HOUSE OF HORRORS
Pats Lose For First Time In 399 Days
by Chris Timoney, Patriots Insider
Without the services of a handful of starters, most notably running back Corey Dillon, Bill Belichick & Co. had their hands full before the game even started. Once things got going at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh the Patriots hands were overflowing with miscues, problems and setbacks like a trick-or-treaters hands full of candy. Yet the taste left in the mouths of the Patriots was far from sweet and the results were extremely sour.
We all knew the Patriots would lose at some point and Sunday was some point. New Englands record breaking winning streak came to an ugly end in a lopsided 34-20 loss to the Steelers. This was one of those games where the final score does not reflect the story of the game.
Things started off well enough for the Patriots. After forcing Pittsburgh into a 3-and-out on the opening drive, New England began its opening drive on their own 35. Two passes to David Givens, a completion to David Patten combined with a 15 yard face mask penalty brought the ball to the Steelers 24 yard line. Kevin Faulk, starting for the injured Corey Dillon, would lose a yard on his first rush of the game moving the ball back to the 25.
Two incomplete pass attempts to David Patten(4 catches for 39 yards) put New England in a 4th and long situation. Kicker Adam Vinatieri came out and did his thing in kicking the 43 yard field goal putting the Patriots up 3-0 early in the opening quarter. The score marked the fifteenth consecutive game in which the Patriots scored first.
An unnecessary roughness call on the ensuing kickoff would back up the Steelers to their own 16. The Pats defense looked true to form early on and forced Pittsburgh into another punting situation. New England didnt fair much better on their next drive and Josh Miller came out for his first punt of the day near midfield. The kick got down inside the five yard line and should have been downed around the 3 by special teams player Dexter Reid.
Instead of just downing the ball Reid slid and tried to coral it like a fumble recovery. Reids efforts failed and the ball skidded into the endzone for the touchback.
Little did anyone know, nor could anyone guess that the botched special teams play was only the beginning of the end for the defending Super Bowl champs.
Midway through the first quarter the Steelers began their third possession of the game on their own 20 and a few plays later it was time for rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to live up to the hype. On third an 6 from the Pittsburgh 24 Roethlisberger hit running back Vernon Haynes for 14 yards and a first down. A pass interference call on Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress moved the ball back ten yards and set up a first and 20 situation. Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward for 21 yards and the first down moving the ball out to near midfield. On the completion to Ward, cornerback Ty Law pulled up lame with a left foot injury. Rookie Randall Gay came in for the injured Law and two plays later Pittsburgh took advantage of the rookie replacement. On 2nd and 6 just over midfield Roethlisberger(18 for 24, 196 yards, 2TDs) went deep over the top to Plaxico Burress, covered by Gay, for a 47 yard touchdown and a 7-3 Steelers lead. The touchdown pass marked the first time in 120 pass attempts against the Patriots that a team has scored.
Things began to unravel quickly for New England on their next possession.
On first down from the New England 29 Tom Brady dropped back to pass.
Feeling pressure from the Steelers front four Brady stepped up in the collapsing pocket and readied to pass. As Brady brought the ball back to throw he was hit by linebacker Joey Porter and fumbled. Pittsburgh recovered at the New England 27 and were set up for their second score of the day.
A steady dose of Duce Staley brought the Steelers down to the 4 yard line.
On 2nd and goal from the 4 Roethlisberger again found Plaxico Burress(3 catches for 63 yards) in the endzone with a well placed ball and taking advantage of poor coverage by Eugene Wilson. The score gave Pittsburgh a 14-3 first quarter lead and more was to come.
On the Patriots very next play on first down from their own 33 Tom Brady(25 for 43, 271 yards, 2TDs, 2INTs) threw his first interception of the day to Deshea Townsend. The pass intended for Bethel Johnson was returned for a touchdown by Townsend and just like that New England was in a 21-3 first quarter hole and the tone of the game was set. We dug ourselves a big ditch and couldnt get out of it, said Brady of the early deficit.
Due to the absence of Corey Dillon, out with a thigh injury suffered in practice during the week, the Patriots running game was nonexistent. Down big early New England was forced to take to the air. New Englands one dimensional offense was not going to cut it on the road against a hungry Steeler team looking to make a mark in the AFC. On 3rd and 15 from the New England 26 Brady threw his second interception of the day, this time picked off by cornerback Ike Taylor on a deep ball again intended for Bethel Johnson.
The Steelers again had possession, this time back at their own 20 yard line. A 2nd and 7 incomplete pass by Roethlisberger held up some ray of hope for the Patriots, especially the defense. Much like many of their opponents over the course of their winning streak, careless mistakes and penalties helped do in the Patriots. On the incomplete pass Vince Wilfork was called for roughing the passer and the Steelers were awarded a fresh set of downs. Roethlisberger would then find another go-to receiver in third year man Antwaan Randle El completing to the receiver for 20 yards on 3rd and 8 which was compounded by a 15 yard face mask penalty on New Englands Dexter Reid. The pass & penalty yardage moved Pittsburgh down to the New England 25. Roethlisberger went right back to Randle El for 15 yards down to the 10 and setting up a 1st and goal situation. Pittsburgh made it down to the 1 yard line and on 4th down Bill Cowher showed some mercy and opted for the field goal. Josh Reeds 19 yarder put Pittsburgh up 24-3 with just over two minutes to go in the half.
Bethel Johnson returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to the New England 44 and put Brady & Co. in good position to score before the half. Out of the shotgun New England jumped into its two minute offense. A few plays into the drive with just over a minute to go in the half Brady completed to Kevin Faulk(5 runs for 4 yds, 8 catches for 72 yds) down to the 2 yard line. An incomplete pass to tight end Christian Fauria set up 2nd and goal with 49 seconds remaining in the half. Using play action Brady found David Givens(8 catches for 101 yds, 2TDs) in the back of the endzone for the score, bringing the score to 24-10 and thats how the half would end. The pass to Givens marked the 13th straight game in which Brady has thrown for a touchdown.
The start of the second half brought more of the same for the Patriots. On the first play of the half from the New England 24 Brady completed to Kevin Faulk at the 26. In effort to avoid a tackler Faulk backtracked to the line of scrimmage and was stripped of the ball by Jerry Porter. Like the Brady fumble Pittsburgh recovered the ball and would have a short field to work with having possession at the New England 17. A few plays later Jerome Bettis barreled into the endzone from the 2 and the Steelers were up and in control 31-10 with still over 13 minutes left in the third quarter.
The Patriots tried to get something going on their next drive, moving the ball 59 yards down to the Steelers 7 solely on the arm of Tom Brady. The drive stalled on the 7 and Belichick settled for the automatic three points from Vinatieri bringing the score to 31-13 and plenty of time to go in the game.
Pittsburgh turned things over to the running game from there, using a combination of Bettis(15 rushes for 65 yds., 1TD) and Staley(25 rushes for 125 yds.). The strategy worked as the two backs wore down the Patriots defense for 50 yards on a drive that ended in a 29 yard Josh Reed field goal bringing the score up to 34-13.
The Patriots tacked on a fourth quarter score on a touchdown pass from Brady to Givens with 6:30 to go in the game bringing the Pats to within 2 touchdowns. Unfortunately it was too little too late. The record setting winning streak ended when Roethlisberger took a knee and the score went final at 34-20.
The Steelers were the better team, said coach Bill Belichick, They out coached us, they outplayed us. Belichick was brief and to the point in his post-game comments, adding We had problems everywhere...we got beat, we got killed.
As has been the case over the course of the Patriots record breaking run, coach was exactly right.
The loss drops the Patriots to 6-1 and leaves the Philadelphia Eagles as the only unbeaten team in the NFL. The Steelers host the Eagles this Sunday.
The loss ends the Patriots franchise record of 7 straight road wins. Aside from Dillon the Patriots were also without starters Tom Ashworth, Deion Branch, Dan Klecko & Tyrone Poole as well as Patrick Pass. The 6-1 start is the best by the Steelers since the 78 team started 7-0. David Givens season opening streak of all 30 catches for first downs ended in the fourth quarter. The Brady interception returned for a touchdown marked the first defensive touchdown against New England since the 2003 season opener in Buffalo. Brady was sacked 4 times for 28 yards. Pittsburgh out rushed New England 221 to 5.
Chris Timoney provides is a site contributor for the Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: jakbrown. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by using the search feature on this site.
If you are reading this article via a news portal, you can find the original