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We’re reminded that Patriots can still have a sideline edge

By Tom King - Staff Writer | Dec 8, 2023

Oh, Patriot fans are going to miss this.

They are going to miss Bill Belichick coach circles around the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin.

There are a few things that have been staples of the historically successful Belichick Era with the Patriots. One is always beating the Jets and making them look bad while doing it. Another is just constantly making the Steelers and Tomlin look like morons.

That was certainly the case on Thursday night when Bailey Zappe got into a rhythm right away, getting the Patriots out to a 21-3 lead with three TD passes in the first half en route to a 21-18 win.

We can dream that Zappe can be a savior for the Patriots, but that’s not the case. But he can be a serviceable backup in this league. “He’s continuing to get better,” birthday boy Hunter Henry said of Zappe, who threw for 240 yards and his three TDs, much of that in the first half. “The more reps he takes, the more he’ll continue to improve.”

But Tomlin won’t. Steeler fans should be disgusted. His lamebrain, disorganized decisions and the plays called by his two-headed offensive staff — a long bomb on a must-have fourth-and-2? – are the main culprit that put smiles on the faces of the Patriots. Don’t get us wrong, the Patriots earned everything that goes with this win. They were better prepared, better motivated, tired of losing. They weren’t going to roll over in this one. Hard to believe that a Steeler team that needed the win badly in the playoff race came out sleepwalking after letting another two-win team come in to town and beat them four days earlier (the Cardinals). “Obviously wasn’t the start we needed,” said the Steelers coach.

But not if you follow the history. Tomlin always looks ridiculous compared with Belichick, who is now 10-3 against his Steeler counterpart. His team got a big interception in the third quarter and didn’t once throw the ball to the end zone down 21-10. Then they went for it on fourth down and again another bad play call that had no chance. “We play to win,” Tomlin said. “We wanted to be aggressive.”

Aggressively stupid. Meanwhile, the Patriots said thank you and just continued to hold on for dear life, which is what 2-10 teams do in trying to get to 3-10, which the Patriots ultimately did.

This was like the good ol’ days. Smart, instinctive plays, like when Ezekiel Elliott ran down Steeler linebacker Mykal Walker after the latter picked off Zappe, saving a TD and then the Steelers turned the ball over.

“He comes to work every day,” Belichick said of Elliott. “We needed him to step up and carry the mail today, and he did. … He got banged up last week, but that was a pro performance today.”

And it was a Tomlin performance as well. Meanwhile, this was the Zappe, at least in the first half, that we saw a year ago for a couple of games. In rhythm, throwing the ball downfield, etc. Makes you wonder why Belichick didn’t go to him a month ago instead of putting up with Mac Jones.

“Just giving these guys chances to make plays,” Zappe said, adding that the last couple of days all he did was sit in front of a laptop and watch tape of the Steelers on defense. The fourth rounder was far more composed than Trubisky, the guy the Bears drafted No. 2 overall a few years ago. Yikes.

But still, Zappe morphed back into a fourth round pick in the second half when the Patriots scored zippo. Yet this was still an example, a message to owner Robert Kraft that the HC of the NEP can coach the game.

And easily outcoach the Mike Tomlins of the league.

Tom King may be reached at @Telegraph_TomK on twitter, or tking@nashuatelegraph.com


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