Samuels provides Pittsburgh with big lift

PITTSBURGH — Steelers rookie Jaylen Samuels finished Sunday both tired and satisfied.

Samuels ran for 142 yards on 19 carries, and caught two passes for another 30 yards in the Steelers’ 17-10 victory over the New England Patriots at Heinz Field.

The stage was big, and so was Samuels’ performance in his second NFL start.

“I knew it was a big game,” Samuels said. “It was a redemption game from last year. I knew how big this game was for us and our organization. I just wanted to go out there and give them my all. Didn’t want to have any letdowns with James (Conner) being out.”

The Steelers rotated Samuels with veteran Stevan Ridley, who ran for another 16 yards on three carries. But Samuels, who has played a variety of roles in his pre-NFL career, got the bulk of the work.

“I just gave it my all every time I was in there,” he said.

Samuels was the Steelers’ fifth-round pick in this year’s draft. At North Carolina State, he started out as a receiver, then moved to safety in his sophomore year. He moved back to offense for his final two years of college.

“They just always tried to find a way to get me the ball,” Samuels said. “That’s just how it was going into college. That’s why I got recruited by NC State, because of the way they made their offense and how they got guys certain balls.”

Samuels said he never had 19 carries, not even in high school.

“I feel good,” he said. “It was a heck of a workload, but that’s what comes with playing running back in the NFL. It was a good test against a great team.”

Conner is sidelined with a high ankle sprain and has missed the last two games. His availability for this Sunday’s game in New Orleans will be determined by his ability to practice this week.

Samuels made an impression on his quarterback as did another rookie, James Washington, who had two receptions for 65 yards.

“I thought (Samuels’) whole game was awesome,” Ben Roethlisberger said. “He caught the ball, he ran. There is still some room for improvement, but there is for all of us. The way that he stepped up was special and James Washington as well. The plays that he made were just huge today for us.”

Different look?

Tom Brady is accustomed to coming away from games against the Steelers as a winner.

That didn’t happen this time. The Patriots quarterback was asked if the Steelers showed some different wrinkles to hold New England to 10 points.

“That’s a good question,” Brady said. “I’ll have to look at it. I thought they played good. They made some plays. We certainly had some opportunities out there and I give them credit, because they made important plays when

they needed too. But our defense played great. Special teams played great. We have to do better offensively. Tough loss.”

Coach Bill Belichick’s take: “We lost to a good team today. They played a little better than we did. We have to play better to win these games. Coach better. Play better.”

What a catch

The best catch of the game may have been turned in by Steelers cornerback Joe Haden.

Brady tried to throw the ball out of bounds, but didn’t get enough on the throw. Haden leaped, grabbed the ball away from two Patriots players, and held it as he managed to stay in bounds.

The Steelers thwarted a red zone possession by the Patriots with the turnover.

Defensive end Cam Heyward said he will pay to have a photo of the interception framed and will give it to Haden.

“My wife might have it framed as we speak,” Haden said.

It’s no secret the Steelers have been struggling to generate turnovers. Haden’s interception showed how much they can change a game.

“We’ve been letting the team down a little bit in the fourth quarter,” Haden said. “We’ve been talking about turnovers. I feel like being able to get that one was big for us.”

Hit and miss

After struggling Chris Boswell missed a 32-yard field goal badly wide right, Mike Tomlin said he had no hesitation in having Boswell attempt a 48-yard kick, which he made.

“I made that decision when I walked in the stadium that he was our kicker and I wasn’t going to play that second-guessing game today,” Tomlin said. “We evaluated that process in a very thorough manner. He’s our kicker from start to finish, and I like the way he banged that second opportunity. That’s what this is about.”

Stats and streaks

At 8-5-1, the Steelers have clinched a non-losing record for the 15th consecutive year, 12 under Tomlin.

John Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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