Now, What About Those Patriots?

The Steelers' defense is playing at an elite level, but the New England Patriots are still the elephant in the room. The Steelers tell Jim Wexell they can avenge that loss.

PITTSBURGH – James Farrior called it "our six-man, cover-zero blitz." It was the one that won the game Sunday night in Baltimore, the one that allowed Troy Polamalu to hack Joe Flacco's right arm.

It was a new blitz, designed to stop run or pass by bringing quick-strike bookends Polamalu and Lawrence Timmons while four others rush inside.

It worked three times Sunday night: twice on critical goal-to-go plays in the third quarter, and then most spectacularly on second-and-5 with 3:22 left.

"The right call at the right time," said captain James Farrior.

For the second week in a row, the Steelers allowed only one touchdown. Three weeks ago, the Steelers allowed only a field goal.

It would appear the defense has regained the swagger Tom Brady had ripped from them four weeks ago.

The sentiment was run past Farrior for review.

"I don't think we ever lost our swagger," he countered. "But it was good for our confidence. You have to feel you're able to stop any team at the most important time, and I think we're starting to feel like that."

Statisticians might agree, since the Steelers have improved upon their greatest weakness – their 24th-ranked pass defense. Here's the breakdown:

* Last three games: 50 percent completed on them, 59.3 passer rating, 5.0 yards per attempt.

* Previous nine games: 67.5 percent completed, 85.6 passer rating, 7.2 yards per attempt.

*Brady: 69.8 percent completed, 117.4 passer rating, 8.1 yards per attempt.

Of course, Brady always does that to the Steelers. He's 6-1 against them with a 107.6 passer rating. He averages 30.1 points per game against the Steelers after hanging 39 on them last month.

How, LeBeau was asked after the latest surgical carving by Brady, could the players be convinced that a next encounter would turn out any different?

"That's not hard to convince at all," he said. "You've just got to get the game film out from '04. He was the quarterback that day. I think we had two interceptions for touchdowns. He's gotten us and we've gotten him.

"I hope we do get to him again," LeBeau added. "He is a great player, but he'll not do the same thing."

He'll not do the same thing.

LeBeau issued the comment with a stern look. He was a bit irritated at the question.

He'll not do the same thing.

The comment was repeated for Farrior and the captain agreed.

"We're not going to let that happen again," he said. "Never."

Is the basis for this optimism the play of the last three weeks?

"Yeah," Farrior said. "I think we're playing at a high level. Getting your butts whipped will get everyone's attention. We've started doing the little things, like communications. That was our biggest problem: We didn't communicate well that day."

Secondary coach Ray Horton gave a couple other reasons why the Steelers played so poorly the last time out against the Patriots.

"That was the third night game in a row," Horton started. "It was after three games on the road. So I hope it was a case of us being tired, partially. And the other part that I know for sure: Tom Brady was on fire. Tom Brady was unbelievable that game. The first touchdown he had against Will Gay, most guys wouldn't have thrown the ball. Will just missed it and the guy made a great catch. And then we gave him some stuff. Sometimes it's like that. You have a stretch and then all of the sudden you have a game and you wonder if you're as good as you thought you were. I thought we were ready to play very, very well. They'd just come off losing to Cleveland, so I'm sure they were shocked into something as well.

"Was it the perfect storm? I don't know," Horton continued. "But the way things seem to be unfolding, it's going to come down, I hope, to them. I said this a long time ago: There's no question – no question – Tom Brady's the best player in the league. Peyton Manning's not even in the argument. It's Tom Brady and then everybody else. He's the best quarterback in the league and he was on fire."

So the Patriots are the end game, and the elephant in the room.

Is the rest of the season merely a meaningless endeavor if they're the final destination?

Of course not, but the Steelers wouldn't be given much of a chance in a rematch.

"And that would definitely be a motivating factor for us," Farrior said. "Hey, they deserve to be the team to beat. They whipped on everybody pretty much. Until somebody stops them, they are the team to beat. But that's fine."

As long as the Steelers continue to come up with fresh blitzes, and play sure, fast and physically in the secondary, things just might be fine.

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