PHOTO: Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, right, evades pressure from New England Patriots defensive lineman Jarvis Green in the second quarter in Pittsburgh on Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
By Scout.com Staff
PATRIOTS REPORT CARD VS. STEELERS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Tom Brady was brilliant in the fourth quarter, completing all 12 of his attempts for 167 yards and leading the Patriots to scores on all three of their possessions (touchdown, two field goals). David Givens was Brady's favorite target in the fourth, catching five passes for 82 yards. The grade here would be higher if not for two second-quarter turnovers in the red zone -- a Kevin Faulk fumble on a screen pass and a Brady interception on a ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- A third straight week of bad stats with the Patriots averaging 2.6 yards per carry and gaining only 79 yards on the ground. Corey Dillon (22 carries for 61 yards) is averaging just 2.7 yards per attempt on the season. However, he has four rushing touchdowns, including two against the Steelers on tough red-zone runs. The running game looked good early with three short-yardage, third-down conversions, but it never hit its stride away from the goal line.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- Ben Roethlisberger burned the Patriots for an 85-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward and a 49-yard completion to Antwaan Randle El, who fumbled the ball away on a botched lateral. A fourth-down pass interference penalty on Chad Scott set up Pittsburgh's tying touchdown in the final two minutes. Still, the Patriots played well here despite not dressing cornerbacks Tyrone Poole and Randall Gay and then losing strong safety Rodney Harrison to a knee injury in the first quarter. Roethlisberger had a high passer rating (93.8) but he completed only 12 of 28 attempts and was out of sync all day.
RUN DEFENSE: A-plus -- Against probably the league's top run-blocking offensive line and second-year running back sensation Willie Parker, the Patriots were more than up to the challenge. Parker, who had gained 161 and 111 yards in his first two games, was held to 55 on 17 carries -- a 3.2-yard average, down from 5.8 coming in. The Patriots' defensive line clogged the middle, and their outside linebackers and defensive backs prevented Parker from using his great speed on the perimeter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- A major step forward following the struggles of Weeks 1 and 2 when the Patriots had a punt and a PAT blocked against Oakland and surrendered a 76-yard punt return against Carolina. There are still penalty issues (the Patriots were flagged four times on special teams), and Ricardo Colclough's 44-yard kick return was damaging late. However, Tim Dwight (28 yards on a punt) and rookie Ellis Hobbs (34 yards on a kickoff to set up the game-winning drive) spiced up the return game. And, of course, Adam Vinatieri provided another clutch kick in the final seconds.
COACHING: A -- Bill Belichick and his staff got the team back on track after a dispiriting Week 2 loss in Carolina. They also kept the secondary from fraying after Harrison went out. The Patriots cleaned up their false start problems from the previous week and had a solid game plan for short-circuiting Pittsburgh's offense.
STEELERS REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Ben Roethlisbeger hit some big plays, including Hines Ward's 85-yard touchdown catch, but he was unable to make many of the smaller ones. He completed only 12 of 28 passes. He did not throw an interception, although the Patriots almost had a couple. He was sacked four times and hurried on many occasions as his protection broke down. He had a 93.8 passer rating, which was highly deceiving.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- The Patriots opened in their 4-3 defense and stuck with it most of the ballgame, and they overmatched the Steelers' offensive line. There were few holes and they closed fast when there were, even for "Fast" Willie Parker. He managed 55 yards on 17 carries, a 3.2 average and his longest run was 11 yards. Duce Staley suited up and made a cameo appearance, but did not have a carry.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- Tom Brady threw for 372 yards and looked as though he could throw for another 200. He completed 31 of 41 passes. While he was sacked three times and intercepted once, Brady had little trouble with the Steelers when he ditched the run and started throwing more in the second half. He completed all 12 of his passes in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh tried blitzing, tried confusing him, but nothing worked. Brady made them look bad on a day when they did not play as poorly as their statistics might indicate.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- Corey Dillon scored two times on the ground, but otherwise the Patriots were not effective on the run. They ran 30 times for 79 yards. Linebacker Clark Haggans forced two fumbles by halfback Kevin Faulk, although one was on a screen pass. Dillon's longest run was nine yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- A few good returns set up the Patriots' offense with good field position. Tim Dwight returned a punt 28 yards. Tackle Barrett Brooks jumped on a false start as Jeff Reed made a 47-yard field goal. Following the five-yard penalty, Reed missed from 52, snapping his team-record streak at 22. Reed also had one poor kickoff that gave the Pats good field position. Ricardo Colclough did help the Steelers' final drive to tie the score get off to a good start when he returned a kickoff 44 yards.
COACHING: C -- Bill Cowher's record fell to 1-4 against New England's Bill Belichick, although this was his closest loss of the bunch. The Patriots had the Steelers confused and overmatched with their 4-3 defense. It was not a good day for coaches on either side of the ball. Dick LeBeau's schemes failed to even slow Tom Brady down and Ken Whisenhunt, uncharacteristically, got away from the run too early and put the game in the hands of Ben Roethlisberger, who looked confused and was not accurate.