It was a great day in Steeler Nation on Sunday as the Steelers knocked off the hated New England Patriots today at Heinz Field 25-17.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 36 of 50 passing on the day for 365 yards and 2 touchdowns and he attempted 32 of them in the first half alone. The touchdown passes were to running back Mewelde Moore and Antonio Brown, the first of his career in the regular season.
Tight end Heath Miller was a huge factor early in the game as the Patriots poor pass defense concentrated early on taking away the deep pass from Mike Wallace. Miller caught 4 of his 7 passes on the day during the Steelers opening drive and ended with 85 yards receiving. Brown ended with 9 catches for 67 yards and was targeted 15 times on the day. Despite the efforts to take away Wallace, he caught all 7 passes thrown his direction for 70 yards, most of which were short passes. Emmanuel Sanders also chipped in 5 catches for 70 yards in the win after starting in place of veteran Hines Ward, who was inactive due to an ankle injury suffered last week at Arizona. Roethlisberger spread the ball around to 10 different players with 9 of them registering a catch.
The Steelers ground game had its bright spots as they totaled 98 yards rushing on the afternoon on 23 rushes. Rashard Mendenhall finished with 70 yards on 13 carries with a long of 18. Moore and Isaac Redman combined to add another 27 yards rushing.
The Patriots won the toss but chose to defer to the second half and the Steelers took the opening kick-off and drove 68 yards on 11 plays for a 7-0 lead. The drive consumed 5:52 and featured just 2 rushes as Roethlisberger passed short 9 times on the drive.
The Steelers defense forced a quick three and out and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was back on the sideline watching Roethlisberger orchestrate another 16 play drive that culminated with a Shaun Suisham 33 yard field goal. That drive took another 7:47 off the clock in the process and the Steelers led 10-0.
The Steelers defense showed Brady a ton of big nickel and dime the rest of the way and held Brady on his second possession as LaMarr Woodley registered his first of two sacks on the day. The Steelers started their third possession on their own 22 following the Patriots second punt and Roethlisberger threw his one and only interception on the day on 3rd down as linebacker Gary Guyton picked off a pass intended for Sanders as he dropped into coverage over the middle. The Patriots answered quickly, as two plays later Brady hit Deion Branch for a 2 yard touchdown pass with Keenan Lewis in coverage.
The Steelers went to the half leading 17-10 after finishing another long drive with a touchdown while only giving up a Patriots field goal. The Steelers lead time of possession 21:13 to 8:47 at halftime.
The second half started with the defense forcing another 3 and out and Roethlisberger drove the offense on another long drive eating 7:06 off the clock in the process. The drive culminated with a 21 yard field goal by Suisham and the Steelers were up 10 points again.
Brady moved the Patriots down into field goal range on his next possession, but the Patriots came away empty handed after kicker Stephen Gostkowski doinked a 42 yard field goal off the right upright. The Steelers made a 6 point swing out of the miss as they drove 63 yards on 11 plays, but settled for a third Suisham field goal of 23 yards. Suisham would miss his 4th attempt on the Steelers next drive and it kept the Patriots in the game with 6:03 left in the game.
The Patriots pulled within 6 after a 67 yard, 10 play drive that was aided by two penalties by the Steelers. Brady made them pay for the extra downs as he hit tight end Aaron Hernandez for a 1 yard touchdown with 2:40 left in the game. The Patriots botched the subsequent onsides kick as it did not travel 10 yards before they touched it and the Steelers took over on the Patriots 37 yard line following the illegal touching penalty.
The Steelers converted one first down and forced the Patriots to burn all three of their remaining timeouts before the 2 minute warning. After a negative run on first down, the Steelers attempted to pass twice after the 2 minute warning and Roethlisberger was sacked twice on back to back plays. It was the most curious play calling the Steelers had all game and it could have cost them dearly as the Patriots took over with 19 seconds left following the first punt of the game by Daniel Sepulveda.
Right defensive end Brett Keisel knifed through the Patriots offensive line on first down and stripped Brady of the football on the sack. With it looking like the Patriots might recover the fumble and get another play or two, safety Troy Polamalu swooped in and punched the ball towards the Patriots endzone. Ziggy Hood almost recovered it for a touchdown, but it sailed through the back of the endzone for a safety. The Steelers ran out the clock after the free kick for the victory.
The Steelers did an excellent job on defense wrapping up receivers after the catch during the game as they allowed just 91 yards by my count after the catch on 24 receptions. They sacked Brady 3 times in total and provided pressure when it counted the most.
The Steelers move to 6-2 on the season and own the best record in the AFC. They host the Ravens next week at home and the winner will have the inside track for the AFC North crown.
Head coach Mike Tomlin reported 4 injuries during his post game press conference as Woodley suffered a hamstring injury, tackle Marcus Gilbert had an ankle dinged up and cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis both injured shoulders. Taylor also suffered a stinger in the game, but was able to finish.
Several young defensive players contributed in the win and Tomlin praised the play of rookie Cortez Allen and Chris Carter for their play. Also receiving praise was Stevenson Sylvester, who started in place of veteran James Farrior at inside linebacker. Farrior was out with a calf injury suffered last week.