"Obviously the Patriots were the better team today," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game. "We couldn't stop them and make plays of defense at critical times. We have a ways to go. If that's the measuring stick, we're not even close."
It was a tough day for Smith, in particular. Tom Brady and the Patriots targeted the Steelers safeties down the field and exploited Smith for two big plays. The first was a play-action fake by Brady that Smith bit on badly, leaving Randy Moss wide open for an easy 63-yard touchdown reception.
In the third quarter, Smith was the victim of some Patriots trickery. Brady tossed the ball to Moss behind the line of scrimmage, who then threw it back to his quarterback. Brady loaded up and threw a pass deep to Jabar Gaffney. Smith was beaten badly once again but because the ball was in the air so long, he actually had a chance to come up with the interception. However, Smith's bad day got even worse when he misplayed the ball in the air and Gaffney pulled it in for a 56-yard score. That touchdown put the Patriots up 24-13 and ended any talk that Pittsburgh would be the team to derail New England's undefeated season.
Following the game, Bill Belichick had some unusually harsh criticisms of Smith.
"You know, I think Rodney put it the best, so I'll just leave it at that," Belichick said. "But we've played against a lot better safeties than him, I'll tell you."
It's obvious that Brady and the Patriots heard Smith's pre-game prognostication. Following Brady's first touchdown pass to Moss, he ran up to Smith and began jawing with him. Even linebacker James Harrison got into it with Brady, who was clearly fired up over Smith's comments. Later in the game, Moss was seen going back and forth with the beleaguered safety.
"He didn't say nothing to me," Smith said about his confrontation with Brady. "I don't really know if he said something, I wasn't really paying attention. I really didn't hear what Moss was saying either. I talk a lot myself so it's hard to hear what other people are saying to me sometimes."
Brady wouldn't go into detail either about what was said on the field between the two players.
"I don't care to repeat it, especially if my mother reads it," Brady said. "She wouldn't be very happy with what I said."
Smith's coach and teammates came to his defense after the defeat. While the bold comment may have jacked up the Patriots a little bit, it was Brady and the offense that was the reason why Pittsburgh went home a loser. The Patriots simply outplayed the Steelers in every facet of the game, a fact Tomlin brought up at his press conference.
"After a performance like that where they beat us up, yeah, you can point back to that comment," he said about Smith's guarantee. "But that's a good football team and I doubt those comments were a motivating factor on how they performed today. The reality is they ran the scoreboard up on us -- the Pittsburgh Steelers -- and we accept responsibility starting with myself."
Receiver Hines Ward -- who has had his share of disappointment against New England over the years -- doesn't think the Patriots, especially guys like Rodney Harrison, need extra motivation to win games.
Allen Rossum #30 of the Pittsburgh Steelers gains yards in the second quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium December 9, 2007 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
"You don't need words to motivate Rodney Harrison. He's a little firecracker himself. You just have to be smart with your words. You play the best team in the NFL, you definitely don't need to give them any more motivation or bulletin-board stuff to feed off of. But like I said, that's not why we lost the game."
A lot of the Steelers talked about returning to Foxborough next month for a rematch with the Patriots in the playoffs. But in order to do that, the team will have to figure out a way to play better on the road.
Pittsburgh's four losses this season have all come away from the friendly confines of Heinz Field. And with Pittsburgh likely being the third or fourth seed in the AFC, the Steelers will need to win on the road in order to reach the Super Bowl.
Tomlin believes his team is going to continue to improve and that the story of the 2007 Pittsburgh Steelers has a long way to go before the final chapter is written.
Only this time, no one guaranteed it.
--By virtue of their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Patriots have clinched a first-round playoff bye for the fifth time since the current NFL playoff format was implemented in 1990. New England has earned first-round byes in 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2007. The Patriots can clinch home-field advantage with a victory over the New York Jets next week.
--With Tom Brady's two-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker in the third quarter, the Patriots' season point total stood at exactly 500 points scored, marking the first time an NFL team has broken the 500-point mark since the 2004 Indianapolis Colts scored 522 points. New England finished the game with 503 total points this season. The 2007 Patriots are the 11th team in the 88-year history of the NFL to break the 500-point mark. The 1998 Minnesota Vikings hold the NFL record with 556 points scored.
--Bill Belichick recorded his 100th overall victory as Patriots head coach with New England's win over Pittsburgh. Since being hired by the Patriots prior to the 2000 season, Belichick has now recorded 88 regular-season victories and 12 playoff wins for a total of 100 victories. He is one of four current NFL head coaches to win 100 or more overall games with their current team, joining Washington's Joe Gibbs (168 wins), Denver's Mike Shanahan (130) and Tennessee's Jeff Fisher (117). Belichick has an overall coaching record of 137-84 (.620), including a 124-81 regular-season mark and a 13-3 playoff record.
--"I've played in the league for 10 years and I don't think I've ever heard a player ever say anything like that. There's trash-talking each week, but just to guarantee a victory -- that's something hard. I don't know if his teammates had his back or whatnot, but it was said, it was documented and it was printed. It came to us and we went out there today and you (could) see we wanted it more." -- Randy Moss, on Anthony Smith's pre-game guarantee.
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