Steelers don't take advantage

PITTSBURGH -- The New England Patriots were down three fourths of their secondary before the end of the first quarter, and proceeded to shut down the Steelers' passing game with a collection of misfits whose fingers fit perfectly into the dike.

Of course, that's how the Patriots win Super Bowls.

The Patriots beat the Steelers, 23-20, after coming to Heinz Field without cornerback Tyrone Poole, after losing Duane Starks on the first series, and after losing strong safety Rodney Harrison on the third series.

The Steelers reached into their bag of tricks and ran the ball. They called 18 running plays on their next 30 snaps, and of the 12 passes, one ended in a sack, a few others were dropped, and a few more incompletions were caused by pressure. Only two of the 12 were completed for a total of 21 yards. By then it was the end of the third quarter and the Patriots were in a game they had no business winning, and then they won.

"They did a good job," Coach Bill Cowher said of the Patriots' defense. "It seemed like we couldn't get any consistent running game going and we had a lot of minus plays. It seemed like Ben was sacked a lot and we were in a lot of third-down-and-long situations. It seemed like we were kind of playing backed up most of the game."

Why didn't the Steelers flood the field with wide receivers?

"I don't know," said Hines Ward. "I'm not the coach."

Quincy Morgan was wondering about it. He made a few appearances as a fourth wide receiver on sure passing downs, and found himself in such a situation late in the game.

On fourth-and-11, with time running out, Morgan was singled up with Chad Scott. Ben Roethlisberger threw Morgan the ball and Scott interfered for a first down at the Patriots' 4. One play later, Roethlisberger threw a play-action touchdown pass to Ward for the tying score.

The Patriots, though, moved the ball downfield for the winning field goal, but the banged-up Patriots were lucky to still be in the game.

"I was waiting for it," Morgan said. "Earlier I had Starks and I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I knew I could beat Chad Scott. You know, I've been beating him since I've been in the league. I know how he plays. He likes to jump into receivers when they go for deep balls."

Would more four-receiver sets have helped?

"I don't know," Morgan said. "They didn't have any corners."

Even if the play-calling were different, the passing game was way off on Sunday. Antwaan Randle El, for example, wasted a 49-yard completion by lateraling to Hines Ward, who wasn't ready for the ball and fumbled. New England recovered at its own 11.

"He looked at me but then he got out of it," said Ward. "I mean, I can't fault Twan for that. He was trying to make a play. I thought he was going to get out and I was going to block; then he ended up pitching it to me and I just took my eyes off the ball and wasn't ready for it. We do that at practice so I'm partly to blame."

Cowher's reaction?

"In hindsight, obviously you wouldn't want to do that; not in a game like this," he said. "Against this caliber of football team, you cannot squelch opportunities like that. He understands that. It was one of those things that just happened. He was trying to make a play. I told him to let it go. I'm not going to dwell on it."

Is there a hard and fast rule against such a play?

"No, they don't have a rule about it," said Randle El. "If you're going to do it, complete it. If you're going to do it, make it happen. That was a mistake on my part. I probably should've held onto it.

"We made eye contact. I think it was just too fast. He was coming; I was coming. Going back to it, if I could do it again I think I would've kept it and tried to score."

It appeared as if the passing game was off to a fast start when Ward took a pass on a post pattern 85 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. But the line stopped protecting and the quarterback lost confidence and the receivers dropped passes. It added up to poor day against an injury ravaged secondary.

"We had people open," said Ward. "They did a lot of different schemes. They confused us at times. We've got to protect better. We've got to play better. But we had guys open. We just didn't make plays when we had to."

Do the Steelers press too much against the Patriots?

"No, we don't press too much," said Randle El. "You make plays or you don't make plays."

Even against Chad and Gussy Scott, the Steelers couldn't make those plays Sunday.

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