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Was that one big trick the Patriots and Steelers played on the patrons at Heinz Field late Sunday afternoon?
How else can one explain a 17-10 Steelers’ victory over New England without speculating that somehow, someway, the Steelers’ brass found a way to channel their team’s mistake-riddled brand of football the past three weeks into the Patriots’ minds?
Suddenly, Tom Brady looked ordinary, the Patriots committed penalties like it was part of the game plan, and Rob Gronkowski looked old and stoppable.
What an odd football game.
First and foremost – credit where credit’s due – the Steelers’ defense was ready and able, save Artie Burns. Brady was harassed and hurried all afternoon, a blueprint the Steelers may want to use again this week against Drew Brees.
Besides pressuring the quarterback, the Steelers took away Gronkowski for most of the day and limited Patriots receivers to 13 catches on the day and reduced Josh Gordon to his overrated and heartless self.
The Patriots managed 96 yards on 19 carries, but that stat is ballooned by 44 yards on 4 carries in the second and third quarters. The run defense was solid otherwise. Most importantly, though, was the Steelers’ ability to get off the field on third down. New England was an unimpressive 3-10 on third down and were rarely a threat to score.
Not sure why the Steelers’ defensive game plan was so effective when it was not so against two very bad football teams in Denver and Oakland, but why complain? The unit deserves the credit for a win over the Patriots that may have saved the Steelers’ playoff hopes.
Speaking of those hopes – here’s hoping the next two games don’t ride on the right foot of Chris Boswell. How quickly so many in Steelers’ Nation jumped back on the Boz’s bandwagon after he converted ONE KICK against New England. Forget that he missed a much easier attempt earlier in the game that could have given the Steelers a bigger cushion or, if all else stayed the same, made the final New England drive academic. If New Orleans or Cincinnati comes down to a Boswell kick, the Steelers better hope whatever mental block is forcing kicks to the left and right slips his mind.
And how about 14 penalties against the Pats? So much for the “The NFL is in bed with the Patriots,” trash. The Patriots looked so much like the Steelers, and the Steelers so much like the Patriots in this game that one has to wonder what was in the water at Heinz Field.
- So many fans are eyeing the Ravens in the rearview mirror and are missing the Cleveland Browns in the blind spot. They are in the passing lane right now and have their collective foot on the gas. Stop laughing – they really have a shot. Here’s how. When the Raven lose in LA next week to the Chargers and the Browns beat the Bungles, and the Steelers lose in New Orleans, a Browns win in Baltimore and a Steelers loss at home to Cincy, and the Browns win the AFC North. Oh, much stranger things have happened in the NFL – don’t sleep on the Browns.
- That said, IF the Steelers’ defense can pressure Drew Brees the way they pressured Tom Brady, and IF the Steelers can shut down the Saints’ ground game, Pittsburgh has a very realistic shot in New Orleans. In fact, let’s just call it now: The Steelers clinch the AFC North next week – Baltimore loses in LA, and in New Orleans, Steelers 27, Saints 24 in overtime. Yes, I know, that means Boswell won the game with a field goal. You people are so negative.
- 5-1-1 in their last seven. Are the Pens back on track? Maybe. The defense has been much better since Marcus Pettersson joined the fray – maybe that’s a coincidence, maybe not – and the Pens are suddenly winning games they may have lost just a couple of weeks ago. Regardless, the team is finally starting to regain some footing in the Eastern Conference and appears to be preparing itself for a strong second half. It will be interesting to watch Jim Rutherford’s next moves as the Pens still have a ways to go before they are a serious threat to the elite in the East.
- If Pitt can gain 179 yards and score 1 point, they will outdo the 2008 team’s Sun Bowl appearance. Hopefully the winds can cooperate this time, and I will have more to say, including a Sun Bowl prediction in next week’s Musings.