Not even a trip to Heinz Field, one of the most favorable venues across the league for the Patriots through the years, could cure their road woes.
New England is in very real danger of playing on wild-card weekend following a 17-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon, dropping their record to 9-5.
Tom Brady's throw to Julian Edelman on a fourth-and-15 in the final minute of regulation came up short, and the Patriots are now a game back of the Houston Texans for the No. 2 seed and the first-round bye that comes with it in the AFC playoff picture.
But New England had many chances other than its final possession to tie or take the lead against the Steelers.
After Duron Harmon’s second interception of Ben Roethlisberger early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots drove all the way down to the Pittsburgh 5-yard line, where they faced first-and-goal.
But a holding penalty, followed by a pass play for a loss of 2 yards, followed by Brady’s first red zone interception since 2016, spelled doom for New England.
Brady threw up a jump ball in the vicinity of both Rob Gronkowski and Edelman, yet in landed safely in the hands of Pittsburgh cornerback Joe Haden, who neatly kept both of his feet in bounds to bring a stunning halt to the drive for the Patriots.
Truthfully, the Patriots were lucky to be in the game as long as they were. While Roethlisberger had his pair of picks, New England was penalized a ghastly 14 times for 106 yards, including eight times before the snap.
The Patriots were once again dreadful against the run, too. Despite Pittsburgh being without starting running back James Conner, rookie Jaylen Samuels sliced his way to 142 yards on 19 carries, good for a healthy 7.5 yards per carry.
Brady wasn’t helped by his receivers, either. Edelman had two drops and James White and Josh Gordon had one apiece. Gronkowski, meanwhile, was a virtual non-factor for the Patriots. A year after putting up a career-high 168 receiving yards against the Steelers, he was held to a paltry two catches for 21 yards.
Brady finished 25 of 36 passing for 289 yards and a 63-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan in the first quarter, which helped New England tie the game at 7-7. The Patriots never had the lead.
Roethlisberger threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Vance McDonald on Pittsburgh's very first series and later connected with Antonio Brown on a 16-yard hookup in the second quarter.
It's the first time the Steelers have beaten the Patriots since the 2011 season, snapping a five-game winning streak by New England against Pittsburgh.
The good news for New England is that it won’t have to go on the road again in the regular season. The Patriots finished 3-5 on the road, just the third time under Bill Belichick they’ve had a losing mark away from Gillette Stadium (2000, his very first year on the job, and again in 2009, which is also the last time they had to play on Wild-Card Weekend.
New England closes out the regular season with a pair of 1 p.m. home games, first against the Buffalo Bills next Sunday and against the New York Jets on Dec. 30.