PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Tom Brady helped the New England Patriots recover from their worst performance of the season with a 39-26 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in a pulsating AFC showdown.
Brady threw three touchdown passes to Rob Gronkowski and ran for another score as the Patriots put an ugly 34-14 loss to the Cleveland Browns last week behind them.
"We moved on from that (loss) pretty quick," Brady told reporters after beating the Steelers for the sixth time in seven career games against them. "We knew we were playing a great Steelers team. It was a great performance by the whole team."
The New England defense recorded five sacks and stifled Pittsburgh early to give the visitors a 23-3 lead after three quarters, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tossed three scores in the fourth to rally the home team.
Defensive back James Sanders intercepted Roethlisberger and ran 32 yards for a TD in the fourth, and Brady added a TD pass with 4:31 left to put the game out of reach.
Brady finished with 350 yards passing and the Patriots kept pace with their AFC East rival the New York Jets for the best record in the AFC at 7-2.
The Steelers lost for the second time in three games to fall to 6-3 and in a tie with the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North Division lead.
Roethlisberger threw for 387 yards, many of them coming in a late comeback effort, and found wide receiver Mike Wallace for two scores.
Pittsburgh is just 3-2 since Roethlisberger returned to the team after serving a four-game suspension for breaching NFL rules on player conduct.
"I need to play better and I need to get this offense moving," Roethlisberger said. "We flat out stunk offensively and it wasn't fun. We got a good old fashioned butt whipping."
In the loss, wide receiver Hines Ward sustained a concussion early in the game and ended his streak of 186 games with at least one reception.
(Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Alastair Himmer)