Thursday Night Football highlights: Patriots put dent into Steelers' playoff hopes

Just four days after they were shut out at home by the Los Angeles Chargers, the scuffling New England Patriots upended the Steelers, 21-18, on Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

The Las Vegas sportsbooks did not see points coming in this game. And certainly this was no offensive masterpiece, but this TNF tilt did blow past a historically low point total of 30 … in the first half.

That was mainly thanks to the Patriots, who scored more than 20 points for the first time since Oct. 22 as they jumped out to a 21-3 lead with 7:38 to go in the first half. But that would complete the Patriots’ scoring for the night and they desperately hung on from there.

The Steelers, with former No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky under center, could not complete the comeback. They probably wouldn’t have even been in it, really, if not for the Patriots’ own issues — which in this game included a blocked punt that set Pittsburgh up on the 26-yard line down 21-10. Pittsburgh punched it in and got a two-point conversion, but it didn’t get close to the red zone again.

Pittsburgh finished with 264 yards on just 4 yards per play and the offense was booed by the hometown fans at various points throughout the evening. Trubisky’s first-half interception directly led to a Patriots touchdown that put the Steelers in a 14-3 hole and he finished the game 22-for-35 for 190 yards.

Counterpart Bailey Zappe went 19-for-28 for 240 yards and tossed three touchdowns. He did throw an interception in the second half, though, and New England punted on its other six drives after it went up 21-3. The Patriots barely cleared 300 yards themselves, ending with 303.

The Steelers’ playoff hopes suddenly feel in jeopardy after they lost at home for the second time in five days to a team that entered with just two wins. They now sit at 7-6.

The Patriots’ victory, which halted a five-game losing streak, suddenly brings more intrigue to the draft order. New England entered Thursday firmly in control of the No. 2 pick, its 2-10 record ahead of only the moribund Carolina Panthers. — Jace Evans

Winners and losers from Patriots' win over Steelers

WINNERS

Bailey Zappe has his best performance of season: Zappe got the start for the Patriots and had his best game of the season. Zappe threw for 240 yards and a career-high three touchdowns in the victory. Zappe did throw an interception and the Patriots offense was shutout in the second half, but overall, it was a positive step in the right direction.

Zappe probably isn’t the long-term answer for the Patriots at quarterback, but his performance might’ve afforded him the team’s top backup option next season.

Party in the end zone for birthday boy: Patriots tight end Hunter Henry had a birthday party in the end zone.

Henry, on his 29th birthday, had two touchdown receptions in the first half. The Patriots tight end had three catches, 40 yards and two touchdowns. He caught all three of his targets.

Bill Belichick gets over 300 wins: The future Hall of Fame coach recorded regular-season win number 301 on Thursday night, the most wins among active NFL coaches.

Ezekiel Elliott produces for New England: Filling in for injured running back Rhamondre Stevenson, Elliott found the fountain of youth. Elliott tallied 29 touches, 140 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown.

The veteran running back isn’t the player he once was in Dallas, but he was effective when called upon versus Pittsburgh.

Patriots LB Jahlani Tavai: Tavai produced a single-game career-best 15 tackles. His 15 tackles were also a game-high. No other player on the field Thursday had more than seven tackles.

LOSERS

Mitch Trubisky, Steelers' first-half offense: Mitch Trubisky and the Steelers offense were booed on multiple occasions in the first half. Trubisky only had six completions and 61 yards in the first half, plus a bad interception.

Third-down efficiency: Both teams were terrible on third downs. The Steelers were 3-14 on third downs. New England wasn’t much better. The Patriots went 4-13 on third downs.

Patriots' second-half offense: The Patriots offense scored three touchdowns in the first half. However, their offense reverted back to recent weeks in the second half. The Patriots only had three first downs in the second half and were held scoreless after halftime.

New England’s lone turnover came in the third quarter.

Patriots CB J.C. Jackson: Jackson ran out his welcome in Los Angeles, so the Chargers shipped him back to New England. Jackson’s second stint with the Patriots isn’t going particularly well either. Jackson gave up a 25-yard touchdown to Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson and the corner was flagged multiple times for pass interference.

Steelers' running game: Once known for a physical rushing attack, the Steelers ground game was inefficient Thursday night. Granted, the Steelers got away from the running game a little because they were trailing the entire game, but they couldn’t run the football when they tried.

The Steelers averaged 2.9 yards a carry.

Steelers' playoff chances: The Steelers were 7-4 entering Week 13, then lost two in a row to teams (Cardinals and Patriots) thinking about the 2024 NFL draft and offseason vacation plans.

Pittsburgh closes out the season against the Colts, Bengals, Seahawks and Ravens — all teams vying for playoff berths.

The past two weeks might’ve cost the Steelers a playoff spot. It’s the first time this season the Steelers lost back-to-back games. — Tyler Dragon

How Steelers' loss impacts AFC playoff picture

The Steelers' grip on a playoff spot has severely slipped away over the course of the last five days.

After a stunning defeat at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals, the Steelers were defeated on Thursday night by the Patriots. Both teams had entered their respective games against the Steelers with just two wins.

Thursday night's loss dropped the Steelers from the No. 5 seed to out of a wild-card spot. Leapfrogging over the Steelers (7-6) were the division-rival Cleveland Browns (7-5), Indianapolis Colts (7-5) and Houston Texans (7-5).

These would be the AFC playoff seeds if the season ended right now …

  1. Miami Dolphins (9-3), AFC East leaders

  2. Baltimore Ravens (9-3), AFC North leaders

  3. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4), AFC West leaders

  4. Jacksonville Jaguars (8-4), AFC South leaders

  5. Cleveland Browns (7-5), wild card No. 1

  6. Indianapolis Colts (7-5), wild card No. 2

  7. Houston Texans (7-5), wild card No. 3

Jim Reineking

Steelers turnover on downs with chance to take lead

The odds of the Steelers winning just plummeted after they turned the ball over on downs with 2:01 left in the game and the Patriots up, 21-18.

On fourth-and-2 from their own 49-yard line, Pittsburgh opted not to run. Instead, Mitch Trubisky launched the ball downfield in an attempt to connect with Diontae Johnson, but he overthrew the receiver.

The quarterback threw four incomplete passes on the six-play drive. — Victoria Hernandez

Patriots 21, Steelers 18: Pittsburgh cuts into lead after blocked punt

The Steelers walked away with no points off a Patriots turnover after a failed fourth down conversion attempt, but they got a score their next time to the end zone. The Steelers, however, didn’t have much ground to cover.

Pittsburgh safety Miles Killebrew blocked Patriots’ kicker Bryce Baringer’s punt, which only traveled 11-yards and set the Steelers up at the Patriots’ 26-yard line. Mitch Trubisky ended the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run up the middle. He found a wide open Pat Freiermuth for a successful two-point conversion to cut the Patriots' lead to 21-18. — Cydney Henderson

Steelers turn ball over on downs

The Steelers failed to capitalize off their takeaway.

Mike Tomlin and the Steelers elected to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the New England 8-yard line.

Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky received the ball in shotgun formation. He felt pressure upfront and tossed a short pass to running back Jaylen Warren, who was tackled immediately by Kyle Dugger and Mack Wilson for a 1-yard gain.

As a result, the Patriots took over possession of the football on their own 7-yard line. — Tyler Dragon

Patriots maintain lead after sleepy third quarter

The Patriots are still up 21-10 after both teams failed to score in the third quarter.

After New England took off in the first half, the 15 minutes after the break was a snooze fest as the Steelers punted twice and the Patriots did so once.

Bailey Zappe threw his first interception of the game, nabbed by Mykal Walker right before the quarter ended. He threw three touchdowns in the first half.

The Patriots are outpacing the Steelers 252 yards of offense to 159. — Victoria Hernandez

Steelers defense gets much-needed interception

Bailey Zappe’s good night took a turn in the third quarter.

Zappe’s pass intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster was deflected by Steelers linebacker Elandon Roberts and intercepted by linebacker Mykal Walker.

The interception was Zappe’s first turnover of the night.

The Steelers took over possession of the football on New England’s 16-yard line.

Pittsburgh still trails 21-10. — Tyler Dragon

Patriots vs. Steelers history lesson: Remember when this matchup really mattered?

Once upon a time, Patriots-Steelers was one of the most-anticipated matchups of the season whenever that year's schedule dropped in the spring. It featured future Hall of Famers Tom Brady vs. Ben Roethlisberger dueling it out, slinging footballs in the autumn Western Pennsylvania or New England air, with AFC supremacy at stake.

Those days are over. Brady and Roethlisberger have retired. Now, fans get to see a less-than-enticing quarterback matchup of Bailey Zappe vs. Mitchell Trubisky.

Thursday night's game is the 35th matchup between the Patriots and Steelers (playoffs included). Five of those matchups have taken place in the playoffs, including three AFC championship games. The first took place during the 2001 season — Brady's first AFC title game win en route to a surprising (at the time) Super Bowl win over the "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. Three years later, the Patriots went into Pittsburgh again and defeated the Steelers in the AFC championship game en route to winning a third Super Bowl in four seasons. It was another 12 years before the Patriots and Steelers matched up in the AFC title game — this time in Foxborough — with the Patriots prevailing to reach Super Bowl 51, in which Brady and Co. famously overcame a 28-3 deficit to win in overtime in what USA TODAY Sports' Nate Davis considers the greatest Super Bowl ever played.

The Steelers did have a famous win over the Brady-Bill Belichick Patriots on Halloween 2004. Roethlisberger, then a rookie, led the Steelers to a 34-20 victory that ended the Patriots' 21-game winning streak. — Jim Reineking

Patriots find offense in first half

The Patriots have a surprising 21-10 lead at halftime.

After scoring just 13 combine points in their past three games, the Patriots stormed out to a surprising 21-3 advantage in the first half.

Bailey Zappe tossed three touchdown passes in the first half, including two to tight end Hunter Henry. The Patriots quarterback completed 14-of-21 passes for 196 yards to go with three touchdowns in the first two quarters. Henry and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster have three catches apiece.

Patriots safety Jabrill Peppers has the game’s only interception.

The Steelers offense heard a chorus of boos throughout the first half. Pittsburgh punted three times and quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw a bad interception that gave New England excellent field possession.

Trubisky has just 61 passing yards. He did throw a touchdown in the second quarter to wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who beat New England cornerback J.C. Jackson in coverage.

Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt was contained to just one tackle in the first half. — Tyler Dragon

Steelers LB Alex Highsmith ruled out

The Steelers are down one of their top pass rushers. Alex Highsmith was ruled out of the remainder of “Thursday Night Football” matchup against the Patriots with a neck injury after exiting early in the second quarter. He was evaluated in the medical tent before being ruled out.

Highsmith’s not the only one shaken up. T.J. Watt temporarily exited the game after taking a knee to the head from the Patriots’ Ezekiel Elliott on the first play of the game. He returned after being evaluated. — Cydney Henderson

Patriots 21, Steelers 10: Mitch Trubisky, Diontae Johnson connect for Pittsburgh's first TD

Mitch Trubisky quieted the Mason Rudolph chants — for now.

The quarterback found Diontae Johnson, who two weeks ago was criticized for his lack of effort in a viral play against the Bengals, for a 25-yard touchdown. On second-and-5, Trubisky launched the ball over Patriots defender J.C. Jackson to connect with Johnson in the end zone.

Pittsburgh called five run plays on the drive as Trubisky has struggled early in the game. — Victoria Hernandez

Patriots 21, Steelers 3: Bailey Zappe throws his third TD of first half

Hunter Henry had to briefly get checked out in the medical tent. He returned to the game and scored another touchdown.

Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe threw a nice 24-yard touchdown to Henry to give New England a 21-3 advantage with 7:38 remaining in the second quarter.

Zappe is having his best performance of the season. He’s up to 168 passing yards and three touchdowns. The 24-yard pass from Zappe might’ve been his best throw of the half.

Both of Henry’s receptions resulted in touchdowns. The Patriots tight end has two catches, 32 receiving yards and two touchdowns. — Tyler Dragon

Steelers' Alex Highsmith questionable to return

It’s been a tough game for the Steelers’ top pass rushers.

Following the injury scare to T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh saw Alex Highsmith exit with what the team called a neck injury. The Steelers said Highsmith, who entered second on the team in sacks behind Watt, was questionable to return. — Jace Evans

Patriots 14, Steelers 3: Turnover turns into touchdown

The Patriots possessed the football on Pittsburgh’s 11-yard line after Jabrill Peppers’ interception. Two plays later, Bailey Zappe lofted an 8-yard touchdown pass over the middle to tight end Hunter Henry to give New England a 14-3 lead with 14:14 remaining in the second quarter.

Zappe now has 105 passing yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

The Patriots scored 13 combined points in their last three games. New England already has 14 points in the first half on Thursday night. — Tyler Dragon

Struggling Mitch Trubisky throws costly interception

Steelers backup QB Mitch Trubisky has not gotten off to a good start. Facing a third-and-10 at the Steelers’ own 27-yard line, Trubisky dropped back and attempted a pass across the middle to tight end Pat Freiermuth, but the pass was intercepted by the Patriots’ Jabrill Peppers. Peppers returned the ball 32 yards to the Steelers' 8-yard line.

New England capitalized on Pittsburgh’s turnover. Bailey Zappe connected with tight end Hunter Henry for a touchdown to extend their lead to 14-3.

Trubisky has completed 3-of-7 passes for 19 yards and one interception so far, while Zappe completed 7-of-12 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. The Steelers only have 38 total yards of offense, compared to 126-yard for the Patriots.

Things look so bleak for the Steelers offense that the crowd at Acrisure Stadium started chanting for third-string QB Mason Rudolph. — Cydney Henderson

Patriots have lead after first quarter

The Patriots shocked the world by marching down the field and scoring a touchdown on their first drive of the game.

The Steelers answered with a 56-yard field goal, but that is the only scoring of the game through one quarter with the score 7-3.

Bailey Zappe is 6-of-11 with 97 yards and the score to Ezekiel Elliott, who has three catches for 32 yards and four carries for seven rushing yards.

Mitch Trubisky is 2-of-4 for 12 yards and has 16 rushing yards. Najee Harris has 5 catches for 11 yards as he’s playing through a knee injury.

Former Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-SchusterJuJu has two catches for 54 yards.

Pittsburgh's star defender T.J. Watt was banged up when he was kicked during the first play of the game. He was evaluated on the sideline, but has continued to play. — Victoria Hernandez

T.J. Watt goes into blue medical tent, but returns to game

T.J. Watt’s health will be something to watch throughout this game.

The 2021 Defensive Player of the Year was banged up on the very first play against the Patriots when he took the brunt of Ezekiel Elliott’s leg to his head and chest. He returned during the Pats’ opening drive, which ended in a touchdown. But Watt was seen by Amazon’s cameras getting looked at on the sideline and he eventually found his way to the blue medical tent … before he returned to the field again. — Jace Evans

The absurd way the 2-10 Patriots can still make the playoffs

If the season ended today, the Patriots would hold the second overall pick, their highest pick since they took Drew Bledsoe first overall in 1993. They are basement-dwellers of the NFL, and definitely not a playoff team ... right?

Well … the Patriots still have a path to the playoffs. — Jon Hoefling

Patriots 7, Steelers 3: Pittsburgh gets on board with field goal

The Steelers answered the Patriots’ surprising game-opening touchdown with a score of their own: a 56-yard field goal.

J.C. Jackson nearly snagged an interception on the drive, but the play was called back when he was flagged for pass interference.

Mitch Trubisky started the drive off with a 15-yard run, but nearly threw the pick and was then sacked on third-and-8, which forced Chris Boswell to boot the kick. — Victoria Hernandez

Patriots 7, Steelers 0: In a shocker: Patriots get into end zone on first possession; T.J. Watt injured on first play

After being held scoreless in Week 13, the Patriots scored a touchdown on their opening drive against the Steelers.

Bailey Zappe led the Patriots on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by an 11-yard touchdown pass to running back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott had two catches in the series. The Patriots got into scoring range after an impressive 37-yard catch by wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster that put the ball on Pittsburgh’s 26-yard line.

The Patriots haven't scored more than seven points the past three games. They already have seven on Thursday night.

Steelers star pass rusher T.J. Watt was injured on the first play of the game, but checked back in a few plays later. — Tyler Dragon

Who are the starting quarterbacks for the Patriots and Steelers?

This week's "Thursday Night Football" contest won't be your dad's Patriots vs. Steelers matchup.

What was once one of the premier matchups in the NFL with Tom Brady vs. Ben Roethlisberger will certainly be a not ideal quarterback game for either side, as both teams are struggling at the signal-caller position for their own reasons.

In a perfect world, the game would feature two former first round NFL draft picks in Mac Jones vs. Kenny Pickett. But injuries and poor play have left the quarterback situations on each team with a lot to be desired, as there are questions at the position heading into Thursday's game. — Jordan Mendoza

What time does Patriots vs. Steelers begin?

Patriots vs. Steelers is set to kick off at 8:15 p.m. ET on Dec. 7.

How to watch Patriots vs. Steelers

Patriots at Steelers will be streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video and will be broadcast in local markets only.

Patriots vs. Steelers: Odds, predictions and picks

The Steelers are favorites to defeat the Patriots, according to BetMGM NFL odds.

  • Spread: Steelers (-5.5)

  • Moneyline: Steelers (-250); Patriots (+200)

  • Over/under: 30

USA TODAY Sports’ staff picks for this game:

  • Lorenzo Reyes: Steelers 14, Patriots 6 — This game has all the makings of the under, even with it being stunningly low. The Steelers are two-of-seven in the red zone over their last two games, Mitchell Trubisky will start in place of Kenny Pickett, and Rhamondre Stevenson is out for the Patriots. I like Pittsburgh to cover, but I think the under is the play here, especially on a short week.

  • Tyler Dragon: Steelers 17, Patriots 9 — Offense in this game might set the NFL back to the Stone Age. The Patriots are the first team since 1938 to allow 10 points or fewer in three straight games and lose them all. The Steelers rank near the bottom of the NFL in points per game and now they have to trot out backup QB Mitch Trubisky. Pittsburgh gets the edge because they have an opportunistic defense.

  • Safid Deen: Steelers 17, Patriots 6 — The Steelers have a playoff spot on the line, while the Patriots are climbing their way up the draft order. Take the under on this one.

  • Victoria Hernandez: Steelers 17, Patriots 7 — The Steelers will be playing under Mitch Trubisky, at least for this week, while we still have no idea what’s going on with the quarterback situation in New England. Pittsburgh sputtered a bit last week, but the Patriots failed to score. Mike Tomlin will get his offense going enough to help the eighth-ranked defense in the league secure the home win.

  • Jordan Mendoza: Steelers 13, Patriots 6 — It wouldn't be crazy to bet the under in what is sure to be a game that has little offensive firepower. But Pittsburgh has some weapons to get in the end zone at least once, something New England hasn't shown signs of being able to do at the moment.

Patriots vs. Steelers over/under total reaches low not seen since 2005

The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots Week 14 matchup on "Thursday Night Football" is reaching historic betting levels, with an over/under total not seen in nearly 20 years.

The over/under for the Steelers vs. Patriots game sits at 30 points as of Thursday afternoon, according to the BetMGM NFL odds. The 30-point total would be the lowest since 2005, BetMGM confirmed to USA TODAY Sports. — Jordan Mendoza

2024 NFL draft first-round order: Patriots in contention for No. 1 overall pick

A two-decade run of excellence has meant that the Patriots annually select in the bottom half of the first round of the NFL draft.

Times have definitely changed. The Patriots are well within position to obtain the team's first top-five draft pick since 1994. The Patriots are in the running for No. 1 overall pick, which the team hasn't had since 1993.

This once-proud franchise has fallen on hard times, and that is reflected in the first-round order for the 2024 NFL draft.

Here is the top 10 2024 draft order heading into Week 14:

  1. Chicago Bears (from Carolina Panthers)

  2. New England Patriots

  3. Arizona Cardinals

  4. Washington Commanders

  5. Chicago Bears

  6. New York Giants

  7. Tennessee Titans

  8. New York Jets

  9. New Orleans Saints

  10. Las Vegas Raiders

Jim Reineking

Dump Bill Belichick? Split with Patriots might be sensible and a stunner

Put yourself in the shoes of Robert Kraft.

Tom Brady is long gone. The dynasty is over. Bill Belichick is still in charge, but the legendary emperor that we knew no longer has the Midas touch. And it didn’t happen overnight. The Patriots – with a 2-10 record entering Thursday night that is worst-ever at this point under Belichick – have become such an embarrassment. — Jarrett Bell

TNF features two of three winningest coaches in NFL

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has 300 career regular-season wins, the most among active coaches in the NFL. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has registered 170 career regular-season wins, the third most among active coaches. — Tyler Dragon

T.J. Watt: Steelers' all-time sack leader

Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has 14 sacks this season, the second most in the NFL entering Week 14. Watt’s 91.5 career sacks are the most in Steelers franchise history. — Tyler Dragon

Patriots defense holding opponents to 10 points or less

The Patriots have lost five in a row. But the Patriots defense has allowed 10 points or fewer the past three games, the longest active streak in the NFL. New England enters Week 14 the eighth-ranked total defense in the NFL. — Tyler Dragon

Patriots vs. Steelers betting tips

Highlighting Thursday Night Football odds, the Pittsburgh Steelers are among the best bets for NFL Week 14 in their primetime game against the New England Patriots. The Steelers are favored by 5.5 points at home, according to the BetMGM NFL odds. Looking to wager? Check out the best mobile sports betting apps offering NFL betting promos in 2023.

According to the top NFL betting apps, neither team boasts a player among those with the best NFL MVP betting odds in 2023 and neither the Steelers nor Patriots can claim the best Super Bowl betting odds.

Not interested in these games? Our guide to NFL betting odds, picks and spreads has you covered with Thursday Night Football odds, Sunday Night Football odds, Monday Night Football odds and more.

If you’re new to sports betting, don’t worry. We have tips for beginners on how to place a bet online. And USA TODAY readers can claim exclusive promos and bonus codes with these online sportsbooks and sports betting sites. — Richard Morin

Patriots vs. Steelers inactive: Kenny Pickett officially out

Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett is out after undergoing surgery on a high ankle sprain on Monday. The timetable for his possible return is unknown at this point. Mitchell Trubisky, who has started 55 NFL games (five for the Steelers), will play in Pickett's absence.

The Patriots will be without two key offensive players, as starting running back Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) and wide receiver Demario Douglas (concussion) are out for Thursday night's game. Stevenson and Douglas are the Patriots' team leaders in rushing yards and receiving yards, respectively.

Patriots' inactive players:

  • WR DeVante Parker

  • CB Shaun Wade

  • RB Rhamondre Stevenson

  • RB Jamycal Hasty

  • OT Vederian Lowe

  • WR Kayshon Boutte

  • WR Demario Douglas

Steelers' inactive players:

  • QB Kenny Pickett

  • RB Anthony McFarland

  • CB James Pierre

  • LB Markus Golden

  • OT Dylan Cook

  • DE DeMarvin Leal

Patriots QB carousel: New England elevates Malik Cunningham against Steelers

Bailey Zappe is expected to get another start as the Patriots' quarterback on Thursday against the Steelers after Mac Jones was benched during four games this season.

To add some extra insurance to the position, New England elevated Malik Cunningham from the practice squad. This is the second week in a row the rookie has been on the active roster and he did not play in last week’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Cunningham starred at Louisville, where he danced across the school’s record book. In 2021, he became the second quarterback in Cardinals history to have more than 1,000 rushing yards. Two seasons prior, he threw for a program record 194.45 passing efficiency with 2,065 passing yards and 22 touchdowns, which was 11th all-time for Louisville.

The Patriots also elevated running back Kevin Harris as Rhamondre Stevenson and JaMycal Hasty are out. — Victoria Hernandez

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Patriots-Steelers score: Thursday Night Football highlights, top plays