Formula for winning wasn't good enough

"We have to find ways to finish. We couldn't make the critical plays when we had to ... ."

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It is usually a recipe for success, a mantra on which the Steelers' offense is built: Control the ball, convert third-down situations, limit turnovers and get a 100-yard rushing performance. Oh yeah, and protect the quarterback.

The Steelers did most, if not all, of that, right down to keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright and unscathed for most of the game. In most circumstances, that would be enough to guarantee a victory, even with no help from Anthony Smith.

But, in most circumstances, the opponent is not Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. He did not need much time to inflict damage, not even against the league's No. 1-ranked defense and secondary.

Worse, when the Steelers tried to counter the Patriots' offensive assault with field goals, not touchdowns, the result was a predictable 34-13 blowout victory last night by the Patriots.

"When you play great teams on the road, field goals aren't going to get it done," coach Mike Tomlin said.

"Playing against a team that's going to score points, you got to score points to beat them," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said.

"Both teams drove up and down the field," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "They scored, we didn't. That's it."

Oh, how the Patriots scored. Touchdown passes of 63 and 56 yards by Brady against a secondary that had allowed only one pass longer than 40 yards in the previous 12 games, fewest in the NFL. Two more from inside the Steelers' 5.

It was more than enough to disrupt the Steelers, who actually did a good job of controlling the time of possession (34 minutes, 43 seconds) -- their No. 1 priority on offense -- and getting their most rushing yards (187) since Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers.

In the end, though, it didn't match up to the performance of the New England offense, not that many offensive performances can.

"We got the ball down the field and we did a good job with our no-huddle offense," Roethlisberger said. "But we didn't get it in the end zone. We had to settle for three points, and three points isn't good enough against a team that potent."

Then he added, "They are a phenomenal football team, in all facets of the game."

Indeed, the Steelers scored on three of their first four possessions against the Patriots, getting a 23-yard field goal by Jeff Reed, an improvised 32-yard touchdown pass to running back Najeh Davenport and a 44-yard field goal by Reed to remain close to the Patriots, 14-13.

But the Steelers feel as though they wasted a chance on Reed's first field goal because they had first down at the Patriots' 7 and gained 2 yards on the next three plays.

Even on the drive leading to Reed's second field goal, the Steelers twice gambled successfully on fourth-and-1 situations -- one at their 47, the other at the Patriots' 42 -- only to waste the momentum and stall the drive at the Patriots' 26.

"We didn't convert down there and get enough points," Arians said. "Even if you're first-and-8 or first-and-9, you have to get it in. When you don't score points, those things kill you."

In the end, the Steelers managed just three points on three drives that ventured inside the Patriots' 20. Two of those came in the second half when, trailing, 31-13, the Steelers failed to score after having first-and-goal at the Patriots' 8 and first-and-10 at the Patriots' 19.

Arians accepted the blame in each situation: He called a play the Steelers use for a 2-point conversion -- a handoff to Ward -- on fourth-and-goal from the 1; and didn't get out of the no-huddle attack and take more time when the Steelers got to the 19.

"There's a couple of those I'd like to get back," Arians said. "I should have gone into the goal-line offense instead of staying in the hurry-up on third and fourth down."

It probably wouldn't have mattered against the Patriots, who scored on six of eight possessions after their opening series ended with a punt.

Still, it crystallized the Steelers' failure to produce the points necessary to keep pace with the Patriots and highlighted a major deficiency in a game in which they managed to do a lot of things they wanted to do offensively against the Patriots.

"We have to find ways to finish," Tomlin said. "We got to go back to the lab on that. We couldn't make the critical plays when we had to, particularly in the second half."

Otherwise, their formula might have worked on any other day.

"You look at it, you have to keep things in perspective," said Ward, who had a team-high five catches for only 39 yards. "We drove the ball fairly well and the no-huddle seemed to create problems for them. But we got down in the red zone and couldn't put it in."



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