PITTSBURGH — Landry Jones did just as he promised. He didn’t panic .
The Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback moved the ball. He stood in the pocket. He put together a handful of throws that made him look like the full-time starter somewhere he believes he can become.
Jones also didn’t win. And that — more than his respectable numbers — is what he’ll take away from Pittsburgh’s 27-16 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday.
“I thought for the most part I played decisive,” Jones said. “Were there plays that I wanted to have back? Absolutely.”
Namely a first-quarter interception in the end zone that wiped out a chance for the Steelers (4-3) to seize momentum. Jones saw wide receiver Antonio Brown in single coverage, but his lob was poorly underthrown .
“That was just a bad ball,” Jones said. “AB ran a good route. I threw a (poor) ball.”
One of the few during three hours in which Jones filled in capably for Ben Roethlisberger, who offered what he could on the sideline while wearing sweatpants over the left knee he had surgically repaired last Monday.
Jones completed 29 of 47 passes for 281 yards with a touchdown and the one pick. It wasn’t a disaster to be sure. It just should have been so much more.
The Steelers scored just one touchdown in four trips to the red zone. A touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey in the second quarter was wiped out by a penalty. Typically reliable kicker Chris Boswell missed a pair of field goals, though one of them was an iffy 54-yarder into the open end of Heinz Field halfway through the fourth quarter with the Steelers down 11.
Jones did exactly what Roethlisberger likes to do: getting the ball to running back Le’Veon Bell (149 total yards) and wide receiver Antonio Brown (seven receptions for 106 yards). All those yards, however, resulted into just one trip to the end zone, something that can’t happen when Tom Brady is on the other sideline.
“It’s a small margin of error with a team like that,” Bell said.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley certainly showed firm belief in Jones, keeping the playbook as diverse as ever. Jones looked the part of a starter when he hit Brown for 51 yards down the sideline in the second quarter, the longest play given up by the Patriots this season.
Yet it wasn’t enough to keep up with Brady or a Patriots offense that hummed with clinical efficiency when required. Twice in the second half the Steelers kicked a field goal to cut into the New England lead, and twice the Patriots responded with touchdowns. Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a 36-yard score in the third quarter and former Steeler LeGarrette Blount slammed over from 5 yards early in the fourth for his second touchdown of the day.
Pittsburgh’s defense, which was bulldozed in a mystifying loss in Miami last week, held Brady and company in check for stretches. Yet every time Pittsburgh needed one stop to give its offense a chance to seize the lead, the Patriots practically sprinted down the field.
“We’re looking like garbage right now,” Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “This is terrible right now.”
At least the Steelers are still in first place in the AFC North. They’ll have a chance to get healthy with a bye week coming up before visiting struggling rival Baltimore on Nov. 6.
Maybe Roethlisberger’s knee will be OK to go. Defensive end Cam Heyward’s hamstring too. Maybe tight end Ladarius Green will finally get off the physically unable to perform list. Maybe the defense will find whatever it’s lacking.
That’s a lot of maybes, something Pittsburgh refuses to traffic in.
“You play 67 snaps good and you have a handful of snaps that cost you the game, that’s frustrating,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “But we’ve got to remain more consistent.”
Something that’s proven elusive so far during a season that has seen the Steelers look like a legitimate threat to reach the Super Bowl and a non-contender in equal measure. They hardly folded with Roethlisberger out. They simply expected to do more than that.
“It’s going to always be good to get your players back,” Bell said. “But we still felt like we could win this game.”