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Patriots & Steelers Combine For 102 Points Against Opponents On Sunday

Defense wins championships, at least that’s how the saying goes. Then again, maybe the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks only win with defense because they can’t win with offense. Don’t get angry—it’s just a theory.

It may be a tad early to declare defense dead in the new, overly cautious, penalty-heavy NFL, but a wild Week 8 didn’t do much to dispel the notion. There were a lot of shootouts on the slate, with PatriotsBears and SteelersColts leading the way in terms of offensive production.

It’s hard to believe it’s been under a month since the Chiefs routed the Patriots 41-14 on Monday Night Football. Since then, New England is 4-0 and scored an average of 40 points per game. After struggling early on, their offense was finally firing on all cylinders in a 51-23 beat down of Chicago.

Tom Brady is unlikely to be the subject of knee-jerk trade conjecture by frustrated members of the Boston sports media on Monday, given his five touchdown performance. Brady was 30-of-35, passing for 354 yards and averaging over 10 yards per play. He didn’t turn the ball over and wasn’t sacked once by the struggling Bears defense.

After struggling with injuries for much of the last two seasons, stud tight end Rob Gronkowski is officially back for the Patriots. Gronk, who has been in the league since 2010, had the best game of his career on Sunday. He averaged over 16 yards on nine receptions, for a total of 149 yards and three touchdowns.

The Bears offense was as outclassed as their defense through much of the game, with two touchdowns coming late in the second half, well after the outcome had been determined. The first of which came at 0:54 of the third, when the score was 45-7.

Jay Cutler wasn’t terrible, going 20-of-30 for 227 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. He was also sacked three times by the suddenly stout New England defense for a total loss of 18 yards. But if Brady’s performance was brilliant, Cutler was average at best.

Anyone watching the game could plainly see these are teams on two very different trajectories.

After starting the season 2-1, Chicago is in a free fall. They’re 1-4 in their last five games and anger has been building in the locker room. They may have kept their voices down this week, but it’s hard to imagine morale has improved.

While the Patriots-Bears game went a long way towards answering nagging questions about both teams, the Steelers-Colts game only raised more. They’re both 5-3 at the moment, but with their Jekyll & Hyde tendencies, it feels like the only thing we really know about them is that we don’t know anything about them.

The Steelers are especially confusing. Their impressive wins against the Panthers, Colts and Texans have been muted by terrible losses to the Buccaneers, Browns and Ravens—the divisional losses were both lopsided and the last minute choke job against 1-6 Tampa Bay is still inexplicable almost a month later.

Injuries and other concerns on defense still loom large in the Steel City, but the Steelers offense certainly established itself against a Colts defense that had shut out the Bengals a week prior.

Ben Roethlisberger set the franchise record with 522 passing yards, six touchdowns and no turnovers. Capitalizing on Indy’s inability to bring pressure, for the first time in his career he was given some serious time to work with in the pocket—like excessive time—and it’s safe to say he made the most of it. Roethlisberger’s total yardage was the fourth highest in NFL history and he became the first player in history to go over 500 yards passing twice.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown continued to be amazing for Pittsburgh, contributing 133 receiving yards, on which he averaged over 13 yards per catch, and two touchdowns. Running back Le’Veon Bell had a pretty good day as well, rushing for 92 yards on 24 carries.

Of course, with Roethlisberger throwing at will, there was plenty of production to go around. He completed at least one pass to nine different receivers on Sunday, five of which had at least five receptions, and four with touchdowns.

When Roethlisberger wasn’t scoring for the Steelers, Andrew Luck was scoring for the Colts. Pittsburgh brought pressure to Luck, who was sacked twice, picked off twice, responsible for a safety, and a couple of intentional grounding penalties. There were also a couple of intentional grounding penalties that were either offset or negated by Steelers penalties.

A lesser quarterback may have surrendered at some point, but Luck doesn’t have an ounce of quit in him. He was still 26-of-45 for 400 yards and three touchdowns, averaging just under nine yards per pass.

Wideout T.Y. Hilton continued to get it done for Indy, with a season high 155 yards on six receptions and a touchdown. Hilton averaged an epic 25.9 yards per reception. Donte Moncrief added another 113 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions. The Colts were playing from way behind through most of the game, so the running game wasn’t much of a factor.

At the end of the day both the Steelers and Colts look like talented, but flawed teams. They’ve got a lot of offensive weapons, including established franchise quarterbacks, who have a proven capacity to score at will. Which is good because they’ve got to compensate for unpredictable defenses that nobody would classify as “shutdown.”

Except…ya know…when they’re shutting teams down.

That being said, answers are coming. The Steelers take on the Ravens next week in Pittsburgh—a game that could make or break their season. It’ll be hard to see them as legitimate playoff contenders if they go 1-3 in their first four divisional games, especially when the AFC North is so competitive this year.

Next up for the Colts are the Giants. They play on Monday Night next week on the road and then face the suddenly smoking hot Patriots at home. Given how predictably weak the AFC South is each year, and a less than demanding schedule down the stretch, the Colts will have the inside track on a first round bye if they win the next two.

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