The scoreboard may not have reflected it, but the Pittsburgh Steelers outplayed the New England Patriots last Sunday evening. The steelers didn’t have to play a perfect game in, they just did what they do best. They applied pressure up the middle, shut down the run and controlled 35:07 of the game clock. Pittsburgh came up with big plays on offense, were 10-16 on third down, and put up 413 total yards. Most importantly, The Steelers removed the evil empire from their psyche and showed the world they could beat them. It doesn’t matter what the scoreboard said at the end of the night, the Steelers beat the Patriots.
Steelers Beat The Patriots despite Losing Game
The Steelers have had it rough with the Patriots since Heinz Field opened, losing eight of the last 10 games. The three most painful losses have occurred in the AFC championship games following the 2001, 2004, and 2106 seasons. The last time the Steelers beat the Patriots at home, Aaron Hernandez was free and hadn’t murdered anyone yet. Dick LeBeau played man coverage for most of the game, and Cortez Allen locked down Rob Gronkowski. LeBeau’s defense held Tom Brady to less than 200 yards passing, sacking him three times including once for a safety. Ben Roethlisberger and the offense racked up 427 yards, controlled the ball for 39:22, and was 10-16 on third down. The biggest difference between the 2011 win and last Sunday, there was nobody to lock down Gronkowski.
The Steelers did themselves proud with the performance they put on. They proved that they are in fact the best team in the AFC and that the road to the Super Bowl goes through them as a team. The Patriots and their fanbase expected a cakewalk, but found themselves in a fight they couldn’t win without assistance from the NFL Senior Vice President of Officiating, Al Riveron. Riveron played a key role in two other Patriots wins this season with controversial decisions. The Steelers aren’t dejected by this “loss”, but rather angry and hungry for another crack at the evil empire.
Defense Makes Adjustment To Press-Man Coverage
The Steelers pressured Brady for most of Sunday, sacking him twice and knocking him down three other times. On several occasions when they didn’t get him, Brady rushed several of his throws because of phantom pressure. Take away Gronkowski’s production, 9 receptions for 168 yards, and Brady was only 11-24 for 130 yards, including a touchdown and an interception. Keith Butler and his unit did a solid job of designing and executing a game plan that gave the Steelers a chance to win. They held the Patriots to 77 yards rushing and limited their time of possession to 24:53. In addition to controlling Brady, the defense was solid for all but 2:06 of the game.
The Patriots were expecting to face the same old Steelers defensive scheme in this game, but Butler had other ideas in mind. Sure, the Steelers dropped into zone coverage from time to time, but spent most of the game in man and press-man coverages. Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton looked right at home in man coverage and both did an excellent job. They limited Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks to a combined six receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers secondary has played well all season long, but has suffered after losing Joe Haden to a broken fibula. Their performance has been discounted for not facing many quality quarterbacks. Well, Brady is as good as they come, and the secondary should be credited for keeping him in check.
Offense Lifted by Bryant After Losing Antonio Brown
Martavis Bryant stepped up in Brown’s absence, catching four passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown was an outstanding one-handed grab. Bryant made it look so casual as Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore was grabbing his left arm. His diving 39 yard catch on third and eight in the second quarter led to a 51 yard Chris Boswell field goal. Le’Veon Bell ran at will, picking up 117 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. He picked up another 48 yards on five receptions. The Patriots defense had no answers for Bell and hope they don’t have to see him again this year.
The Steelers offense was in command of this game for all but three minutes. They took over with 3:56 left in the fourth quarter holding a 24-19 lead, picking a bad time for their first three and out of the game. Had they been able to pick up a first down, they likely would have been able to close out the game. Up to that point, Roethlisberger and the offense were moving the ball with relative ease and were able to keep Brady on the sideline. What is most impressive about the offensive performance was that they kept rolling after losing Antonio Brown early in the second quarter.
The Bottom Line
The Steelers won this game on the field despite losing it on the scoreboard. Roethlisberger completed a pass to Jesse James for the go ahead touchdown with less than 30 seconds left. Riveron ultimately reversed the call with another inconsistent interpretation of the catch rule that lacked any common sense. The Bottom line is that the Steelers matched the Patriots blow for Blow minus three top players. Roethlisberger was the better quarterback, finishing with a 110 passer rating, Bell ran at will, while Bryant stepped up in a big way. The Steelers aren’t dejected by this loss, and are hungry for a rematch. They should have Brown and Haden back for the postseason rematch, and are more than capable of going into Foxboro and knocking the Patriots off.