A throwback game

After playing the Pittsburgh Steelers in a semi-conventional way in the first half of their game Sunday, the New England Patriots adjusted at halftime and went back to their game plan from 2002.

New England threw the ball on 25 consecutive plays against the Steelers in that game, a 30-14 Patriots' victory, was strangely reminiscent of Sunday's 34-13 win at Gillette Stadium.

New England had quarterback Tom Brady drop back to pass on 33 consecutive plays. That's right, the Patriots dropped back to pass 33 consecutive times, including their first 26 plays of the second half.

Until their final possession of the game, when they were just trying to burn some clock, Tom Brady attempted to pass on every play, throwing 25 times and scrambling for a four-yard gain on another.

It was a game plan that rendered the strength of the Pittsburgh defense, its front seven, totally useless.

For most of the game, Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton stood on the sidelines watching. Backup defensive end Nick Eason got more snaps in the second half than Hampton did as Pittsburgh countered by playing a lot of nickel.

And Brady was getting rid of the ball so quickly, the Steelers rarely even pressured him.

In fact, the Steelers failed to register a sack Sunday and had just four pressures.

That's not going to get it done.

Perhaps getting Troy Polamalu back for a possible rematch in the playoffs – Playoffs? Did you say playoffs? – will make a difference.

With Polamalu back, the Steelers can play more dime, with Tyrone Carter coming in as the deep safety and William Gay staying on the sidelines. And Pittsburgh can also go with its big nickel as well, with a line of Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, Hampton and Chris Hoke.

In fact, I'm not sure why we didn't see that formation Sunday. Hampton and Hoke may have been able to use their bulk to push the pocket up in Brady's face.

What the heck, nothing else the Steelers did Sunday worked.

© Actually, the reason the Steelers didn't use the big nickel was because they didn't want to take linebackers James Harrison and Clark Haggans off the field.

OK, they didn't want to take Harrison off the field.

© As big a game as Sunday's matchup was, it's not nearly as big as this week's game against Jacksonville.

Jacksonville is a team that could quite possible come to Heinz Field in the playoffs in the opening round.

And the Steelers have to prove they can be effective against the Jacksonville defense, which totally shut Pittsburgh down in a meeting last season.

In fact, a victory by the Steelers Sunday would drop the Jaguars into a tie with Cleveland for the top wildcard spot in the AFC.

Not to mention, Sunday's loss puts the Steelers just a game ahead of Cleveland in the AFC North standings.

Given that the Browns finish up with games at home against Buffalo and San Francisco sandwiched around a game at Cincinnati, Cleveland could very well finish at 11-5.

Pittsburgh holds the tiebreaker over Cleveland, but a loss to Jacksonville would also be the Steelers' fourth conference loss and open the possibility that they could fall to the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs.

San Diego has a 7-3 conference record and still has to host Detroit and Denver before finishing up its season at Oakland in three very winnable games.

And, of course, the fourth seed in the playoffs – should it win its playoff opener – stands a good shot of having to go to Gillette Stadium to face the Patriots, who will be coming off a bye.

You want to delay that trip as long as possible.

© The Steelers used Ike Taylor to shadow Randy Moss all over the field Sunday.

Taylor didn't have bad coverage on Moss a couple of times, but still gave up the reception.

Moss is that good.

© Brady is that good as well.

Willie Colon had his hands full with Mike Vrabel all day long. The rest of the line actually played pretty well, but Colon struggled with Vrabel's quickness to the outside.

© The Steelers should continue to use Willie Parker the way they did Sunday for the remainder of this season.

Many times, they passed when they should have run and ran when they should have passed. And Parker was able to get outside more Sunday than he had all season.

Then again, the Steelers outrushed the Patriots, 181 to 22, and it didn't make a difference.

When you can't punch the ball in from inside the 10, you don't deserve to win.

In fact, the Steelers were 0-for-3 in the red zone Sunday and lost by 21 points. You do the math.

© Wouldn't you have liked to have seen the Steelers try a gadget play or two – I mean other than an end around with an empty backfield on fourth-and-goal from the one – as the Patriots did?

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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