Patriots rely on defense to edge Watt-less Steelers 17-14

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Mac Jones threw for 253 yards and a touchdown and the New England Patriots edged the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-14 on Sunday.

The Patriots (1-1) haven’t lost consecutive games to start a season since 2001. They took advantage of a handful of mistakes by the Steelers (1-1), including a muffed punt in the third quarter by ex-Patriot Gunner Olszewski that set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Damien Harris. That gave New England an 11-point lead it didn’t relinquish.

Jones finished 21 of 35, including a 44-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Nelson Agholor late in the first half. Jones, who dealt with back spasms last week against Miami and missed practice time this week with an illness, also threw an interception on a lob that was easily picked off by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. The second-year quarterback narrowly avoided a second in the third quarter when Cam Sutton dropped a pass that hit him squarely in the hands, one of a handful of missed opportunities by the Steelers.

Harris ran for 71 yards, most of them coming on a clock-chewing drive in the final minutes that let New England play keep away as Pittsburgh’s defense sagged late without star outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who is out indefinitely with a left pectoral injury.

Mitch Trubisky threw for 168 yards with a touchdown and an interception for the Steelers, whose offense sputtered for long stretches as it struggled to find any sense of rhythm.

Trubisky hit Pat Freiermuth for a 7-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to draw the Steelers within three and briefly quiet the chants for rookie backup quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Those cheers don’t figure to go away anytime soon, however, after the Steelers went three and out twice when they got the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead.

The first meeting between two of the NFL’s marquee franchises to feature neither Tom Brady nor Ben Roethlisberger in years lacked the high stakes that long defined the rivalry between former AFC superpowers.

Instead, New England came in looking for a spark following a blah Week 1 loss to Miami while the Steelers are still in the nascent stages of the post-Roethlisberger era, a journey that began with a thrilling and slightly bizarre victory over Cincinnati last Sunday.

The overtime victory came at quite a cost. Without Watt, Pittsburgh failed to generate any sort of sustained pass rush against Jones. The Steelers failed to record a single sack, and while Jones wasn’t spectacular, he didn’t have to be while extending drives with responsible and safe throws over the middle.

It was enough to help the Patriots improve to 13-4 against the Steelers under coach Bill Belichick. New England celebrated its 500th game under Robert Kraft’s ownership the same way it celebrated so many others: with a victory short on style but long on substance.

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