Tom Brady was 6-1 when he visited Pittsburgh. He and the rest of the NFL-aware world likely figured he’d be 7-1 when the Patriots headed back home. But they forgot about Halloween in Pittsburgh. As in 2004, the Steelers jumped on the Patriots early. Unlike the previous game, the Patriots made it interesting in the end, despite being outplayed in all phases of the game.
The Steelers dominated the statistics, running nearly twice as many plays, doubling the Patriots yardage total and time of possession. Yet, at the end, the Patriots were a lucky play or two away from winning the game.
Bruce Arians prepared an excellent game plan that called for short and medium passes and plenty of them. There were 5 yarders to receivers near the middle or sides of the field, medium ones to the flats, and slightly deeper ones to tight ends running up the middle. For once, Heath Miller was a favored target! Ben and the offense executed it to near perfection, save for the atrocious interception that gave life to the stunned Patriots. The offensive line seemed to gel, they blocked well throughout the day and handled the Patriots’ massive defensive tackles Albert Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork.
On the defensive side Dick LeBeau devised a brilliant scheme to stop Tom Brady and his merry band of tight ends and midget receivers. After years of zone coverage and blitzes that never seemed to get there, a failing game plan to be sure, LeBeau relied on pressure from the front five while the defensive backs jammed at the line and played man coverage. Surprisingly, Ike Taylor covered Wes Welker for much of the day. Rather than risk the mismatch of a linebacker on Rob Gronkowski the Steelers slowed him with defensive backs. Troy Polamalu turned in a great performance, punctuated by batting a fumbled ball out of the end zone on the Steelers’ final defensive play.
Let’s hope this season turns out better than 2004, Ben’s rookie year. For while the Steelers beat the Patriots that October day and finished with a 15-1 regular season record, they lost the rematch in the playoffs. The Patriots went on to win the third Super Bowl of the Brady era.
Next week is Raven’s Week. Hell, it’s already Monday. It’s Raven’s Week now! Hope the boys aren’t enjoying the victory too much, Tomlin should make sure of that. Have to be ready for the slug fest, the rematch, the grudge match, the Ravens.