Tom Brady threw for a season-high 350 yards with three touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski, as the New England Patriots solved the Pittsburgh defense in a 39-26 victory at Heinz Field.
Gronkowski, a rookie, finished with five catches for 72 yards in the biggest performance of his young career. He entered the game with 14 catches for 148 yards and three scores through his first eight contests.
Brady completed 30-of-43 passes and ran for a score as the Patriots (7-2) kept pace with the New York Jets for the AFC East lead. The Jets pulled out an overtime win at Cleveland on Sunday, thanks to a last-minute touchdown, to improve to 7-2.
"That was an emotional win for us," Brady said. "It's always fun to come in here and play well. We know what kind of team they have, what they're all about. I thought we showed what we're all about, too."
Ben Roethlisberger passed for a season-high 387 yards and three touchdowns on 30-of-49 completions. But he also had his one interception returned for a touchdown, as the Steelers (6-3) lost for a second time in three games.
The Steelers hadn't allowed 39 points since their 41-27 loss to New England in the AFC Championship Game at the end of the 2004 season.
"You've got to give them credit. I don't think they did anything to confuse us or anything like that. I think they just flat-out beat us," Roethlisberger said. "Truth be told, I think we got a good old-fashioned butt whooping, and you never like it when it's at home."
Pittsburgh had to play much of the game without Hines Ward, who suffered a concussion late in the first quarter. He remained in uniform on the sideline and kept loose on a training bike, but did not enter as he was being evaluated.
New England held a 10-3 lead at the break, and took control with two scores in the third quarter.
On the period's opening possession, the Patriots moved 78 yards in 10 plays, scoring on a 2nd-and-goal from the nine. Brady faked a handoff and sent a pass to the right flat for Gronkowski, who ran free into the end zone.
Jeff Reed pushed a 26-yard field goal to the right with under four minutes left in the quarter, and New England took advantage of the opportunity to widen its lead. The Patriots didn't face a third down on the 80-yard drive, which Brady ended with a three-yard plunge up the middle.
He planted the ball on the goal line as he dove forward, and Steelers safety Troy Polamalu tried to push him away. But it was definitely a touchdown, and Brady spiked the ball emphatically after getting back to his feet.
The extra point was wide right, though, leaving the Patriots' lead at 23-3.
Roethlisberger countered with a six-yard TD pass to Emmanuel Sanders, and the Steelers defense forced a punt. But on the second play of the ensuing Pittsburgh drive, James Sanders intercepted Roethlisberger and ran 32 yards into the end zone. A failed two-point conversion kept it a 29-10 game with 8:32 remaining.
The high-scoring fourth continued, as the Steelers started near midfield thanks to a long kick return by Emmanuel Sanders. The five-play drive ended on Roethlisberger's 15-yard pass to Mike Wallace, and Mewelde Moore's two-point conversion run got the Steelers within 29-18.
There was a little under seven minutes left at that point, but the Patriots put an enormous dent in Pittsburgh's comeback hopes with another touchdown. Brady's 25-yard strike to Gronkowski had New England ahead by 18 with 4:23 on the clock.
Roethlisberger threw a 33-yard touchdown to Wallace with about three minutes left, and Moore ran for another two-point conversion after the Steelers got a second chance, thanks to a Patriots penalty.
But Shayne Graham kicked a 36-yarder just inside the two-minute warning to secure the outcome.
The Patriots scored on their first touch, marching down the field on a series of mostly first-down plays. The Steelers forced New England into a 3rd-and-9 at the Pittsburgh 19, but Brady found Gronkowski over the middle for a touchdown, making it 7-0 a little more than five minutes into the game.
Pittsburgh went backward on its ensuing drive -- an offensive holding penalty and two sacks put the Steelers in a 4th-and-37 -- allowing the Patriots to get the ball at their own 42.
New England advanced to the red zone before a chop block penalty set the Patriots back, and they settled for a 31-yard field goal by Graham.
On the second-to-last play of the quarter, Ward was hit after attempting to catch a short pass over the middle and his head appeared to tilt awkwardly to the side. He lay on the field for a moment before leaving the field under his own power.
The Steelers got on the board in the second period at the end of a long drive. They held the ball for more than five minutes and had several chances for a touchdown.
But on 2nd-and-7 from the New England eight-yard line, Wallace couldn't hang on to Roethlisberger's pass in the end zone. A defensive offside penalty on the next play gave the Steelers a 3rd-and-3 from the four, but Roethlisberger's throw to Antwaan Randle El was incomplete, and Reed kicked a 22-yarder with 5:08 left.
New England was penalized 10 times for 113 yards...The Patriots totaled 453 yards...BenJarvus Green-Ellis led New England with 87 yards on 18 carries...Wallace finished with eight catches for 136 yards...Wes Welker recorded team highs of eight receptions and 89 yards for the Patriots.