Show of force: Big Ben steals Brady's script and the show
Steelers rise to top of AFC with 2-way dominance as long spell of frustration vs. Patriots comes to end
October 31, 2011 8:00 AM
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
A Steelers fan cheers on his team as they take the field against the Patriots Sunday.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger drops back to pass against the Patriots.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers took a page out of New England's book, leaned heavily on Ben Roethlisberger's passing game and stymied the NFL's best offense with a defense that seems to improve the more starters it loses.
They used all that to finally force a stake through Tom Brady's heart for only the second time in 10 years and to do so in a convincing manner that the 25-17 score might not reflect.
It does not make up for two stunning victories by New England on the same field in two AFC championship games, but the Steelers fourth consecutive victory launched them into the top spot in the AFC with a 6-2 record, leaping over New England, which slipped to 5-2 after scoring its fewest points in a game since November.
Brady's dominance of the Steelers ended at least for this game as he managed to complete 24 of 35 attempts for an unBrady-like 198 yards against a defense that played man-to-man coverage most of the day and rarely blitzed. It was Brady's lowest total this season.
Roethlisberger put up Brady-like stats, completing 36 of 50 passes for 365 yards.
"Who cares about the past?" safety Ryan Clark said of the 10-year history of the Steelers mostly banging their heads against the wall when it came to Brady and the Patriots. "It was about here. It was about now. It was about today, and today we wanted to win this game."
The Steelers took control early by running to a 10-0 lead after their first two possessions and never lost it. Their defense, which lost LaMarr Woodley to a hamstring injury in the third quarter, held the Patriots to their fewest total yards this season (213). Their previous low, 371 vs. Dallas.
New England lost for the second time in Heinz Field, and the first in seven seasons.
"These guys are not gods, these guys are no super heroes, they can be beat," said Mike Wallace, one of nine receivers who caught passes from Roethlisberger. "People act like this game is so big. It's nothing, just another game, just like we beat Arizona last week, we beat them this week."
Roethlisberger threw touchdown passes to Mewelde Moore and Antonio Brown, Shaun Suisham kicked field goals of 33, 21 and 23 yards -- all coming after drives bogged down inside the 10.
Brady threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch in the second quarter after linebacker Gary Guyton intercepted Roethlisberger and returned it to the 8. Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 46-yard field goal and missed another, and it stood, 23-10, in the fourth quarter before the Patriots made a mad dash to try to get back into it.
Brady completed a 1-yard pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez with 2:35 left to close the gap to six. New England's onside-kick attempt failed because the ball did not travel far enough. The game virtually ended when Brett Keisel strip-sacked Brady, and the ball shot through the end zone for a safety with 8 seconds left.
"It's a huge step," claimed linebacker Lawrence Timmons. "The New England Patriots have [coach Bill] Belichick and Brady. This is a team that contends in the AFC every year and goes to the championship or the Super Bowl."
The Steelers bludgeoned the Patriots in yards, 427-213, in first downs, 29-19, in third-down conversions (10-3) and in possessing the ball, nearly 2-1 in time.
Yet it remained relatively close where it counted because the Steelers again lost in turnovers, 1-0, and because they had trouble scoring touchdowns once they moved inside the 10.
"We love when our offense is out there," said Woodley, who likely will not play Sunday against Baltimore. "We love when we get three-and-outs and get off the field fast. Their defense gets a little tired, and it gives our offense a little bit of time to [score]."
The Steelers went right after New England, which won the toss but decided to defer its choice. They thanked the Patriots by driving downfield to score first on Roethlisberger's 5-yard, third-down pass to Moore.
Heath Miller caught six of his seven receptions (for a team-high 85 yards) on the first two drives as Roethlisberger beat the New England blitz with quick, crisp passes.
"I thought our Pro Bowl tight end did a great job, just looking hot when it was hot, kind of feeling out zones when they gave it to us," Roethlisberger said. "It opens up Heath underneath, and I know he had a great game. he is Mr. Dependable."
He was not the only one as the Steelers offense kicked into high gear and Roethlisberger had his second consecutive 300-yard game for only the second time in his career.
"We came in with the game plan of throwing the ball," Roethlisberger said.
That was evident rather quickly, and, by halftime, the Steelers had only eight runs from scrimmage from their backs compared to 32 attempts by Roethlisberger, two sacks and one quarterback sneak.
Brown, who led the Steelers with nine receptions, said, "We came out [when] they deferred the ball and came out like 'Right now.' We didn't want to wait and be lackadaisical and let them get on top of us. We got on top. But we finished. That's more important."
They have finished four consecutive times after opening the season at a shaky 2-2, including a 35-7 loss at Baltimore in the opener. They have steadily improved on offense and defense and they can look up this morning and find themselves right back where they belong at 6-2.
It is the fifth consecutive season they have reached the halfway point under coach Mike Tomlin at 6-2.