Patriots have an answer for Roethlisberger
By Jon Scott, Patriots Insider
December 12, 2007
It wasn't that long ago that Ben Roethlisberger was considered one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. As a rookie, he managed to guide his team to a 15-1 regular season record and a spot in the AFC Championship game. That playoff game taught Ben a lesson, a Belichick led defense is tough to figure out. On Sunday, Roethlisberger looked like things hadn't changed that much since 2004.
But, things have changed for the Steelers quarterback. In his second season, the former first round draft pick guided Pittsburgh to an 11-5 record and a wild card ticket to the playoffs. Roethlisberger used his strong arm, big body and the supporting cast of a solid defense coupled with a pounding rushing attack to make an improbable run to the Super Bowl.
Sunday, the Steelers signal caller had another season (2006) under his belt, the top ranked defense in the league and the third best rushing attack. Pittsburgh also had the benefit of a so-called "blueprint" spelled out in how to get to Tom Brady and slow down the undefeated Patriots. So why did they lose?
Pittsburgh lost because the Steelers' offense couldn't answer the call. Blame it on misfortune, blame it on blown opportunities, blame it on injuries or even blame it on the home field advantage. Whatever you blame it on, Roethlisberger came up short where it mattered (the Red Zone) and when it mattered - (while the game was still within reach).
When asked the hypothetical question of 'if the Steelers were able to score touchdowns rather than settle for field goals in the red zone would things have been closer?' Roethlisberger relied on the wisdom of four years in the league to say all the right things.
"We look at the scoreboard and realize that we got outplayed and that they were the better team," he began. "We need to improve. So, we move on, we take the loss and we go forward."
Still, a Steelers rushing attack that had steamrolled opponents, and managed to churn up yards at an alarming rate against the Patriots stalled out near the goal line. Despite a ground game that rolled up 181 yards (5.7 avg), the Steelers signal-caller still couldn't get Pittsburgh enough points to keep pace.
For Roethlisberger, falling further behind each time the Patriots scored, took away one of his primary weapons - the ground game. Pittsburgh was able to put points on the board, but the first ones came after a drive stalled out at Patriots six yard line so the Steelers settled for a field goal. By the time Roethlisberger threatened to score again, Pittsburgh was down 14-3 and had to play catch-up. On their next possession, a 30-yard burst by Willie Parker put the Steelers in sight of the end zone. Still Roethlisberger wasn't able to find his targets downfield until he scrambled around to find Najeh Davenport in the end zone on a third down play that scored more by luck than by design. 14-10 and it appeared Roethlisberger could keep up with the Patriots.
On Pittsburgh's final drive in the first half, Roethlisberger managed only one completion inside the Patriots 34 and again had to settle for another field goal. Instead of being on top by 3, Pittsburgh was still down my one, 14-13. Brady then drove the Patriots down for a quick field goal before the half to extend New England's lead to 4 again.
Roethlisberger expressed his frustration in not being able to convert a first down and what could have led to the go-ahead score at the half.
Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers feels the pressure of Junior Seau #55 of the New England Patriots in the third quarter at Gillette Stadium December 9, 2007 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots won 34-13. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
"It's very frustrating," he said. "We're proud of the offensive line-we did a lot of no-huddle tonight. I called a lot of the plays and there was no cadence, so you have to give the offensive line a lot of credit. We moved the ball all the way down the field and then we faltered, for whatever reason, in the red zone, whether it was a little bit of them, a little bit of us or a little bit of both."
Hines ward concurred; not scoring touchdowns was the team's downfall.
"We were going up and down the field, but they scored touchdowns and we didn't," said Ward. "That is the biggest difference. We drove the ball fairly well and got down into the red zone but just weren't able to put the ball in the end zone."
An overthrown here, a hurried pass there, and Pittsburgh fell further behind on each unsuccessful possession. In the second half, those mistakes turned a manageable game into a nightmare for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh's first possession after the break was a sign of things to come. A 19-yard burst by Parker pumped up the Steelers sideline. Then an 8-yard sack on Roethlisberger, and Pittsburgh was in a hole. A short completion for 7 then an incompletion and no Big Ben magic could take advantage of the job Parker and the line were doing.
At that point the tide turned and New England went on a tear. Backed up at their own 11, Brady hit Randy moss for a 22 yard completion. Then a 9-yard pass to Donte Stallworth, a 7-yard dump off to Kyle Brady to avoid the blitz and another first down. Then the coup-de-grace, a Brady to Moss, back-to-Brady trick play that went for a 56-yard touchdown. Pittsburgh would never recover.
"It was a nice play by them. We were out of position," Said Mike Tomlin of the flea flicker. "We thought we were closing but we didn't make the play."
Although he had plenty of time in the third quarter, Roethlisberger still couldn't get anything going via the pass. A little bit of Willie Parker on the next possession and another Roethlisberger incompletion left the Steelers punting. It turned Pittsburgh's offense into a one-dimensional attack that the Patriots had little difficulty handling. If Roethlisberger could have answered New England's score at that point, the Steelers may have been able to compete, but it was not Big Ben's night.
|Tom Brady celebrates another score against the Pittsburgh Steelers Dec 9, 2007 (Getty images)|
Another drive by New England put the Patriots up 31-13.
Pittsburgh had a final opportunity to close the gap, but again, Roethlisberger couldn't get the ball to a receiver. Whether it was the Patriots' ability to make adjustments in the red zone, or the Steelers' inability to find an open target mattered little. Pittsburgh failed to score when they had a first and goal on New England's 8.
"If I sit here and say, 'We made too many mistakes and we screwed everything up,' then it makes it sounds like if we play and we don't make those mistakes we beat them," said Roethlisberger of the blown opportunities. "I will say that they made us make mistakes; they made us do things in a negative way, especially in the red zone, so give them a lot of credit."
Credit Roethlisberger for being honest. Even if he's not ready to be mentioned in the same breath as Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, one thing is certain, Roethlisberger knows when he's been bested, and will work harder to beat the Patriots if they meet again. If nothing else, the Steelers quarterback wants to learn from the best (Tom Brady), just not first hand. Roethlisberger spoke with Brady at midfield after the game.
"He just told me that I was doing a good job and that he was proud, and I told him I hope he breaks the record next week, because it's so much fun watching him play," said Roethlisberger. "I don't like him playing against us and how well he played, but it truly is an honor to watch such a great quarterback play the game."
Although the Steelers were beaten handily on Sunday, Mike Tomlin knows his team has to find a way to rebound, and to do it quickly if they want to have a chance to play the Patriots again in the postseason.
"We are still writing our story, Tomlin said after the game. "This is not the final chapter in our story and it wasn't going to be, whether we won or lost. We have another game to play, a big game coming up at home. We have to prepare to do that." What did he learn about his team after playing Brady and the league's top ranked offense?
"Get back with me in a couple of months," Tomlin said.
According to his time frame, that means the playoffs, or the off-season. The Steelers are a good team, but they're not yet ready to keep pace with the Patriots. It's unclear if any team is good enough to derail Tom Brady this season. But for those who thought Pittsburgh had the right stuff, and that Ben Roethlisberger would lead them to the Super Bowl this year, they'll need to adjust their crystal balls and figure out if Pittsburgh even has the right stuff to make it to the AFC Championship. If they do, there's little doubt New England will be waiting for them.
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