The Steelers Were Simply Outplayed - By Mike Marino

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Tom Brady was amazing. Comparisons to Joe Montana, his childhood hero and everything, didn't stop Brady from folding under the pressure. Brady is no stranger to pressure, neither is coach Belichick. They've been in these situations before. Not only their fair share of Super Bowls and AFC Championship games, but the incredible win streaks and the streaks of perfection along with the talk of the modern day dynasty for this team. This team is not a team to mess with, the Steelers found that out first hand.

That's not to say Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn't had to deal with pressure this year. 13 straight wins, and setting all kinds of records for a rookie, you're going to say that he didn't have any pressure on him this year? You'd be crazy to say he hasn't had pressure on him, but in a way, he broke the ice, he fell off the thin line he was walking on.

Roethlisberger continued his shaky streak of throwing interceptions in the late stretch of the season. It's not to say he didn't have an incredible rookie season, but the stretch down the end was not quite as stellar as the beginning.

Roethlisberger's first pass in the NFL was an interception, and that's the way he started off the AFC Championship game. With the first of what would be three interceptions that led the Steelers to the 41-27 defeat at Heinz Field on Sunday.

The temperature was chilly and the weather conditions fair. The wind chill was at -1, but that didn't matter. The 6:36 p.m. kickoff in front of 65,242 at Heinz Field was an exciting moment. The adrenaline, the thrill, but it didn't last long.

A little more than eight minutes into the game, the Patriots got the ball leading by three. Brady dropped to pass on the first play of the drive, when Brady connected with Deion Branch on a 60 yard touchdown pass. The crowd fell silent. The score was 10-0, and the Patriots had dominated the game as to that point.

The Steelers ended the first half in mediocrity, surely nobody at Heinz Field felt confident in the teams performance in the first quarter. Jeff Reed connected from 43 yards to make the score 10-3. That would be as close as the Steelers would get to the Patriots the rest of the game.

The Patriots offense just could not be stopped, while their defense played excellent. A 9 yard touchdown pass to David Givens from Tom Brady capped a 5 play, 70 yard drive to make the score 17-3, and a Rodney Harrison 87 yard interception return for a touchdown made the score 24-3 at the end of the first half. You could hear a pin drop in the city of Pittsburgh.

The stadium was quiet, the whole city was quiet. The Patriots had dominated the first half, in which Big Ben threw two interceptions, and no touchdowns. The Steelers offense had been shut out, and it appeared as if the Patriots were going to the Super Bowl. The Steelers weren't done yet though, this team hadn't given up all year, they sure weren't going to give up in the AFC Championship game, even if the situation called for it.

The Steelers opened up the third quarter with a five play, 56 yard drive capped with a Jerome Bettis 5 yard touchdown run to make the score 24-10. The Patriots answered right back on the next drive, a seven play, 69 yard drive, finished with a Corey Dillion 25 yard touchdown run. A comeback was looking less likely after Dillion made the score 31-10, but the team wasn't going to give up yet.

Hines Ward caught a 30 yard pass from Big Ben to get the Steelers within two scores, 31-17. The Steelers had outplayed the Patriots to begin the second half, and they had the good 'ole 'mo on their side. Momentum was carrying the team, but when the Steelers were stopped three times within the Patriots five to open the fourth quarter, everyone in attendance realized that whether or not the Steelers can make a comeback relied on this drive.

When Cowher decided to kick the field goal instead of going for it on fourth and goal from inside the five, CBS play by play announcer Phil Simms thought it was the greatest decision since the infamous fumble by Giants quarterback Joe Pisarcik in 1978 when the Giants were up 19-17 in the 4th, he fumbles on the kneel-down, and the Eagles ran it back for a touchdown to win the game.

Back to the game, Cowher decides to send the field goal unit out and it is an 11-point game. But now for my view on the decision: Phil Simms said it was a great decision because the Steelers would now only be down 11, a touchdown, two-point conversion and a field goal. However, the league success rate of two-point conversions is less than 50%, and although the Steelers did keep some momentum on their side, the Pats realized they were in control of their destiny.

Adam Vinatieri answered with a 31 yard field goal on the Patriots next drive, which took 5:26 off the clock. The deficit was back to 14 points, and with less than eight minutes to go in the game, the Steelers had to get desperate. However, the Pats got the ball back with more than seven minutes to play and they drove down the field on a ten play, 55 yard drive that ran more than five minutes off the clock, capped with a Deion Branch 23 yard touchdown run. The score was 41-20, and the crowd at Heinz Field was covered yellow. No, it wasn't fans' jackets, it was the color of the backs of the seats at Heinz Field, and as the stadium emptied, so did the Steelers hopes. With less than two minutes left, the Steelers got the ball back, and Plaxico Burress scored on a seven yard touchdown pass, Big Ben's second of the day, to make the score 41-27. An unsuccessful onside kick, and that was the end.

That was the end. A 15-1 regular season record, Tommy Maddox, and the win streak for Ben Roethlisberger, that was the end. A season of highs, and not all that many lows, but the Patriots simple outplayed the Steelers on Sunday. The best moves on to the Super Bowl, and the Patriots proved they were the best in the AFC. The Steelers have a bright future to look forward to however, and most of it relies on the shoulders of Ben Roethlisberger.