But not on this night. Not during this regular season, where Big Ben got over the Brady hump just as Flacco got over his Roethlisberger hump in Week 1.
I don’t even know where to start on this one – this was as well-rounded performance as one could ever imagine, with all three phases of the game, as well as the passing and the running O and D deserving nothing less than high words. But a major shout-out to the coaching staff. First and foremost, Dick LeBeau. An accomplished coach like him seemed at times over the years to have his Kryptonite in the Patriots. This especially showed during the last year’s 39-26 beatdown. But he came up with a nice little gameplan, a gameplan that was not that groundbreaking or innovatinve, but it worked oh so well. Some praise obviously goes to the secondary coach, Carnell Lake, but it is all about the gameplan on defense.
With receivers getting consistently jammed at the line of scrimmage, with CBs playing at the line even on long down-and-distances, this disrupted the Brady’s rhythmic offense. But disruption is often not enough, especially with an excellent passer such as Brady, and great downfield coverage is needed to stop this offense. And that’s what the Steelers CBs and safeties did – they got fantastic coverage all over the field.
Let’s face it, Tom Brady’s offense is going to get some catches, and it is going to put some points up on the board. And Wes Welker will get open to catch a bunch of balls. But for Ike Taylor to limit him to inconsequential 39 yards – amazing. The announcers (who overall called a horrible game) made one good point – with Welker lining up in the slot, his cover really has to work the entire field, as Welker can go inside, to the sideline, or on a deeper pattern downfield. Taylor plainly shut him down.
Pass rush was also called brilliantly. We all know what happens when you blitz your mind out on Brady – he burns you with dump-offs. LeBeau had to be careful, and so he was. Woodley with another monster game before he went out with a gimpy hamstring (uh-oh – more on that later). One final word on defense for Troy Polamalu – as I’ve been writing about him almost each week. We’ve all been waiting for him to make a big play – and he made it. In a somewhat "Troy-ish" fashion this season, it will not even appear on the stat sheet, as his big play was a punch on the ball that Keisel punched out of Brady’s hands. You have to watch the replay to appreciate it – at the time of the fumble Troy was about 18 yards downfield from the ball – yet he blitzed to the ball and dove, having the presence of mind to punch it towards the Pats’ endzone. I bet that this play will end up on ESPN’s TMQ (Easterbrook loves plays like that, he calls them "high football IQ"), even though there may be a chance that the play was illegal (I still think it was not, as the ball was not batted ahead to a teammate for recovery). Throw in two massive, spectacular, highlight reel-worth tackles that Troy made, both, if I am not wrong, prevented a first down conversion.
A few words on the offense. Everyone and everywhere has already written about Ben and his performance. I just think that the Steelers have found an extra dimension on their offense, which makes it even more dangerous. And this game shows why this Steelers team has never been and will never be about the individual performances and stats. As much as I have wanted Ben to sling it downfield for Wallace to continue his streak of 40+ yard catches, Ben was patient, looking for targets on short and intermediate routes, as Pats were playing its safeties way deep. We have finally reached a point when Mike Wallace’s reputation alone opened up the middle of the field, and Roethlisberger-Miller combo took advantage of that early and often to set the tempo for the rest of the game.
A special note on special teams: I hope Shaun Suisham has already reached his "this is as close as I come to costing us a game" point. The missed FG (not long, into a "closed" end of the field) cost me some nerve cells towards the end.
All in all – my game ball goes to the entire 46-man roster of the Steelers, as well as the coaching staff. Yes, cut that imaginary ball into tiny pieces!
Finally, just a weird observation – it must have been a game against Belichick’s team, since we’ve seen so many unusual calls and rule applications, such as a drop-kick to the sidelines on the free kick after the safety. But an uncharacteristically poor job by Belichick on not challenging the ruling on the catch at the goal line with 4 minutes to go – it was clearly a TD, and a challenge would have anyway (even if it was to be lost) stopped the clock, with Pats likely punching it in from the 1 on the next play, and the Steelers having 4 minute to kill, as opposed to just 2.
Now our sights turn to next week – the Ravens come to town (on the occasion of which I fully expect another spirited hate-post by Mechem). Ravens are a weird team. You never know which one shows up on offense, the 400-yard one, or the 200-yard one. Yesterday against Arizona both took a half of play. We know that the Ravens will play a spirited ball, and they are a very dangerous team. And we probably have to thank the schedule that this is the Ravens, because otherwise the Steelers would be very vulnerable to the letdown after such an emotional and important win.
Now, I think the key to the Baltimore game is in pass rush. Which, incidentally, is the Achilles foot of the Steelers right now, with Harrison out and Woodley getting injured too. We have all seen that if you disrupt Flacco’s pocket, he will not pick you apart, he is just not that accurate. And, of course, the offensive line will have to play its collective heart out to stop the fierce pass rush and give Ben a chance to make some plays.
No need to remind to anyone, that a win will very likely determine the outcome of the AFC North race , a loss to the Ravens will put us 1.5 games behind Baltimore – not a disaster (especially after the Pats win), but some massive catching up to do in the latter part of the season. So let’s hope for the better, and let’s savor this win for just a little bit – till the players wake up to the Ravens week!