Pittsburgh - Many of the myriad tattoos that adorn the body of Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor -- including the entire verse of the Lord's Prayer on his back, an homage to his beloved New Orleans across his chest, and various messages and designs up and down both arms -- have faded into his dark skin to the point where they are pretty difficult to read.
The bet here is that New England star wide
receiver Wes Welker
could probably decipher much of the intricate
stenciling by the conclusion of Sunday's game here.
Yeah, that's how intimate Taylor and Welker spent
most of the afternoon. Locked in a man-to-man battle much of the day,
Taylor was usually close enough for Welker to survey and inspect the
There were a lot of heroes in the Pittsburgh
locker room following the Steelers' 25-17 dismantling of the Patriots,
a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score. While many of
them drew large media crowds to their locker stalls, Taylor quietly sat
on a folding chair in front of his dressing area, alone for the most
part until a few reporters, perhaps prompted by the remarks from
teammates like free safety Ryan
Clark or linebacker LaMarr
"There's a man you should be talking to," Clark
said, nodding in Taylor's direction. "I know people talk about 'Revis
Island' and all that stuff, but Ike does it every week, takes on the
other teams' best receivers, and shuts them down. And you never hear
anything about it, right? But the guy is one of the best (cornerbacks)
in the league, and maybe it's time people realized that."
The Steelers' brass certainly knows all about
Taylor's importance to a unit that, despite considerable criticism
after the Super Bowl loss to Green Bay, now ranks at the top of the
league's statistical ratings in pass defense.
In the offseason, the club was outspoken about the
significance of retaining Taylor, an unrestricted free agent at the
time. When the lockout ended, the Steelers signed Taylor to a new
four-year, $28 million extension.
The surprise wasn't that Pittsburgh was able to
keep Taylor for a relatively modest price, compared to some of the
other free agent cornerback deals. It was that the market for Taylor, a
ninth-year veteran who has never been to a Pro Bowl, but was a large
part of the Steelers' two Super Bowl victories in his tenure with the
club, was not more robust.
Then again, Taylor's loyalty to the Steelers and
to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, are so strong, he might not have
"This is where I wanted to play and that's the man
I wanted to play for," Taylor said after limiting Welker to six
receptions for 39 yards, none longer than 10 yards. "That was always my
goal. I'm not real big on change."
Somewhat ironic, because it was a philosophical
change -- covering the explosive Pats' receivers with a man-to-man
blueprint that belied Pittsburgh's characteristic zone schemes -- that
was integral to Sunday's win. And it was Taylor's single-man coverage
of Welker, who had been on pace to break league single-season records
for receptions and receiving yards, that was the central element to
LeBeau's intricate game plan.
As usual, LeBeau mixed and matched coverages
And the Steelers played their share of the usual
stuff, man underneath and zone on top, through the day. But for much of
the afternoon, the Pittsburgh secondary was locked in man-to-man. And
in holding New England quarterback Tom Brady to a
season-low 198 yards
-- after he had shredded the Steelers for 350 or more yards in each of
the three previous matchups between the two -- Taylor and Welker were
like conjoined twins.
"If he went outside, I went outside," the
soft-spoken Taylor whispered. "If he went inside, then I went inside.
It was me and him, yeah, that's how we planned it. He's a tough draw
... but I think I mostly did OK."
Taylor finished with six tackles, all solo stops,
and that led the Pittsburgh defense in terms of individual tackles. Not
surprisingly, the Steelers' top three tacklers in terms of solo tackles
were defensive backs.
Said strong safety Troy Polamalu, who
on two plays
jumped on the back of Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski and
like a bronco buster: "Part of the message (LeBeau) delivered was
'tackle the catch.' We couldn't let them add yards (after the catch).
And Ike is always a good tackler. So that wasn't a big surprise."
Neither was it surprising that Taylor, 31, was
credited with just one pass defensed, or that he had zero
interceptions, keeping him at a goose-egg for pickoffs this season. In
fact, Taylor has now gone 17 games, the equivalent of more than a full
season, since his last interception.
Cursed with notably poor hands -- Taylor routinely
drops four or five would-be interceptions annually, it seems -- the
former Louisiana-Lafayette star has just 11 pickoffs in 99 career
starts. Only once in his career has Taylor, chosen in the fourth round
of the 2003 draft, managed more than two interceptions. Five times, he
has had either one or zero interceptions in a year.
But his value goes way beyond getting the ball in
his hands, and that was never more evident on Sunday afternoon.
Sometimes because of mundane statistics, or the galaxy of stars on the
Pittsburgh defense, Taylor's contributions get lost. They are never
lost, though, on the people who matter most.
"Believe me, if he had all those interceptions,
people would be talking more about him," said LeBeau, who for years has
touted Taylor's play and regarded him as a true "shutdown" cornerback.
"But that's OK. We know how good he is."
And after Sunday, others may begin to realize it,
To Blame Belichick
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