Steelers Keep It Close For One Half, But Fall To Unbeaten New England
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Wednesday, December 12, 2007
By Eddie Griffin
Steelers Fever Columnist
Well, apparently the Patriots are who everyone thought they were.
The Steelers hung with unbeaten New England for a half, but in the end, were no match for Tom Brady and the now 13-0 Patriots, who strolled to a 34-13 win.
Pittsburgh got off to about the best start anyone could have imagined, stopping Brady and the New England offense on the game's opening possession, then driving 59 yards in 15 plays, and using more than eight minutes of the first quarter, to put three points on the board via a 23-yard Jeff Reed field goal.
The lead wouldn't last long, and it would be the Steelers' only one of the game, as Brady threw touchdown passes to Randy Moss on the next two drives to put the Patriots up 14-3 early in the second quarter.
But, the Steelers fought back and drew within 14-13 late in the second, as Ben Roethlisberger (19 of 32, 187 yards, TD) threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Najeh Davenport and Reed kicked a 44-yard field goal.
But, 2:29 was more than enough for Brady, who's made a living off of great clock management, and the Patriots extended their lead to 17-13 with a 42-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski in the final minute of the half.
Pittsburgh got the ball first to start the second half, and things started brightly, with Willie Parker gaining 19 yards on the first play from scrimmage, but the drive fizzled out, and the first backbreaking play was delivered a short time later, as the Pats turned a broken flea-flicker into Brady's third touchdown pass of the evening, a 56-yarder to Jabar Gaffney to make it 24-13.
The Steelers were effectively roasted after the next sequence of possessions, as they went three-and-out on their ensuing drive, and the Patriots got a short field. The Steelers were punished for it in due time, as Brady threw touchdown pass No. 4 of the game, and No. 45 of the season, a 2-yarder to Wes Welker to make it 31-13 with less than four minutes to play in the third quarter.
Pittsburgh could have closed the deficit on the next drive, and drove to the New England 1. But, instead of going to Willie Parker or Najeh Davenport on third or fourth down, Roethlisberger threw incomplete on third down, and then Hines Ward was given the ball on fourth down and went nowhere.
Brady then drove the Pats from out of the shadow of their end zone into position for another Gostkowski field goal, which polished off lucky No. 13 for the Patriots.
Pittsburgh held the edge in time of possession, but that advantage was rendered irrelevant, as Brady shredded the defense for 399 yards and four scores, fully making Anthony Smith and the Steelers secondary pay for that guarantee Smith made that Pittsburgh would win.
It was a valiant effort, but, when all was said and done, Brady's Bunch was just too much, as the Steelers fell to 9-4 and now only have a one-game lead in the AFC North, after Cleveland's 24-18 victory over the Jets.
Willie Parker did have a successful day running against New England's D, picking up 124 yards on 21 carries. Unfortunately, his productivity was about the only real highlight of the game for Pittsburgh.
The defense did stop the run, but the Patriots ran it only nine times and threw it 46. And, as I said it could in the pre-game analysis, Brady throwing it on nearly every down didn't work out well for the Steelers, as he thoroughly dominated one of the league's top pass defenses.
The offense didn't make a ton of mistakes, but there were a few key parts that didn't go the right way -- 5 of 14 on third-down conversions, including the situation at the New England 1, where a simple run would have done the trick, especially with the success that the Steelers had on the ground (181 yards on 32 attempts).
Speaking of that situation, you can't play yourselves out of a chance to win the ballgame, and Pittsburgh did that, both by not slowing Brady down (or getting him down for that matter -- zero sacks on the day), but also by not making the best of multiple opportunities on offense, coming away empty-handed on two forays deep into New England territory and settling for field goals on two others.
Pittsburgh doesn't have much time to reflect on Sunday's loss, as another tough test awaits in Week 15, with the 9-4 Jacksonville Jaguars coming into town next Sunday.
The Jaguars beat Carolina 37-6 on Sunday, and are in the driver's seat for one of the two wild-card berths in the AFC.
After seeing a team who doesn't run it much, the Steelers defense will have to deal with one that does, and does it well, as Jacksonville has one of the league's top rushing offenses.
Despite Sunday's defeat, Pittsburgh could still clinch the AFC North if they beat the Jaguars and Cleveland loses to Buffalo at home.
The No. 3 seed in the league is still Pittsburgh's to lose, as they are one game ahead of AFC West-leading San Diego for that spot. However, their hopes of overtaking Indianapolis might have been dashed, as they are now two games behind the Colts, who will clinch at least the No. 2 seed with a win and a Pittsburgh loss.
Sunday didn't quite turn out as any of the Steelers' faithful may have hoped, but it's time to refocus and regroup, as there's still plenty to play for, and if Tomlin's troops can get back to their winning ways over the next several weeks, a postseason rematch with the Patriots could be in the cards.