Boomer Esiason tells M&C he still thinks Patriots can get first-round bye, despite brutal loss to Steelers

Alex Reimer
December 17, 2018 - 10:12 am

Like most astute football observers here in New England, Boomer Esiason thinks the Patriots showed lots of troubling signs in their hapless loss to the Steelers Sunday. The team that usually dominates December has now lost two straight, with both defeats featuring uncharacteristic mental lapses and brutal mistakes. 

But still, even with all of the Patriots’ recent struggles, they could still wind up with the No. 2 seed in the AFC. If the Texans lose to the Eagles next week, and the Patriots defeat the somewhat rejuvenated Bills at home, New England could once again claim the second slot. 

In Esiason’s weekly interview Monday with “Mut & Callahan,” he says he’s not counting out the Patriots yet. “I would not be surprised (if they get the No. 2 seed),” he said. "They’re playing two rookie quarterbacks to end the season. Both quarterbacks are OK. Sam Darnold has played two really good games back-to-back. There is something to be said for his growth. Josh Allen is still running all over the place. He’s just a great athlete on the field right now, still trying to figure it out. So I would think Bill Belichick would devise a defense to slow those guys down. So they should end up 11-5, there’s no question about that. And Houston will have a very tough time in Philly, because of Dallas’ loss yesterday, getting shut out at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts. Anything is still possible in the NFC East.”

Still, there’s no arguing the Patriots don’t look like themselves. They beat themselves for the second straight week, with Tom Brady’s red zone interception and horrific last series leading the way. They also incurred 14 penalties for 106 yards and struggled to stop the run. Pittsburgh’s Jaylen Samuels gained 142 yards on 19 carries. 

Esiason said both issues –– the penalties and horrific run defense –– are ultimately what doomed the Patriots. 

“Fourteen penalties is a little ridiculous,” he explained. “It seemed like any time they had a play yesterday, there was a penalty. The refs seemed like they were part of the Yellow Terrible Towel crowd. Fourteen penalties probably drove Coach Belichick crazy. I also think the run defense was not great. At halftime, I was just saying, ‘If the Steelers are patient enough to run the ball, they’ll have success.’ I thought they had some success in that regard, so that’s two weeks in a row where the run defense has not been great. And then, of course, Tom’s mistake –– the interception where he’s trying to throw the ball away. All those things add up to a defeat, and some of those symptoms you saw the week before in Miami. Now they’ve got to get it all straightened out against Buffalo and the Jets over the next two weeks.”

Overall, Esiason says he doesn’t think either team played well, making the Patriots’ loss even more maddening. Pittsburgh did not play its best game, with Roethlisberger throwing two picks.

“Fourteen penalties is a lot to overcome,” Esiason said. “Even with two Ben Roethlisberger interceptions, and they were unable to capitalize on those mistakes. It wasn’t a great game by either team, and as a matter of fact, they left a lot to be desired. I thought it was going to be a 34-30 game, something like that. Unfortunately, it turned into a penalty-marred mess where there were three big turnovers that ultimately kept the score down.”

In addition to the penalties, the Patriots had three drops Sunday, and two of them came on third-down. Esiason says the Patriots just couldn’t repeat what’s brought them so much recent success against the Steelers, such as getting Rob Gronkowski involved over the middle of the field and keeping the Pittsburgh defense out there. 

“In the lead-up to this game, we kept talking about the last five victories for New England over Pittsburgh. The way those victories happened were because of plays over the middle,” he said. “Those plays were made by Edelman, who had a drop yesterday, and of course, Gronk. And if we’re talking about it, that means Pittsburgh is talking about it, and they’re going to try to do whatever they can to take those guys away underneath. If you count Josh Gordon’s drop, Edelman’s drop, those are drive extenders. Those keep the team on the field, those give them more opportunities. They didn’t have a lot of plays yesterday offensively. Pittsburgh held onto the ball, they ran the ball effectively. When you don’t run as many plays as you’re used to running, there are going to be fewer opportunities.”