FOXBOROUGH (AP) – The New England Patriots sit atop the AFC East, yet Tom Brady thinks they can do better.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, on the other hand, definitely need some improvement.
Brady and the Patriots look to show some consistency and remain unbeaten at home by capitalizing on a meeting with the sputtering Steelers on Sunday.
New England (6-2) leads the second-place New York Jets by two games in the division, despite some uncharacteristically lowly numbers from Brady.
The future Hall of Famer is completing 55.7 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns, six interceptions and a 74.9 passer rating – 20.7 below his career mark.
He was even worse while the Patriots split their last four games, converting 52.3 percent of his attempts for 810 yards with two TDs, four picks and a 61.6 rating.
“We’re trying,” Brady said. “There are a lot of things we can do better.”
Getting off to a stronger start is surely one of them. The Patriots rebounded from an atrocious first half last week, scoring 17 points in the third quarter to rally for a 27-17 victory over Miami that improved them to 4-0 at home.
Brady was one of the main culprits during the slow start, connecting on 6 of 8 passes for 25 yards with an INT while the offense totaled 59 yards.
Still, the Steelers (2-5) aren’t getting caught up in Brady’s unusually meager statistics.
“You can pick apart his numbers, but the only one that matters is 6-2,” safety Ryan Clark said. “When you give Tom Brady a chance to win a football game, he’s going to do it.”
He’s certainly done that against Pittsburgh, tossing 16 touchdowns with three interceptions while winning six of eight meetings, including both in the postseason. He’s also won both matchups at Gillette Stadium, but the most recent came back on Dec. 9, 2007.
Protecting Brady, who’s been sacked 23 times already – four fewer than all of last season – falls to an offensive line that will be without Sebastian Vollmer.
The right tackle was lost for the season with a right leg injury last week and is expected to be replaced by Marcus Cannon, who has started only one of 31 career games over three seasons.
The Steelers, though, have managed just 10 sacks, one more than league-worst Chicago. However, their defense ranks fourth in the NFL, yielding an average of 302.9 yards, including 181.0 through the air.
“They have a good defense and the way we’ve been playing offensively, we can’t be up and down like we’ve been,” Brady said. “We have to be more consistent. Hopefully this is our best week to be able to do that.”
Pittsburgh is also looking to bounce back after following a pair of wins with a 21-18 loss at Oakland last week. Coach Mike Tomlin isn’t dwelling on the performance, which included 276 yards of offense and only 35 rushing.
“Our record is our record,” Tomlin said. “There’s nothing that we can do about what has been played.”
Like the Patriots last week, the Steelers have been victimized by slow starts. They’ve been outscored 54-19 in the first quarter after trailing 15-0 versus the Raiders.
Pittsburgh, trying to climb out of the AFC North basement, is tied for 27th in the league in scoring, averaging 17.9 points.
“The starts of games don’t determine the outcomes of games,” Tomlin said. “We need to keep that in mind as we prepare, too. I don’t want to get lulled into a sense of comfort if we should go up to New England and come out and have a successful start. We’ve got to play football for 60 minutes and winning football.”
Ben Roethlisberger will try to rebound from perhaps his worst performance of the season. He completed 29 of 45 passes for 275 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a season-low 70.1 rating.
His seven picks are just one shy of his total from last season, and he’s facing a Patriots defense that has seven of its 10 INTs at home. The unit is fifth in the league with 215.5 passing yards allowed per contest, but 31st against the run (130.8).
That could mean a big day for rookie Le’Veon Bell, who mustered 24 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries last week.
The Steelers won their last road meeting with New England on Nov. 30, 2008, but the Patriots have gone 34-3 at home during the regular season since that loss.
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