Billy Zappe, Patriots hold on to win over Steelers on ‘Thursday Night Football’

Written by Chad Graf, Mark Capoli, and Mike DeFabo

Patriots quarterback Billy Zappe threw three touchdown passes in the first half of Thursday night’s game as New England held on for a 21-18 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Patriots led 21-10 at halftime but the Steelers were able to pull away within three points thanks to a shutout by the Steelers defense in the second half and a Mitch Trubisky touchdown.

New England earned its third win of the season. According to Amazon’s broadcast, the Steelers became the first team in NFL history to go over .500 and lose consecutive games to teams that were at least eight games under .500.

Zappe connected with Ezekiel Elliott once and Hunter Henry twice for scores over the first two quarters. Pittsburgh’s offense — which was booed by fans — struggled with just one touchdown by Diontae Johnson before halftime.

Zappe finished 19 of 28 passing for 240 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Elliott caught seven passes for 72 yards and added 68 yards rushing.

The result represents a surprising turnaround for the Patriots (3-10), who have lost their last five games and are in last place in the AFC East. The Steelers (7-6) fall to third place in the AFC North.

Zappe does his job while the Patriots hang on

A second half slump dampened what was otherwise a really solid game for Zabi. In his second start of the season, Zabi completed 19 of 28 passes for 240 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He made some plays that the Patriots haven’t seen from a quarterback all season. But the second half provided a reminder that there are limitations. The team did not score in the second half and had only one shot gained more than 20 yards. However, the first half was good enough for the Patriots to head into a long weekend with plenty of things to build on. – Chad Graf, Patriots staff writer

Key to the Patriots defense after the offense slowed down

The Patriots have put a lot on their defensive plate. Special teams was poor again, as a punt was blocked. Their offense was in a major rut in the second half. The defense faced poor field position. But once again, the Patriots defense stepped up when they needed to and got key stops against Trubisky and the Steelers. This type of football is hard to play long term, but for the rest of this season, this is the way the Pats should try to win. Just keep hoping their defense can keep playing like this. — Graf

Steelers fail in comeback attempt

You have to give the Steelers a lot of credit for digging their way out of a big hole to start the game, but they also deserve a lot of criticism for letting the Patriots move up and down the field on them, to the tune of a 21-3 lead. Getting the ball with 2:44 left in the game and having a chance to tie it or win it was something no one expected in the first half.

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With Kenny Pickett out, it took some time for Trubisky to get comfortable and that’s understandable. However, it got so bad in the first half that the 66,000 fans at Acressor Stadium were clamoring for backup Mason Rudolph to enter the game. The intensity of the offense increased when the Steelers discovered that Trubisky had to throw horizontally instead of vertically. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Trubisky was forced to punt the field on three of his final four throws during a potential win/tie drive. – Mark Capoli, Steelers senior writer

Pittsburgh’s defense is a concern

The Steelers’ defense entered Thursday night as the second-highest scoring defense in the NFL (19.0 points per game) and looked poised for a big night against a struggling Patriots offense. However, numerous injuries to key positions proved costly early on. The Patriots targeted a depleted inside linebacker corps on their first down, when Elliott beat backup linebacker Mikal Walker in the flat. Later, Zabi picked off nickel Shandon Sullivan, who had lost his job until Elijah Riley went down with an injury, for an 11-yard touchdown to tight end Henry.

While the Steelers’ defense regrouped in the second half, the 21 first-half points the Patriots scored with a backup quarterback should be concerning. The Steelers have relied on their defense to create big plays and keep their struggling offense in games this year. If they can’t stop one of the worst offenses in the league, it doesn’t bode well moving forward. — Mike DeFabo, Steelers staff writer

Highlight of the game

Required reading

(Photo: Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

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