Game Balls & Goats: Patriots - Steelers

We rate the players and their performance tonight as the Patriot's defeated the Steelers 34-13

Game Balls:

Tom Brady - Nearly 400 yards, and were it not for a number of dropped passes almost 5 touchdowns and a career high. Brady dissected the Steelers defense in the second half to embarrass the vaunted Pittsburgh defense.

Rodney Harrison - just a few days after being fined for trash talking to one AFC North coach, Harrison turned in a pair of plays that show why he's so valuable to the Patriots defense. With a first and goal from the Patriots a 8, the Steelers twice tried to score from the 1 yard line. Both times Harrison broke up the play The first was a fade throw intended for Santonio Holmes in the corner. After a bit of confusion between Harrison and Adalius Thomas at the start of the snap, Harrison flared out to cover Holmes on a fade pass, which he batted away at the last moment. The next play Harrison was on the far right side of the formation and tracked the reverse to Hines ward. Had Harrison not followed the play to it's conclusion, he wouldn't have been in position to wrap up Ward at the one and force the turnover on downs. It's one more reason why Harrison's value to the Patriots defense cannot be overstated.

Late Game Defense - When the patriots need their defense to step it up, and you have little confidence they can, that's when they surprise you. It was the same thing tonight. After allowing Willie Parker to gain 5, 6 10 or more yards per carry, the Patriots' defense found a way to stuff Parker at critical moments. They made their adjustments to force the Steelers to find ways to move the ball without their running game, and eventually to capitulate in terms of giving up on the run when they were so far behind. The defense's resiliency continues to be its strength. Although New England surrendered 349 yards, they were yards that mattered little. It's points that iwn games, and New England's defense rose to the occasion again, stopping the Steeelers on two drives in the first half which could have affected the game.

Honorable Mentions:

Jabar Gaffney - the receiver no one is talking about. He joined the Patriots midway through the season last year and has become a valuable member of the offense. His presence allowed New England to cut their top receiver from last season (Reche Caldwell). Gaffney had 7 receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown.

Willie Parker - even when you lose, you deserve to be mentioned if you can grind out 124 yards on 21 carries (5.9 avg.). Parker was valuable, but he couldn't do enough to help his team win. Parker also caught 4 passes for 23 yards.

Randy Moss - Randy snared a couple of touchdowns tonight and had a good play thrown back to Brady for the long bomb to Gaffney. He dropped another couple of passes which prevented him from getting a game ball tonight. Moss finished with 7 receptions for 135 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Mike Vrabel - Can someone explain why Vrabel hasn't been to the Pro Bowl? He embarrassed Marcus McNeil, and only heard his name mentioned a couple of times on the night. Without him the Patriots defense would be in much worse shape.


Anthony Smith - We had this pegged the minute he opened his mouth on the record. Not knowing any better, and probably baited by the Pittsburgh media, Smith made the mistake of guaranteeing a win over the patriots. Obviously the second year defender made too many assumptions based upon the film study he has watched on the Ravens' and Eagles' games. Regardless, Smith made a boneheaded move by stating to a reporter that the Steelers would win and he was ok with the guarantee. The Patriots went after Smith, and they managed three touchdowns in his area of responsibility. When Smith watches the tape, if he has any conscience, it should make him sick.

Adalius Thomas - after watching Thomas get exploited for gap control issues the past two weeks, he did the same thing again on Sunday. The play that sealed his goat was when he lined up at end and failed to fight through two blocks by a receiver and a back to set the edge. Thomas held his space, but because he didn't get through the block it allowed Willie Parker a lane to slice through the Patriots' defense. It was a receiver who blocked Thomas. (that's just not right)

Run Defense - Building on the Goat to Thomas should be a Goat for the entire rush defense. Parker gashed the Patriots repeatedly, and it certainly wasn't all Thomas' fault. In our opinion, if you get paid big money to be the man, it's your job to prove you're worthy of the paycheck. The rest of the defense failed to adjust quickly enough to the threat that the Steelers were able to control the clock and to run almost at will.

Honorable mentions:

Ellis Hobbs - Hobbs has been burned by the opposition almost as often as he's made plays. The 32-yard touchdown he gave up to Najeh Davenport was what put him on the list. He's only here because of his inconsistency.

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