up over him and got both hands on the ball. It looked like his was about to pull it in for a game-clinching touchdown, but Jackson wouldn't have it. He never gave up on the play and was able to get his arm in between JuJu's and rip the ball free.


It's that type of grit and fight you like to see from your defensive backs. That play reminded me a lot of how Malcolm Butler was in New England. Even when it looked like he was beat, he was always fighting to knock the ball loose. In particular, the way Jackson played on Sunday reminded me a lot of how Butler played against Odell Beckham Jr. a few seasons ago. Beckham Jr. caught got the better of Butler on a pass early, but Butler held him in check the rest of the game. He even had a play similar to Jackson's on Sunday where it looked like Beckham Jr. had a touchdown but Butler never quit and was able to knock the ball loose.


If Jackson can continue to trend upward, it could go a long way for this defensive backfield.

2. A Learning Experience


None of New England's previous 7 road games matched the intensity from Sunday's game in Pittsburgh. Five of their previous road games have been decided by double digits and in the other two, the circumstances surrounding each game couldn't match what Sunday was. 

Awaiting New England at Heinz Field was a desperate Steelers team. Losers of three straight, Pittsburgh was facing a must win to virtually save their season. The home crowd sensed that desperation and fed off of it. The only other crowd noise that rivaled what the Patriots faced in Pittsburgh was probably on Monday night in Buffalo. Yet, that was against a terrible Bills team, with the stakes much lower.

The Steeler fans brought it on Sunday, and it impacted the game. It was about as close to a playoff atmosphere as possible on the road, and the Patriots weren't ready for it. They hadn't played in an environment that hostile all year, and it showed. The team committed a season-high 14 penalties, and half of them came pre-snap. New England committed 5 false starts, and committed a few other penalties in some key spots, and negating some big plays. They also picked up a delay of game before an extra point, which might have been the first time I've ever seen something like that. 

Now, many of the current Patriots have played in several of these type of games in their careers; but each season and each team is different. I think Sunday's game could be a great learning experience for this team. They are more than likely going to need to win a playoff game on the road in order to get back to the Super Bowl. I think having played in an environment like this, in a game with some high stakes, will serve them well in the playoffs.

3. Playoff Seeding Outlook

Despite Sunday's loss, I feel the Patriots are still set up to avoid playing on Wildcard Weekend. While it'll take a miraculous finish to climb up to the number 1 seed, the odds of finishing as the 2 seed I would consider favorable. The Pats currently sit a game back of the Houston Texans and own the tiebreaker, having beaten them on Opening Day. 

New England's final two games come at home against the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets; both teams that the Patriots have handled with ease over the past couple of decades, especially at home. Were these games on the road, I may feel a little differently. I would still expect New England to win,  but I wouldn't be as confident. 

The home/road phenomenon of this team has been well-documented. So, I fully, expect the good Patriots to show up each of these last two weeks, throttle Buffalo and New York, and finish at 11-5. 

That means Houston would need to lose just one of its two remaining games, in order for New England to catch them in the standings. That loss will come this weekend. The Texans travel to Philadelphia to take on a desperate Eagles team that is fighting for the playoffs and coming off its most impressive victory of the year. 

If the Texans escape Philly with a win this week that's bad news, because things get much easier in week 17. They will host a Jacksonville Jaguars team that's has lost its fight and swagger. While they have the defensive talent to keep things interesting, I just don't see them playing with any motivation that week. 

So, if New England takes care of business and Houston slips up against Philly. The Pats are back in a familiar spot, hosting a game in the Divisional round, one win away from an 8th consecutive AFC Championship appearance. All is not lost Pats nation, take a deep breath.

Follow Derek on Twitter @mcvay34

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Three Positives Takeaways from the New England Patriots Loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers
Three Positives Takeaways from the New England Patriots Loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers
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