Pittsburgh would eventually finish 12-4 on the year on their way to the playoffs, but their biggest win of the season arguably came against the Patriots in late October.
James Harrison was out for the game at a time when he was still in his prime as a pass rusher and terrorized offensive lines. This meant the pass rush duties would fall to a certain young linebacker who stepped up in a huge way for his team on this big day. That linebacker would be number 56, LaMarr Woodley.
Woodley was on a warpath this season and appeared to be on his way to becoming the next great Steelers' pass rusher with the way he was playing. On this day he would record two sacks, the third consecutive game of the season which he would do so, and bring his sack total on the season to nine, all while it was still just week eight.
Pressure on Tom Brady while fighting through holds
It often seemed as if the Patriots' offensive line could hold every pass rusher for an entire play and get away with it never being called. As you can see on this play, both Woodley and Ziggy Hood are blatantly held on the play, but that did not stop 56 from coming after the quarterback and forcing an errant pass. He was coming for the quarterback and was a second away from a big sack to change field position.
Next play: sack
On the very next play, Woodley would not be denied as he twisted o the interior of the Patriots' offensive line and exploded past the line of scrimmage and in between two lineman who could do nothing but helplessly watch as Woodley chased down Brady. Not only does Woodley prove too fast for the line to react, but he does an amazing job of catching Brady. Brady tries to roll to his strong side, but Woodley immediately cuts him off and forces him to turn back to his left, where Woodley would finish the play for a huge sack of over 15 yards. He changed field position and ended a drive that had dipped into Steelers territory.
A second sack
In the same quarter, Woodley would bring down Brady again while the Patriots were in Steelers' territory. While Woodley was never the fastest of Steelers, he was indeed one of the strongest in his prime. Watch as he runs past the offensive tackle, keeps his outside shoulder free and basically stiff arms the tackle out of his way in a free path to Brady for the eight yard sack. This would be Woodley's rise of a game that would lead fans to believe he could take over when James Harrison became too old to be the dominant pass rusher of the team. He already averaged more than a sack for every playoff game he was in, showed big numbers in 2008 and 2010 and was looking to do the same in 2011.
What could have been
The tragic truth to Woodley's career in Pittsburgh began also on this big day for number 56. While he would record two sacks and be one of the biggest contributors to the Steelers' defeating the Patriots, he would also injure his hamstring in the third quarter and miss most of the game. That injury was the precursor for a string of injuries which would turn him from being a premier pass rusher to an ineffective outside linebacker.
Woodley had just signed a huge contract for Pittsburgh too which would have made him a staple of the team for many years had he been able to maintain his pace of play and remain healthy. But as injuries continued to mount for the second round draft pick out of Michigan, Woodley would eventually be released by the Steelers after the 2013 season when he only recorded five sacks after only recording four sacks the year prior.
Woodley will forever hold the pride of being a Super Bowl champion for one of the more legendary defenses in the NFL in the 2008 Steelers, as well as having several great moments for the proud franchise while teaming up with arguably its greatest 3-4 pass rusher ever in James Harrison. Had his injuries not befallen him, Pittsburgh's pass rush might have survived for two more years and given a chance for the team to win just one more game in both the years which they would fall to 8-8 and miss the playoffs by a last week tiebreaker.
His fall as a Steeler coincided with the end of the defense that dominated the mid-to-late 2000's that led to the only consecutive seasons in which Pittsburgh would miss the playoffs under head coach Mike Tomlin. While Pittsburgh has retooled its defense in recent seasons, who knows what could have been had Woodley continued his double-digit sack seasons for a few more years.