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NFL morning after: A great time for great quarterbacks

kaepernick AP

The NFL is, more than ever before, a quarterback league. And we’ve got some great ones playing in these playoffs.

If the wild card weekend taught us anything, it’s that the NFL in 2014 is dominated by quarterbacks. When quarterbacks are playing great football, like Andrew Luck and Alex Smith played in Indianapolis on Saturday, the results are spectacular. When quarterbacks are playing badly, like Andy Dalton played in Cincinnati on Sunday, the result is a team with no chance to win, even when its defense plays well.

The good news for fans who like offense is that next weekend’s four games have what may be the best quarterback matchups in NFL history. Just think about how good the quarterbacks are in the four divisional round games:

Philip Rivers vs. Peyton Manning: Manning will win the fifth Most Valuable Player award of his career for his record-breaking 2013 season, and he’s the best passer in football. But after Manning, the next-best passer in the NFL over the course of the 2013 season was Rivers. Rivers completed a league-leading 69.5 percent of his passes in the regular season, had 32 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and took a team that looked before the season like one of the worst in the NFL to the playoffs. This will be a great matchup of great passers.

Andrew Luck vs. Tom Brady: Luck threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns as he got the first postseason win of his career on Saturday, and now he’ll travel to New England and face Brady, who has 17 career postseason wins. If the Colts can pull the upset, this could be a changing of the guard: The quarterback who has three Super Bowl rings giving way to a much younger quarterback who’s probably going to win multiple Super Bowl rings before his career is over.

Drew Brees vs. Russell Wilson: Brees topped 5,000 passing yards for the fourth time in his career this season; no one else has reached 5,000 yards more than once. Wilson, who grew up idolizing Brees, may be the most exciting player to enter the NFL in recent years: He scrambles like Fran Tarkenton and has a gun like John Elway.

Colin Kaepernick vs. Cam Newton: This is the one that has me the most excited because it’s the one that has the greatest potential to show us what the future of football will be. Running quarterbacks are here to stay, and in Kaepernick and Newton we have the two best running quarterbacks in football facing off. Kaepernick has two of the three best rushing performances by a quarterback in NFL postseason history, with his 181-yard game against Green Bay last year and his 98-yard game against Green Bay on Sunday. Newton led all quarterbacks in rushing in the regular season, with 585 yards, and he’s the all-time quarterback record holder for rushing touchdowns in a season.

Quarterback matchups don’t get any better than that, and that’s what I’m most excited about heading into the divisional weekend. Here are my observations from wild card weekend:

There were no 100-yard rushers. The flip side of the NFL being a league of great quarterbacks is that the running game has been de-emphasized. There wasn’t a single 100-yard runner in the NFL this weekend. In fact, it was a quarterback, Kaepernick, who led all runners in the wild card round with his 98-yard game against the Packers. Running backs just aren’t the NFL’s marquee players anymore.

Smith had a game like no other. Until Saturday, no player in NFL history had ever passed for 350 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and added 50 yards on the ground in any game, regular season or postseason. But Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith became the first player to do it on Saturday when he passed for 378 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, and added 57 rushing yards. Quarterbacks shouldn’t be judged on wins and losses: When a quarterback plays the way Smith played on Saturday and leads his team to 44 points, he shouldn’t be judged harshly just because his team’s defense gave up 45 points. But the reality is that quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses, and so a lot of people will choose to remember that Smith overthrew an open Cyrus Gray on what could have been a touchdown pass, that Smith lost a fumble and that Smith’s intentional grounding penalty took the Chiefs out of field goal range late in the game. Me, I’ll remember that Smith turned in the game of his life.

Hilton stepped up in a big way. T.Y. Hilton, who became the Colts’ No. 1 receiver by default after Reggie Wayne suffered a season-ending injury, had the best game of his career and one of the best games anyone has ever had in the playoffs on Saturday. Hilton’s 13 catches were tied for the second most in NFL postseason history, and his 224 receiving yards were tied for the third most in NFL postseason history. The Colts were very wise to take Hilton in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft, the same draft in which they selected Andrew Luck. Those two are going to be a great combination for many years to come.

Two big changes for the Saints panned out. After the Saints’ Week 15 loss to the Rams, New Orleans coach Sean Payton decided he had seen enough of struggling kicker Garrett Hartley and left tackle Charles Brown. And so the Saints cut Hartley and signed Shayne Graham to take his place, and benched Brown and promoted rookie left tackle Terron Armstead to the starting lineup. Both moves looked very good in Saturday’s playoff win over the Eagles. Graham went 4-for-4 on field goals, while Armstead held his own against the Eagles’ pass rush and helped keep Drew Brees upright. Give Payton credit for recognizing two spots on his team that needed to get better, and making the necessary changes.

McCoy couldn’t get loose. During the regular season, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy led the league in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, averaged 5.1 yards a run and 10.4 yards a catch, and had 17 different plays of 20 yards or more. Against the Saints on Saturday, McCoy averaged just 3.7 yards a run and 3.8 yards a catch, and his longest play of the day was 11 yards. The ability of Rob Ryan’s New Orleans defense to keep McCoy in check was a huge part of the Eagles’ season ending on Saturday.

Lewis can build a defense, but he can’t build a quarterback. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has a well-earned reputation as a great defensive mind, and his defense was strong on Sunday, holding a good San Diego offense in check for most of the game. Unfortunately, Lewis has Andy Dalton as his quarterback, and Dalton was beyond terrible on Sunday, with three turnovers that pretty much handed the game to the Chargers. Lewis may need to sign or draft another quarterback this offseason because Dalton simply isn’t up to the task.

Keenan Allen plays the game the way it’s meant to be played. Allen, the rookie receiver who led the Chargers with 1,046 receiving yards, only had two catches for 21 yards on Sunday. So why am I singling Allen out for praise? Because I love the way this young man plays the game, even when he’s not getting the ball. Allen’s brutal but legal block to spring teammate Eddie Royal on a nine-yard run was my single favorite play of the weekend.

TV is better than being there. Three of the four teams that hosted games over the weekend had trouble selling out their stadiums, and no one should be surprised by that. The truth is, if you have an HD TV and a comfortable couch, sitting at home and watching the games for free is a lot better than paying a small fortune to sit in an uncomfortable stadium, often in terrible weather, surrounded by loudmouth drunks. I don’t blame the fans in Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Green Bay who were slow to sell out their stadiums last week, and if anything surprises me, it’s that Philadelphia fans sold out their stadium within minutes of the Eagles putting playoff tickets for sale. If I lived in Philadelphia, I would have much rather been at home on Saturday afternoon, watching that great Chiefs-Colts second half, than in my car fighting traffic on my way to the game. And I would have rather been at home to watch my team lose to the Saints than sit in the cold on Saturday night. The best place to watch football is at home.

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Cardinals running short of targets, Jaron Brown won’t return

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) scrambles as Seattle Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark (55) pursues during the first half of a football game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) AP

Neither team is doing much offensively tonight, but if the Cardinals are going to, they’re going to do it short-handed.

Cards wideout Jaron Brown, who left earlier with a knee injury, has been downgraded to out.

The Cards were already without John Brown (hamstring, sickle cell trait), and Michael Floyd has been in and out of a hard-hitting game.

Coupled with tight end Darren Fells being checked out by trainers, they’re short on wideouts and targets in general, and the game reflects that, as they cling to a 3-0 lead.

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Aaron Lynch: 49ers are possibly one of the best teams in the NFL

SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 23:  Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers breaks a tackle from Aaron Lynch #59 of the San Francisco 49ers during their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) Getty Images

Confidence. The food of the wise man and the liquor of the fool.

And while I’m not saying 49ers linebacker Aaron Lynch is a fool, I’d like to have a little of whatever liquor he was drinking before he offered up some supremely-confident comments about his employer.

We have the team,” Lynch said after a loss to Tampa that dropped San Francisco to 1-6, via Matt Maiocco of “We possibly have one of the best teams in the NFL, easily. Hands down. We need to know how to keep finishing games and work together throughout the whole game. Once we get that down, nobody’s going to be able to mess with us.”

They need to get that down quickly, because they’re nearly out of contention in the NFC playoff field.

Lynch wasn’t the only member of the defense talking big after the 49ers yielded gigantic yardage on Sunday: 513 total yards.

“I love this scheme,” safety Eric Reid said, via Maiocco. “If everybody does their job, we shouldn’t get beat. But whenever there’s an explosive play, somebody is out of position. We just got to tighten up.”

There’s a lot of tightening that needs to be done to make the 49ers relevant and competitive. Currently, they simply aren’t.

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Browns center Erving leaves game with illness

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 30:  Will Hill #33 of the Baltimore Ravens returns a blocked field goal for a touchdown in front of Jim Dray #81, Cameron Erving #74 and Andy Lee #8 of the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 30, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Baltimore won the game 33-27.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

Browns center Cameron Erving left Sunday’s loss to the Bengals at halftime due to an undisclosed illness and did not return.

After the game, the Browns did not know if the illness was related to the bruised lung that Erving suffered in Week Two that kept him out of the next three games.

“Illness. Definitely illness,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said after the game. “Not going to get into anything [else]. It was an illness and he wasn’t ‘pulled.’ He didn’t come out for the second half, so that’s what happened.”

Erving’s absence caused another offensive line shuffle. John Greco went from right guard back to center. Rookie Spencer Drango started at left guard, and Alvin Bailey also played left guard before going back to right guard when Greco had to move inside.

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Cardinals falter before half, hang onto 3-0 lead on Seahawks

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) blocks against Arizona Cardinals strong safety Tony Jefferson (22) during the first half of a football game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) AP

It’s not a high-scoring half of football, but it’s entertaining in its own way.

And the Cardinals have the only points, leading Seattle 3-0 after a hard-hitting first half.

The Cards are pressuring Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson into an ugly stat line. Wilson’s just 5-of-14 passing for 34 yards, and lost 2 yards on his only rushing attempt.

It’s not that Cardinals are lighting it up themselves, and their late push for another Chandler Catanzaro field goal could have really benefitted from the timeout Bruce Arians burned on a non-challengeable play (Bobby Wagner’s leap over the line when he blocked the field goal).

Instead, offsetting penalties after a sack-strip-fumble by Carson Palmer allowed the half to expire.

The way this game is progressing, there might not be much scoring. But it will still be good.

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Antonio Brown says he’ll be fine after taking a knee in the quad

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 23:  Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers makes a catch in front of Malcolm Butler #21 of the New England Patriots in the first half during the game at Heinz Field on October 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) Getty Images

Steelers receiver Antonio Brown spent some time on the sidelines during Sunday’s loss to the Patriots, with a leg injury. After the game, Brown explained why he was absent.

He took a knee to the quad from a Patriots defender.

Brown added that he expects to be able to play in two weeks, when the Steelers emerge from their bye week.

For the game, Brown caught seven passes for 106 yards. It wasn’t enough to keep the Steelers from limping into the bye week at 4-3.

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LeSean McCoy: Hamstring felt fine heading into game

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 23:  LeSean McCoy #25 of the Buffalo Bills rushes with the ball against the Miami Dolphins at the Hard Rock Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Bills saw their four-game winning streak come to an end in Miami on Sunday afternoon and they also saw running back LeSean McCoy leave the game early because of a hamstring injury.

McCoy’s status was a subject of discussion leading into the game with a report that he’d miss the game due to the hamstring injury getting rebuffed before he was listed as questionable for the game. He ran eight times for 11 yards while seeing the most snaps at running back into the third quarter of the game. McCoy said he “felt a little pain” in the hamstring during the game, but that all was well up until that point.

“I felt fine,” McCoy said, via the team. “Every day step by step I slowly progressed and things calmed down. It was a day to day decision. I felt great going into my cuts, warming up, running, cutting, I felt good. That was the only reason I would play if I was 100 percent.”

Coach Rex Ryan said that McCoy was cleared to play in the game and that he wouldn’t have played if the team didn’t think he was 100 percent.

McCoy said he doesn’t think the injury is a “major” one and feels hopeful he’ll be ready for next Sunday’s date with the Patriots. Based on the way the offense performed without McCoy having a big game, that would be as great for the Bills as it might be unlikely given how things went with McCoy’s hamstring this week.

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Who’s the best running back in the NFL?

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 23:  Jay Ajayi #23 of the Miami Dolphins enters the field prior to a game against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images) Getty Images

With plenty of young running backs getting it done during the 2016 NFL season, it’s a good time to stick a finger in the wind regarding the best of the league’s current tailbacks.

That Monday’s question of the day on PFT Live. Vote for one of the choices in the poll appearing below, make your arguments in the comments, and tune in tomorrow morning at 6:00 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Radio, or to NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET for the simulcast.

Joining the show will be the head coach of one of the options listed below: Adam Gase, whose Dolphins have won two in a row and must be taken seriously down the stretch this season.

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Joe Flacco: My shoulder felt good today

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23:  Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens looks to pass against the New York Jets in the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Ravens lost for the fourth straight week on Sunday when the Jets turned a pair of Joe Flacco interceptions into 10 second half points for a 24-16 home victory.

Flacco had some success in the first half, but he and the entire Ravens offense flamed out after taking a 16-14 lead into the locker room at halftime. After the game, Flacco was asked if the right shoulder soreness that caused him to miss practice time was an issue during the game.

Flacco said he felt good on Sunday and will take it easy during the bye week in hopes of keeping the issue from lingering in the coming weeks.

“I hope not. I didn’t deal with it today,” Flacco said in his postgame press conference. “I felt good; my arm felt great. I was a little bit nervous early on in the week, just because I wasn’t sure what it was. I was having a little bit of trouble with it, so I was a little bit nervous early in the week, but when I went in on Thursday, I felt pretty good and I felt optimistic that I was going to be feeling ready to go. The last couple days have been great and I felt great coming in throwing the ball, so hopefully I won’t have to deal with it. I’m sure there will be a little bit, but the fact that we have a bye week this week, hopefully I can get over it.”

Flacco’s two interceptions were hardly the only thing wrong on offense that ran for six yards all day. Flacco summed up the unit’s work by saying “we’re not good right now” and the Ravens’ losing streak is likely to keep running as long as that’s the case.

The Ravens have plenty of players in need of healing over the bye week and perhaps a healthier team can be more successful than the one that’s been on display the last few weeks.

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Cardinals and Seahawks still scoreless after a quarter

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) warms up prior to a football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin) AP

Some people see a scoreless quarter and see the glass as half-empty.

But the Seahawks and Cardinals have also played quality defense, and kept the pressure on opposing quarterbacks so far.

It’s been hard for either side to get into much of a rhythm, but it’s not necessarily the fault of the offenses.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is clearly not himself as a runner, as was evidenced on an early read option. But his sprained left knee and his right ankle sprain from earlier this year haven’t kept him off the field, either.

The best play of the night so far was a punt by Arizona’s Ryan Quigley, who backed the Seahawks up at their own 1-yard line. You can look at that as a bad thing if you want, or you can savor a difficult job, well done.

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Matthew Stafford makes 100th-game history

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 23: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions celebrates on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter of the game against the Washington Redskins at Ford Field on October 23, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit defeated Washington 20-17. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) Getty Images

On Sunday, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford played in his 100th career game. And he has done more in 100 games than any player in league history.

Specifically, Stafford has more passing yards through his first 100 games, with 27,890.

That’s an average of 278.9 per game. He was under that amount on Sunday, with 266.

More importantly, the Lions managed their third straight win, fueled by a late-game drive allowed Detroit to beat Washington.

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Watch Seahawks-Cardinals online

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 16:  Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks talks with Seattle head coach Pete Carroll before a game against the Atlanta Falcons at CenturyLink Field on October 16, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

You don’t need a TV to watch Sunday Night Football. But you do need an Internet connection, if you don’t have a TV.

With said Internet connection and a computer or a tablet, you can stream the game via or the NBC Sports app.

It all gets started soon, with the Seahawks trying to stretch their record to 5-1 and the Cardinals hoping to get above .500 for the first time this year.

Yeah, yeah, yeah the zombie show is on. So record it and watch it after the game.

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Chargers rally from 17-point deficit for overtime win

San Diego Chargers inside linebacker Denzel Perryman (52) picks off Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman) AP

The Chargers don’t play boring games.

They rallied from a 17-point deficit Sunday to top the Falcons in overtime, 33-30, on a 42-yard field goal by Josh Lambo. The Chargers trailed 27-10 in the second quarter and twice trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter.

Philip Rivers threw for 371 yards and Melvin Gordon scored three touchdowns, but the Chargers also needed timely defensive plays. A Denzel Perryman interception in the fourth quarter set up the drive to tie it.

The Falcons went for it on fourth and one on their first overtime possession and got stopped. Falcons kicker Matt Bryant missed a 58-yard field goal on the final play of regulation.

With two rushing and one by passing, Gordon is up to 10 touchdowns on the season. He didn’t score a touchdown last year as a rookie.

The Falcons scored three touchdowns in the second quarter but scored just three points the rest of the way.

The Chargers keep playing close games and have now won two in a row for the first time for improve to 3-4. The Falcons are 4-3 after losing their second straight.

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones caught nine passes for 174 yards but the Chargers limited Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to 273 yards and one touchdown pass and also sacked him three times.

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Aaron Williams rejoins Bills for flight back to Buffalo

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 23:  Aaron Williams #23 of the Buffalo Bills leaves the field injured in the first quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on October 23, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images) Getty Images

A scary situation regarding Bills defensive back Aaron Williams has ended with good news.

After being taken to a Miami-area hospital by ambulance after Sunday’s loss to the Dolphins, Williams has been released and will return to Buffalo with his teammates. According to the Bills, Williams had a precautionary MRI.

Dubbed as dealing with a head/neck injury, a source with knowledge of the situation told PFT that there was no concern regarding a head injury.

Williams absorbed a big hit from Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry during Sunday’s game. Landry expressed regret regarding the outcome.

“Just playing football, man, just playing football,” Landry said, via the Palm Beach Post. “If I could take that hit back, I would. The guy has a family to feed and this is his livelihood. You never want to see that with anybody. You never want to see that happen to anybody. But it’s football. Injuries like that are not something that sit well.”

Landry was penalized for the block. Whether he’s fined is something that will be determined by the league office this week.

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No Kam Chancellor or John Brown on Sunday night

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 29:  Wide receiver Martavis Bryant #10 of the Pittsburgh Steelers scores a touchdown against strong safety Kam Chancellor #31 of the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter at CenturyLink Field on November 29, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Cardinals and Seahawks will be in action on Sunday night and the release of their inactive lists shows that there wasn’t any late good news for either John Brown or Kam Chancellor.

Brown is inactive for the Cardinals as a result of the leg issues that he’s been dealing with this week. The wide receiver learned that they are the result of a sickle cell trait and coach Bruce Arians said during the week that Brown and doctors were working to come up with a solution to the problem.

The Seahawks ruled out Chancellor for the second straight week. The safety has a groin injury and Kelcie McCray is expected to start in his place.

Running back C.J. Spiller, running back Thomas Rawls, linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, guard Rees Odhiambo, tight end Luke Willson and defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson are also inactive for the Seahawks. The Cardinals will be without cornerback Brandon Williams, linebacker Gabe Martin, guard Cole Toner, defensive tackle Olsen Pierre, defensive tackle Ed Stinson and defensive tackle Xavier Williams.

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Patriots ride LeGarrette Blount, beat Steelers 27-16

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 23:  LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots reacts after rushing for a 3 yard touchdown in the second quarter during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Steelers made seven trips into Patriots territory over the course of Sunday’s game against the Patriots, including a pair of drives that started there after Patriots turnovers.

The Steelers didn’t get any points on either of those drives, however, and they only scored one touchdown over the course of the game. The Patriots got over midfield four times during the game and they scored touchdowns on all four of those possessions, which makes for a tidy way of explaining why they’re headed home from Pittsburgh with a 27-16 victory.

They got those touchdowns by riding LeGarrette Blount to the tune of 24 carries for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Blount, who was cut by the Steelers before returning to the Patriots in 2014, kept the chains and the clock moving all afternoon and the Steelers run defense has now been gashed in two straight losses. The Patriots generally kept things on the short side when they did put the ball in the air, although Tom Brady used play action to hit a couple of big gains to tight end Rob Gronkowski.

One of those was a 36-yard touchdown that gave Gronkowski 68 touchdowns on his career. That ties former wide receiver Stanley Morgan for the most in Patriots history.

Landry Jones threw an interception in the end zone on the first of those failed forays into Patriots territory and the inability to get in the end zone will burn, but he didn’t play badly as a replacement for the injured Ben Roethlisberger. Jones finished the day 29-of-47 for 281 yards and may have had more luck if Antonio Brown and Sammie Coates didn’t miss chunks of the game as the latest additions to the lengthy injury list in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers go into a bye week now and they’ll hope to have Roethlisberger back in the lineup when they return to work. The Patriots will head to Buffalo to try for a 7-1 record and a little bit of payback for their 16-0 home loss to the Bills earlier this season.

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