Failed red-zone opportunities and a pick-six for touchdown framed this performance by Ben Roethlisberger, even though he threw three touchdowns in the fourth quarter -- two to Mike Wallace. He finished with 387 yards passing, but he was completely befuddled in the first half, completing just 7 of 20 passes for 90 yards, though he had dropped passes in the end zone on back-to-back plays.
RUNNING BACKS C-
The Steelers got behind early and pretty much abandoned the run after that. Rashard Mendenhall carried just seven times for 43 yards in the first half and finished with 50 yards on 11 carries. His 34-yard run, his eighth of 20-plus yards this season, was the big play in the drive that resulted in a field goal. Mewelde Moore had a 29-yard catch-and-run and a pair of 2-point conversion runs.
WIDE RECEIVERS C-
Wallace and Antwaan Randle El took turns dropping passes in the end zone on back-to-back plays, forcing the Steelers to settle for a field goal in the second quarter. And Randle El had a pass deflect off his hands that was returned for a touchdown by S James Sanders. Wallace had TD catches of 15 and 33 yards and Emmanuel Sanders had his first NFL touchdown, but it was too late to matter.
OFFENSIVE LINE D-
Playing without LT Max Starks and G Chris Kemoeatu, the offensive line was part of the meltdown. LT Jonathan Scott, starting for Starks, had trouble in protection, one of the reasons Roethlisberger was sacked five times for 38 yards. It's hard to blame the lack of a ground game on the line because the Steelers got behind early. But there was never any cohesion or adjustment to the Patriots stunts.
DEFENSIVE LINE D
Even the D-line failed to show up for this one, even if they were without DEs Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. The Patriots rushed just six times for 14 yards in the first half after RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis gained 17 yards on their first rushing attempt -- the longest run of the season against the Steelers. But he finished with 84 yards on 17 carries -- the most by an opposing back this season.
It didn't matter what the Steelers tried, whether dropping into coverage or trying to pressure Tom Brady -- it didn't work. The Steelers didn't register a sack for the first time this season and rarely hurried Brady. James Harrison started, despite suffering back spasms a day earlier, and played as though he was hampered. Worse, they played most of the game without Lawrence Timmons (hip).
DEFENSIVE BACKS F
They never had an answer for Tom Brady, who was 15 of 17 for 161 yards with two TDs on the first three scoring drives. Nickel back William Gay was helpless on a nice 19-yard touchdown catch by TE Rob Gronkowski on the first scoring drive, but was easily beat for his 25-yard TD catch. Brady completed 17 of 25 passes for 180 yards before halftime and finished with 350 yards and three TDs -- all to Gronkowski.
SPECIAL TEAMS C-
Jeff Reed missed another field goal, this time from 26 yards -- his fifth at Heinz Field this season. The coverage units didn't commit any major gaffes, especially against KR Brandon Tate, who already had two TD returns in 2010. But there was the obligatory flashback to the 2001 AFC title game when the Steelers had a penalty against a player (Keenan Lewis) for coming back in the field of play on a punt.
It has been a long time since the Steeleres were dominated like this. The defense never was able to figure out Brady, who pretty much did whatever he wanted, and never made any adjustments. And all the offense could manage was too many checkdown passes to the running backs. A complete malfunction all the way around against a Patriots team that had them out-schemed and out-executed.