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New England Patriots' offense too much for Steelers

The New England Patriots have a bye next week, but Tom Brady probably doesn't want the time off. His offense finally is rounding into form.

The Patriots rolled up 55 points and 610 yards of offense in a thorough 55-31 shellacking of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It's the most points and yards allowed in Steelers history.

Bill Belichick teams traditionally start peaking after Thanksgiving. This offense, which consistently has struggled all year, still has the pieces in place to carry the team when necessary. (Like this week.) Rob Gronkowski looks faster than ever and set a career record for catches in a game with nine. He was one of three receivers to go for more than 100 yards, including Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson. Stevan Ridley was given the chance to carry the load, and he ran with power and vision all game.

It's amazing how much better New England's offense looks when all its best players are on the field. Brady, who has missed a lot of passes all season, completed a number of difficult throws outside the numbers.

It was a big win for New England because the team heads to Carolina, and then hosts Denver after the bye to start a challenging stretch run. Running back Shane Vereen and cornerback Aqib Talib should be healthy by the Panthers game. This Patriots team looks like it's just warming up.

Here's what else we learned:

1. The Steelers' defense is almost unrecognizable. There were too many coverage busts and confused players. Rookie safety Shamarko Thomas was picked on relentlessly by Brady. Cornerback Cortez Allen has consistently struggled.

2. This was a typical Ben Roethlisberger 2013 game. He threw for 400 yards and four touchdown passes to go with two picks. He wasn't the reason the Steelers lost, but he left too many throws on the field. He wasn't on the same page with his wideouts. This Steelers have a small margin for error, and Big Ben needs to be closer to perfect.

3. The Patriots lost linebacker Rob Ninkovich, safety Steve Gregory and wide receiver Austin Collie to injury during the game. So perhaps the bye week is coming at a good time.

4. Dobson is getting all the snaps over Kenbrell Thompkins now, and it's paying off. Thompkins is talented but wasn't reliable in being in the right place. Dobson is maturing. We'll see if all these offensive gains hold up against a quality unit like the Panthers' defense.

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