Man, what a game. No clue where even to start. If hunches and gut feelings mean anything to you, going into this game I didn't have that sinking feeling in my stomach that I did going into the Patriots game last year. Of course, that could have been because my stomach was stuffed with cheese-filled-bacon-wrapped jalepenos and pepperoni roll. If you don't know what either of those are, you need to associate yourself with better cooks.
The crowd was just electric coming into the game. One thing I did notice in the pre-game warm-ups was Belicheat stood at midfield and watched the Steelers warm up. He didn't watch his own team at all. The Deisel went over and told him why The Beard is better than The Hoodie.
Coach all business before the game.
New England won the toss and deferred.
That's the same double-slant (with a WR and RB stacked and they both run slants, the WR essentially clearing out space for the RB's slant) that the Steelers ran for a touchdown against Green Bay 2 years ago and in Baltimore last year that Redman took in for the game-winning score.
Brady comes out with a pass to a tight end for 8 then tries to counter with a run but Big Snack takes a big bite out of crime, bringing down the Law Firm in the backfield. Gay blankets Branch on 3rd down and Brady can't connect on the slant. Huge 3-and-out for the defense.
007 gets things rolling with a 3rd down pass to Cotchery then goes back to Heath twice over the middle for 8 and 13 to move us across midfield. Man, Heath had four houses and a hotel on the middle of the field. Flat out owned everything between the numbers. Mike Wallace shows how he's developing into a complete receiver by picking up some good yardage on short passes. The most impressive was a shallow cross that he was able to turn upfield and pick up 10 yards. Mendenhall gets involved, taking a swing pass for 8 then picking up a solid 12 on the ground to get us inside the 10. The offense stalls out at the end of a dominant quarter.
The Steelers had over 13 minutes of possession in the first quarter. Ben was 5/6 on 3rd downs. Great start to the game.
Suisham stretches the lead to start the second.
Historical Steelers nemesis Kevin Faulk, who I didn't even realize was still in the league, starts getting his hands on the ball and the Pats start moving. They get two gift first downs from the officials but a false start sets the Pats back. Woodley capitalizes on the long yardage situations by blowing through the middle and forcing a throw-away on second down then throwing Brady to the turf like a rag doll on third.
In the Steelers shortest drive of the day, Ben gets sacked on second down then badly underthrows a wide open Manny Sanders on 3rd down and it gets picked off. You get that sinking feeling seeing a Patriots defender running towards our end zone with the ball, but Heath comes up with a tackle.
Two plays later, Brady hits Branch on a simple out-route for the touchdown.
It seemed like the momentum was about to shift to the Patriots, but 007 came out and took control of the game. He starts by hitting Sanders for a big 26-yarder to get across midfield. Ben keeps working it, mixing in runs with Redman, moving us down into the red zone. On 3rd down from the 7, Ben one-ups Brady, hitting Touchdown Brown on an out-route short of the goal line and Brown dives across for the score.
How crazy is it that Brady got the ball back with just over 2 minutes left in the half and had only had the ball for 6 minutes before this? What a testament to how our offense was able to convert 3rd downs and control the clock. Brady hits Gronk, who has the weirdest running motion I've ever seen, to get their 2-minute offense going. LeBeau counters right away by bringing in rookie Cortez Allen to shadow Gronk around the field. Belicheat counters that by lining Gronk up in the backfield and having him leak out, which enables New England to move inside the 30. Woodley does his thing and gets to Brady AGAIN and the crowd goes bezerk.
What a game by Woodley.
If you want to point to one moment in the game where you knew we were in New England's head, it was this direct snap. On 3rd and 17 from the 37 with 30 seconds left, they took the ball out of Brady's hands and tried to run a trick play, essentially surrendering their chances at a touchdown and playing for three. When does New England lay off the gas and play for 3? Wow.
The Steelers seem content to run out the clock with a draw to Moore, but he refuses to go down and churns out 16 yards. With the ball at the 40, 007 goes to the air, hitting Sanders across the middle to get us into Hail Mary range with 8 seconds left. Ben opts to check down to Moore rather than force something and time winds out.
Steelers alumni from the 80s were back for the game. Louis Lipps, my favorite player when I was young, got the biggest cheer from the crowd. Bubby Brister got a half-laugh-half-cheer from most people.
The Steelers converted 6 of 8 3rd downs in the first half.
The defense forces a 3rd and long and Brady hits Gronk but Cortez Allen was all over him, bringing him down short of the sticks. The Pats went 3-and-out to start both halves of the game. Unreal.
Raise Some comes out determined to do work and grinds out some solid gains out of the No Huddle. An offensive pass interference call on Sanders sets us back, but he redeems himself by making a big-time 3rd down catch across the middle to move the chains. The Pats try to sneak a safety up into the box to slow down Mendenhall, but Ben makes them pay, hitting Brown on a deep out to move us down to the 10. Sanders gets down to the 2 on a slant but Ben can't hook up with Brown on 3rd down. Brown definitely got interfered with, but he hasn't been in the league long enough to draw that call. Suisham connects on pretty much the same field goal Reed missed last year that swung the momentum to the Pats.
3rd quarter long commercial break after a score? You know what that means. It's Renegade time.
The Pats get Gronk away from Allen by lining him up in the backfield again and get another gift from the refs on a late hit out of bounds call. After what has been an All-Pro effort from Woodley, we saw potential disaster strike as he went down in the backfield. No one hit him and reports are it's a hamstring injury. Rookie Chris Carter was the only linebacker left and had to come in. Things could have been bad, but a false start penalty set the Pats back and they weren't able to recover. Troy made an outstanding out-of-nowhere play to bring down Faulk on a dump-off on 3rd down. Gostkowski bangs it off the upright.
Huge momentum swing for the defense there to get that stop after Woodley went out.
For a moment, it seems like the Pats get it right back after Ben gets strip-sacked...
007 keeps his foot on the pedal of the Aston Martin and goes to HEEEEEATH who plows over Patrick Chung.
That field goal kept the Pats in the game, keeping it a 2-score affair. After all these years of watching the Steelers, you know it's never going to be easy.
Brady takes a shot downfield, but Ike is all over it.
You don't throw deep on Ike. Period.
Tick tock Tom
007 comes back looking to seal the game. Wallace gets things rolling, taking a short pass and turning it upfield for a solid gain. Mendenhall breaks one to the outside and picks up 18 more to move us down into the edge of field goal range. With under 8 minutes to go, Mendenhall and Redman grind out some clock but Ben and Brown aren't on the same page on 3rd down. Suisham pulls a 43-yarder wide right that would've almost put the game away.
Brady hits Welker in the flat who get decapitated by Troy.
Brady keeps working the short passes, dinking and dunking his way down the field, getting into the red zone. Chris Carter jumps offsides on 3rd down inside the 10, giving Brady a new set of downs. A false start sends them back to the 9 and Brady seemingly hits Gronk for a touchdown, but Mundy makes a big hit on his fellow Woodland Hills graduate and somehow keeps him out of the end zone. Belicheat opts not to challenge and Brady throws a flare to Faulk out of the backfield. On any other day, it would be a walk-in touchdown, but the Steelers defense is playing possessed and Ryan Clark lays the hammer on Faulk at the goal line, knocking him 5 yards backwards. On 4th and goal Brady goes for Gronk in the corner, but Will Gay gets a hand on it and Mundy makes an interception but gets flagged for defensive holding because the refs want to keep the game interesting. Brady converts the gift first down into 7 points, hitting Hernandez over the middle. Really the only play Hernandez made all game.
With 2:35 on the clock and 3 timeouts, Belicheat opts for the onsides kick rather than trusting his defense. Gostkowaihsdjfskduhfski can't even kick it 10 yards straight ahead. Steelers ball.
In what would seem to be ground-and-pound time, 007 goes play-action to David Johnson, picking up 7 and getting us into a good yardage situation. Redman pounds it up the middle twice, forcing the Pats to use their last two timeouts and more importantly, moving the chains. Redman gets another carry before the two-minute warning. Two minutes left and already in field goal range so theoretically a football team would run the ball twice and kick the field goal. But Arians has other ideas. He tries a play-action pass and Ben gets sacked, which knocks us out of field goal range. On 3rd and long, Arians spreads it out again and Ben gets sacked again. In the broader perspective, a sack is better than an incompletion which stops the clock. That said, a field goal would've put us up by 9 and ended the game. Why not run the ball 2 more times? As the guy sitting in front of me said, "EVEN HIGH SCHOOL TEAMS DON'T MAKE THAT MISTAKE!" In what was a great offensive game that Arians put together, it had to be marred by this absolutely asinine decision.
Sepulveda makes his first punt of the game, giving Brady the ball back with 20 seconds to go.
With no timeouts left, Brady has to sit in the pocket and hope for something deep. The coverage holds and the Diesel busts through the left side of the line and swats the ball out of Brady's hand.
Gostkeljlisdgksldfski fails at another onside kick.
Players of the Game
Offensive Game Ball: Ben Roethlisberger
Defensive Game Ball: LaMarr Woodley
Mr. Yuck Sticker of the Game
Passing with less than 2 minutes left and the Pats out of timeouts
Seriously. What if Ben had thrown an interception? That's obviously the worst-case scenario, but even an incompletion stops the clock. As it was, Brady got the ball back with 20 seconds left and had to try to force something downfield. But one incompletion would've given Brady 40 more seconds. When you're only up by 6, can you afford to take that risk when you're already in field goal range? Absolutely not. As the guy in front of me said, even high schools don't make that mistake.
- Brady produced only 3 points on drives that started with a kickoff. Their first touchdown came off the interception and their second after the missed field goal. Their field goal was in a 2-minute drive.
- Short passes, passes to the tight end, quarterback getting the ball out quick and attempting 50 passes. Sounds a lot like the Patriots offense, but that's what Ben Roethlisberger did today.
- Great job by the secondary to bump-and-run with the Pats receivers all day.
- Unsung hero of the game has to be Cortez Allen for the job he did on Gronkowski. We matched up Gay on Hernandez a lot (which was good from a size perspective) and brought in Allen to play Gronk heads-up. Allen pretty much shut him down when Gronk was lined up as a tight end. Gronk was able to get free whenever he lined up as a blocking back and faked a block then leaked out of the backfield into the flat.
- No question Ike Taylor is having a Pro Bowl season. He held Wes Welker, who was leading the league in receiving yards, to under 40.
- Speaking of Welker, I do have to give him props in one respect - he's one of the only receivers I've seen all season that doesn't ask for flags. Santonio Holmes is by far the worst in the league at asking for flags, but I didn't see Welker do it once.
- Ryan Clark played a really good game, stepping up and making tackles and delivering big hits. Might have had the play of the game keeping Faulk out of the end zone, which forced the Pats to run another two minutes off the clock.
- Defensive line did a solid job pressing the pocket and stopping the run, even when there were only 2 down linemen in the game. Obviously, Keisel had one of the biggest plays of the game knocking the ball away from Brady, but Ziggy played well and Cam Heyward did some good things too.
- In his 5 seasons as head coach, Mike Tomlin has started 6-2 each year.
- This was a huge win and we're sitting atop the AFC for the moment. But there's no time to gloat. It's Ravens week. And we're out for revenge.