Patriots Win, Just What They Needed

After a week of doubt and criticism that was born from the loss in Carolina, The New England Patriots seemed to come out of the gate determined to show their opponents, their fans, and the rest of the NFL, that the team that lost last week was not an accurate representation of the defending champions...

PHOTO: New England Patriots Corey Dillon (28) scores from four yards out past Pittburgh Steelers' Troy Polamalu (43) and Chris Hope, rear, during the first quarter of NFL action Sunday, Sept. 25, 2005 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Patriots Win, Just What They Needed
By Michael Reardon

After a week of doubt and criticism that was born from the loss in Carolina, The New England Patriots seemed to come out of the gate determined to show their opponents, their fans, and the rest of the NFL, that the team that lost last week was not an accurate representation of the defending champions. First, the Patriots stuff the Steelers 3 and out on their first possession. Then, on the Patriots’ first offensive drive, the Patriots attacked the areas in which they were weak just 7 days ago. They opened up the game with three consecutive runs to Corey Dillon, including on third down. They followed it up with a play – action pass, another run, a short pass to Watson, and then another Corey Dillon handoff that lead to the first touchdown of the game. Brady looked crisp after having a poor game last week, and the Patriots exhibited solid blocking and patience with the running game; areas in which they were not successful in against the Panthers.

Unfortunately, after grabbing the momentum early, the Patriots let the Steelers and their fans right back into the game by allowing an 85-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Hines Ward just two players later. The New England secondary had been riddled with injuries resulting in a number of substitutions by less experienced players but it was two regular starters, Asante Samuel and Eugene Wilson, who appeared out of place on the play.

Throughout the first half, the Steelers seemed to be looking to beat the Patriots deep. They would achieve only varying success as Roethlisberger spent a lot of time scrambling out of the pocket to avoid the New England rush.

After this quick exchange of scores early in the first quarter, both teams spend the remainder of the first half locked in a defensive struggle that yielded just 3 more points before half – time. While both defenses should certainly be credited for this low level of offensive output, it was also the factor of both teams making mistakes that made it a lot harder for them to score. Later in the first half, the Steelers got a huge break by drawing a pass interference penalty on a deep pass attempt that set the Steelers up with a first and goal inside the Patriots’ 8 yard line. After two failed running plays and a false start penalty, Roethlisberger threw an incomplete pass and his team managed only a field goal, wasting a golden opportunity to put up 7 points. The Steelers, however, looked to beat the Patriots deep on several occasions, and would again find success on their next possession. The Patriots, however, seemed determined to keep the Steelers in the game by making their own mistakes. In their third offensive possession of the game, the Patriots executed an 8 minute, 14 play drive that went for over 69 yards. The drive consisted of short passes and a lot of run plays, most of which were not successful. Corey Dillon carried 5 times and managed to gain more than one yard only once. Towards the end of the drive, Kevin Faulk carried the ball three times and gained a first down inside the Pittsburgh 10 yard line. On the next play, however, the Patriots returned the favor the Steelers had previously done them when Kievin Faulk fumbled a ball that was recovered by the Steelers.

Just two plays after recovering this crucial fumble, however, the Steelers continued the trend of not capitalizing on your opponent’s mistakes that had now been set by both teams. Roethlisberger found Antwaan Randle El for a 30 yard gain that would have put the Steelers on the New England 15 yard line with yet another great opportunity to score in a game where it was becoming apparent that points would be difficult to come by. Instead, however, Randle El opted to attempt a lateral toss to fellow wide out Hines Ward as he (Randle El) was being tackled. Ward, who was undoubtedly not looking for such an unconventional play, fumbled the toss and the Patriots recovered.

In just over a minute’s time, both teams had turned the ball over in their enemy’s red zone and lost valuable points because of needless mistakes.

Later in the same half, the Steelers found some rare momentum on offense and, with the help of a personal foul facemask on Richard Seymour that turned a negative 9 yard sack into a 15 yard gain, managed to move the ball down to the New England 29 yard line. The Steelers, however, failed to convert as Roethlisberger was unable to complete a pass while under the New England rush and the drive stalled out, resulting in a field goal attempt. This was disappointing enough for the Steeler offense, but it became even more so when the offense committed a false start penalty that moved the offense back 5 more yards and made the attempt that much more difficult on kicker Josh Reed. Reed missed the kick wide left, and again, an offense had failed to execute at the end of a long drive to put up some points.

Not to be outdone, however, the Patriots answered right back with yet another offensive turnover. With 2:34 left in the half, Tom Brady and the New England offense began a 8 play, 50 yard drive that put them in excellent position to change the 10 – 7 Steeler advantage before half – time. The big play of the drive was a 25-yard screen pass to Kevin Faulk that set up the New England offense at the 3 yard line. The screen was designed to exploit the aggressive Pittsburgh rush and it worked perfectly. With 40 seconds left and with 40 seconds still on the clock, the Patriots looked poised to bang the ball in for the touchdown. Instead, rookie Logan Mankins got called for a false start, moving the offense back to the 8 yard line. This penalty turned out to be instrumental as it directly contributed to the interception Brady threw on the next play. Instead of being able to send in a jumbo backfield (i.e. Seymour at fullback) and try to run the ball in from the 3, the Patriots had to select from an entirely different list of plays to score from the 8 yard line. Essentially, they were forced to throw the ball around the goal line, which is always dangerous because of how small an area the opposing defense has to offer. Sure enough, on the next play, Brady dropped back to pass and when he did, the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and dropped into the waiting arms of the Steeler secondary.

For the second time in one half of football, the Patriots had turned the ball over inside the Pittsburgh 20 yard line. Two sustained, well – executed drives garnered zero points because of these mistakes, and the Patriots went into half down 10 – 7 in a game that they had pretty good control of. They were still struggling to move the ball on the ground and were, like the Carolina game one week before, beating themselves by mistakes and penalties. Luckily for Tom Brady and the rest of the offense, the New England defense was playing well enough to keep them in the game despite having put up just 7 points. Also, the Steelers were shooting themselves in the foot as well, and had not taken advantage of the New England follies.

Any hope that Patriots’ fans had about their team turnings things around went unrealized in the third quarter. The next three Patriot possessions ended in a missed field goal, yet another fumble, and a punt. The fumble, Kevin Faulk’s second of the game, set up the Pittsburgh offense at the New England 26. The Steelers, however, once again showed an inability to finish the Patriots off and a lack of the killer instinct. After getting a 1st and 10 on the New England 15 yard line, head coach Bill Cowher called three consecutive run plays that gained only 9 yards. Then, on a 4th and 1 on the Patriot 6 yard line, he elected to kick the field goal to put his team up 13 – 7. This conservative play call may have been different if Cowher had his short yardage back Jerome Bettis available, but the veteran is still out with a leg injury. In any case, whether it be because of poor execution or conservative coaching, the Steelers had once again allowed the Patriots to hang around, failing to convert a “huge” New England mistakes into “costly” ones.

New England could get nothing going on their next possession and on 4th down, Josh Miller dropped a beautiful punt that pinned the Steelers on their on 6 yard line. The New England defense continued their consistent play by stuffing the Steelers on 3rd and short, and the Patriots got the ball right back with just a minute left in the third quarter. They did so in dramatic fashion as well, as Tim Dwight ran back the punt for a 30-yard return, setting the New England offense up at the Pittsburgh 30. They were unable to move the ball, however, and after a run for no gain and two incomplete passes, the Patriots had to settle for a field goal attempt. During the series, Brady took a stab for the score on 2nd down, but wide receiver David Givens was well covered in the end zone and, in actuality, the pass should’ve been picked off by Steelers safety Polamalu. Having escaped a turnover, Vinatieri was sent in for the 3 and was true from 48 yards away. The Patriots, despite their mistakes, found themselves just 3 points out at a score of 13 – 10.

The next possession by the Steelers would mark the beginning of the final quarter. Just 3 points separated both teams, neither of them were playing well enough to distance themselves from the other. It was time for one of the two AFC contenders to make a statement about who was going to win this game and the Patriots were finally ready to make it. After the field goal and ensuing kickoff, the Steelers had the ball at their own 30 yard line. No doubt that Cowher and the Steelers were looking for a long, clock – killing touchdown drive that would demoralize the Patriots defense and put the defending champions down by two scores. Instead, the Patriots defense went into attack mode, harassing Roethlisberger on both of his pass attempts. While the elusive Roethlisberger deftly avoided being sacked when many other quarterbacks would, he threw very inaccurately under pressure. The third play called during this brief possession was a reverse to Cedrick Wilson that did not fool the disciplined New England defense and gained zero yards.

The Steelers had moved the ball negative 5 yards and taken less than a minute off the clock.

The New England defense had once again set the table for Tom Brady and the Patriot offense, shutting down the opposition and providing yet another opportunity.

There was a moment in the Carolina game where Tom Brady came to this impasse as well. He and the offense had handed in a sub - par performance last week yet still, in the fourth quarter, had a chance to step up and seize the opportunity for redemption and a win. In that game, for the first time in awhile, Tom Brady failed. Brady, as the Steelers would find out over the next 15 minutes of football, would not fail again, and would make the Steelers pay dearly for allowing the Patriots to hang around as long as they had.

Starting from their own 14 yard line, the Patriots executed a 7 play, 86 yard drive that ended in a 7 yard Corey Dillon touchdown run. It was reminiscent of the drive that opened the game, and the offense clearly regained a rhythm and momentum that they had not had since that first drive. On the drive, Brady was a perfect 5 for 5, accounting for 76 of the 86 yards. He played as good as Tom Brady can play, taking his time to find the open man when the Steelers dropped back into coverage, or using his quick release to find the holes in the secondary when the Steelers blitzed.

David Givens had a huge night, and was responsible for the biggest play of the drive. On a 3rd and 2 at the Pittsburgh 37 yard line, the Steelers blitzed Brady, who in turn found Givens open along the sideline. Givens had the first down where he caught the ball, but he eluded a Pittsburgh tackler and took the ball 25 more yards down to the Pittsburgh 7 yard line. Two plays later, Dillon let loose on a run off the right tackle that ended in a dive for the touchdown that was so spectacular, it made you wonder if he had spent the first two games looking slow on purpose just to lure the Steelers in to a false sense of security.

The Patriots were up 17 – 13 and had regained control of the game by a consistently solid defensive effort and an offense that had finally come awake.

The Steelers were forced to punt on their next possession by yet another New England defensive stand, and the Patriot offense executed another 7 play drive, this time a 59 yard one that resulted in another Vinatieri field goal. Brady was a perfect 4 for 4 on this drive as the offense, again, moved the ball mostly through the air.

The game, however, was far from over. The flustered and inaccurate Roethlisberger, with the help of huge New England penalties, managed to tie the game up at 20 on a short touchdown pass to Hines Ward with 1:21 left to play. While certainly a team’s first priority is to score in this situation, Steeler fans have to wonder why head coach Bill Cowher didn’t even attempt to take more time off the clock. Everyone else seemed to know that 1:21, with time outs remaining or not, was too much time to leave the now hot – handed Tom Brady.

The game, once again, provided a prime opportunity for a vintage Brady drive, and he delivered. Brady completed another 3 passes of 3 attempts, making him a perfect 12 for 12 in the 4th quarter, to move the offense within Vinatieri range. On the drive, Brady did what Brady does. He was cool under pressure, and took what the opposing defense gave him. In this case, it was short passes to Patrick Pass, Faulk, and Givens that provided plenty of yardage as well as a judicious use of the remaining game clock.

Heinz Field is not an easy stadium to kick in, but Adam Vinatieri is to kickers as Brady is to quarterbacks; cool under pressure. The Patriots were perfectly timed, allowing the game clock to tick down the seconds as they calmly set up and executed yet another game winning field goal, leaving just :01 in a striking contrast to Cowher’s clock management on the drive previous.

It’s true, the defense played great. It’s true that they did so without the presence of Rodney Harrison. While that is certainly not to be overlooked, the main problem last week was Brady’s ineffectiveness, the poor play of his receivers, and his offensive line’s lackluster performance. Certainly in this game there were plenty of offensive mistakes that still need to be corrected as the season progresses, however, the Patriots do what their fans have come to expect them to do: they overcame adversity and played great football when it was needed most.

You can find more stories about the players in the HOT NEWS section or in their player profiles. Michael Reardon is a longtime contributor to Patriots Insider. Comments or suggestions send us an email

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