Well, that wasn't much fun. Unless you were watching for fantasy football purposes in the 4th quarter. After having played their previous three games on the road, the Pittsburgh Steelers got steamrolled by the New England Patriots, 39-26, in their return to Heinz Field on Sunday night. We'll have a more comprehensive overview of what went wrong in the forthcoming days, but here's an overview of the game's predominant themes:
- 0 vs. 5 - That's the sack total differential on the game. The Patriots were able to take advantage of the Steelers' patchwork offensive line and pressure Ben Roethlisberger all evening. The Patriots meanwhile protected Tom Brady perfectly all night. I think it's safe to say that James Harrison wasn't at full strength. But his counterpart on the other side, LaMarr Woodley, wasn't able to pick up the slack and replicate the type of game he had against New England in 2008.
- The result of all that time was that Brady dissected the Steelers defense to the tune of 350 yards and 3 TDs. I hate to say it, but he was too good tonight. There's a reason he's heading to Canton.
- Three touchdowns for rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski. All three in one-on-one isolations with William Gay. The first of the trio of TDs was a perfect throw and catch; not much Gay could have done better. The other two were more troubling.
- Lawrence Timmons better be okay. Not sure even what he injured, but he did leave the game in the second half. Eagerly awaiting more information on that front.
- Red zone woes. You know what? As ugly as that game was, it could have very easily been an interesting fourth quarter had the Steelers capitalized on one or both of their first two trips into the red zone. The first came with the Patriots up 10-0 in the 2nd quarter. The Steelers finally had stopped the avalanche of momentum the Pats built in the first quarter. A vintage Ben Roethlisberger drive got the Steelers on the door step, but ultimately the Steelers had to settle for 3. On the second drive, the Steelers trailed 17-3 in the 3rd quarter. A touchdown keeps things interesting after a very poor first 40 minutes of football. The Steelers have to settle for another Jeff Reed FG attempt, only this time, Reed hits it 'fat' and pushes it off no-good to the right. From 26 yards out. Yikes.
It was a tough night for the Steelers, plain and simple. Dropped passes, an early injury to Hines Ward to saw his streak of 186 consecutive games with a catch snapped, the obvious struggles of an offensive line that was working in two new starters this week, and last but not least, a short week to prepare after having played on Monday night in Week 9.
Back to the drawing board for Mike Tomlin and his team. No team goes an entire season without a clunker or two, so I personally am not reading too, too much into this one. If the Steelers aren't angry and well-prepared next week when they host Oakland, than I'll be legitimately concerned about whether or not this Steelers team can hang in there for a playoff spot this year. It's going to be a tall order regardless due to all the injuries they've sustained. But they're better than what they showed on Sunday night.