Steelers Still Pondering Loss To Patriots

The Pittsburgh Steelers are left to wonder what happened to them last Sunday against the Patriots this week. They have a bye in their schedule and had expected to go into it with yet another victory, but such was not the case. The New England Patriots worked their magic to drive down the field and win on a last second field goal by Adam Vinatieri. The loss raises questions about Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' passing attack.

Steelers Still Pondering Loss To Patriots
By Staff

Big Ben Roethlisberger is off this weekend - off to drive his sister to her high school homecoming dance at Findlay, Ohio.

Roethlisberger knows about dances. He had to perform a number of them to get out of the way of the rampaging New England defense last Sunday. Even though he leads the NFL with a passer rating of 131.8, he lost to the Patriots again and did not look good doing it. He completed only 12 of 28 passes and was sacked four times and even though it was just his second loss in 18 NFL starts, many in Pittsburgh were calling for coach Bill Cowher to insert Tommy Maddox into the lineup.

Crazy? You bet, said offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.

"He's growing," said Whisenhunt. "You look at some of the other young guys around the league, they had tough days. The guy in Chicago threw five interceptions, right?"

That's one way for Whisenhunt to make a point that, generally, Roethlisberger protects the ball among his other strengths. He has not thrown an interception in three games. No one but Oakland's Kerry Collins can say that among the league's starting quarterbacks.

The Steelers coaches don't believe Roethlisberger had adequate protection last Sunday against the Patriots, which they feel is unacceptable from an offensive line that boasts three Pro Bowl players on the left side. They're looking hard at right guard, where Kendall Simmons had a terrible game.

Simmons, their No. 1 draft choice in 2002, played well as a rookie but hasn't done much since. He started all 16 games his second season but played poorly, probably because he lost more than 30 pounds when he discovered he had diabetes shortly before training camp began. He wasn't the same player.

He looked good in camp in 2004, but near the end tore his ACL and was out for the season. He's supposedly fine physically now, it's his mental mistakes that worry them. He's gone the wrong way on some plays and does not seem to be sharp at all. He was a big reason the Patriots were able to put so much pressure on Roethlisberger.

"It was weird," Whisenhunt said, "because usually with teams that have had a pass rush we've always been pretty solid in our protection. Our line does a good job. It's unfortunate, but we didn't play our best game. We have some things we can work on, we'll work on those things and we'll be better next time we play."

The Steelers only recourse would be to play promising rookie Chris Kemoeatu, but they're not ready for that. They're using the off week to tighten things up in their line, which played so well last season and paved the way for them to run 61 percent of the time, which allowed them to hold the ball on average 34 minutes a game, most in the league. That, in turn, helped their defense.

Pittsburgh's offense is built to run more than pass, and if they have to go the other way, as they did against the Patriots, it's not going to be pretty. They can do it on occasion, and actually nearly pulled it off against New England when Roethlisberger's second TD pass of the game to Hines Ward tied it with 1:21 left. But they don't want a steady diet of the passing game.


--New England coach Bill Belichick ran Steelers trainer John Norwig away from injured Patriots tackle Matt Light on Sunday on the field at Heinz Field. But it did not stop the Patriots from later requesting crutches and pain medication for Light. The Steelers complied, but privately they were livid at Belichick's treatment of Norwig, who was just following procedure in offering help from the home team's medical staff.

Belichick used a profanity when he ordered Norwig to get away from his player, who was down on the field with a broken leg.

Earlier in the game, Patriots safety Rodney Harrison also went down and Steelers coach Bill Cowher walked onto the field to check on him. Belichick did not try to chase away Cowher.

"That's a common courtesy," said Denver trainer Steve Antonopulos, president of the pro football athletic trainers society. "That's something each of us does. It helps the situation as it is on the field to expedite the medical care of the individual - expedites getting the cart on the field, paramedics if needed, if they need to be transported off the field."

--RB Willie Parker leads Edgerrin James of the Colts by 3 yards for the AFC rushing lead with 327.

--The Steelers-Patriots game was the second-highest rated on national TV game for the first three weeks of the season since CBS began broadcasting AFC games in 1998.

--The Steelers average 6.7 yards on each of their plays, the most in the NFL.

--Four defensive backs are among the team's seven leading tacklers: CB Ike Taylor leads with 30 total, S Chris Hope is third with 22, CB Deshea Townsend is sixth with 13 and SS Troy Polamalu is seventh with 10.

--Coach Bill Cowher had little reaction after he learned, on Monday, that 52 seconds were inadvertently added to the game clock early in the fourth quarter of their 23-20, last-second loss to New England in Heinz Field.

"You know what? It was what it was," Cowher said. "We all played the same scenario. The bottom line is, we didn't get it done and they did. And I don't think the clock was an issue at all."

BY THE NUMBERS: 75 - Sacks the Steelers would have at the end of the season, an NFL record, based on their current pace of 14 after three games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was crazy, you never expect that to happen at home, especially. No one really knew about it. My family and everyone was there; I guess they were screaming about it but no one heard them." - QB Ben Roethlisberger, on the 52 seconds that were mysteriously added to the game clock against the Patriots last Sunday.

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