FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady struggled through the first half of the season. He started the second half with a near-record performance.
Now, the New England Patriots have a bye to heal their wounds and make more refinements in their suddenly surging offense.
"It hasn't all been pretty, but the wins are the most important thing," Brady said after the Patriots rolled to a 55-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. "Being 7-2 and getting a chance to regroup and study ourselves a little bit and get healthy, hopefully get some guys back and see where we're at."
Against a defense that let receivers get wide open for several long gains, Brady threw for 432 yards and the offense gained 610, both third-most in Patriots history. The 55 points tied for the fifth-highest scoring game by the Patriots and were the most ever allowed by the Steelers (2-6).
"You re-evaluate everything," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "You have to after a performance like that and we will."
For the Patriots, it was a long-awaited unveiling of an offense that was far less productive than the one that led the NFL in points and yards gained last season. They entered Sunday's game ranked just 18th in total offense.
But, with a career-high nine catches, Rob Gronkowski had the best of his three games since missing the first six while recovering from surgeries on his left forearm and back. And the Patriots had a balanced offense with 197 yards rushing led by Stevan Ridley's 115 yards and two touchdowns.
"You throw it, they catch it, they run with it," Brady said. "It makes a good day for a quarterback."
The Patriots hope that continues when they return to action with a game at Carolina on Nov. 18.
"It was definitely a good step forward," wide receiver Julian Edelman said, "but there is a lot of stuff we have to take care of."
Five things to know from the Patriots' win over the Steelers:
SPREADING IT AROUND: Three Patriots had more than 100 yards receiving and at least one touchdown, Gronkowski with 143 yards and one score, Aaron Dobson with 130 and two and Danny Amendola with 122 and one.
"Gronk is a great player," Amendola said. "Everybody tries to double-team him and do a lot of things to try and take him out of the game. So it's on a lot of other guys to get the job done."
"When we're clicking, we're clicking," Gronkowski said, "and it's awesome."
COMING BACK: The Steelers rallied from a 24-10 halftime deficit to tie the game on Ben Roethlisberger's touchdown passes of 20 and 8 yards to Jerricho Cotchery in the first eight minutes of the third quarter. Then the Patriots outscored them 31-7 the rest of the way by scoring touchdowns on their last four series before Brady's kneel-down on the final possession.
"We couldn't stop them," Tomlin said. "We didn't stop the run. We didn't stop the pass."
INJURY UPDATE: Gronkowski took a hard hit to the midsection on a pass over the middle midway through the third quarter. He stretched out on the sideline but soon returned. Three teammates didn't return after being injured — defensive end Rob Ninkovich (foot), safety Steve Gregory (thumb) and wide receiver Austin Collie (knee). For the Steelers, linebacker Vince Williams and cornerback Ike Taylor had concussions and right tackle Marcus Gilbert injured his ankle.
TURNING IT OVER: Roethlisberger threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns but also had two interceptions and lost a fumble. The Patriots had a takeaway for the 36th straight game, the longest current streak in the NFL.
"We're all angry and disappointed," Roethlisberger said. "It's frustrating."
WHERE FROM HERE?: The Steelers fell to 2-6 for the first time since 2006 — the season after they beat Seattle in the Super Bowl. Tomlin said he will evaluate everything in an effort to turn things around.
"We are going to comb through this with a fine-tooth comb," he said. "And those people who are lacking effort won't be playing. It's just that simple."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org