October 30th, 2011 – It was on this fateful day, just over two years ago, that the Pittsburgh Steelers did something they had not done since Ben Roethlisberger was a rookie – defeat a Tom Brady led New England Patriots team.
- Alas, the Steelers have never played so well since.
The hopes raised in exorcising the demon named “Brady” were quickly dashed a week later thanks to a long, last minute pass by Joe Flacco, followed the team’s limp into the playoffs and suffering the subsequent Tebowing.
- Since then the operative question for the Steelers has been can the team reload on talent quickly enough before the remaining Super Bowl veterans simply get too old.
2013 has not been kind to the Steelers, but the test vs. the AFC’s best New England Patriots would provide a measuring stick. And sadly for Steelers Nation the answer to the biggest question of the last two years came through loud and clear:
- The Steelers reloading efforts have come up woefully short
But in giving up the most points in franchise history, the Steelers sent a message loud and clear to the rest of the NFL that until further notice, they have forfeited anything remotely resembling contender status.
SOS Start for the Steelers
Any number of tendencies established themselves during the Steelers 2-5 start.
- An inability to stop the run
- An inability to get pressure on the quarterback
- Slow starts in all three phases
- Failure to convert opportunities in the Red Zone
- Turning over the ball while failing to secure turnovers
During the first quarter and to some extent, the entire first half, the Steelers displayed all of these tendencies. Indeed, the Steelers first four possessions ended like this:
- Turn over on downs
Not only was it not a surprise that the Patriots jumped to a 14-0 lead in the 2 minutes into the first quarter, the more pertinent question was why they didn’t have a bigger lead.
Yet the Steelers, as they have done all year, showed signs of life in the first half. First they got on the board with a Shaun Suisham field goal. Then they held the Patriots to a field goal after a 77 yard drive.
Say one thing for Jonathan Dwyer – everytime he gets the ball he runs it as if it might be his last NFL carry. Which isn’t to say it is prefect, as Dwyer’s 30 yard run could have gone farther. But the run sparked the Steelers, and on the next play Roethlisberger hooked up with Antonio Brown for his 200th career pass.
- Despite playing some awful football, the Steelers were down 17-10 with less than two minutes remaining in the first half.
What followed foreshadowed things to come. Tom Brady surgically moved the Patriots down the field, first inching for field goal position, but soon deciding to go for all the marbles.
3rd Quarter Mirage
One of the frustrating things about the 2013 Steelers is that they’ve consistently offered enough hope in each game to make Steelers Nation believe, if for a few quarters, only to come up short.
The third quarter of the Patriots game was far worse for Steelers Nation – because the Steelers mounted a come back, and looked compotent and confident in doing so, and they weren’t doing it against the Minnesota Vikings or Oakland Raiders of the league, they were doing it against the New England Patriots.
- 5 plays into the second half, Troy Polamalu jarred the ball lose and LaMarr Woodley recovered
- Another five plays later, on 3rd and 11 no less, Roethlisberger found Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone
- The Steelers defense forced a 3 and out
- Antonio Brown returned a punt 26 yards
In yet another 5 play drive, Le’Veon Bell and Heath Miller brought the Steelers to the 8 yard line, where Roethlisberger and Cotchery would hook up again. The Steelers had tied the score, and then had done in Tom Brady’s front yard.
Brady responded by going the length of the field, yet the drive stalled at the 14 as Cameron Heyward collapsed the pocket and Jason Worilds brought Brady down. The Patriots were ahead again, but had been forced to settle for a field goal.
- The Steelers offense seemed to show it could keep pace, and the defense seemed to have found the ability to stop the New England juggernaut.
Experiences teaches us that you never really reach true mirages. In the cartoon world characters like Wiley Coyote reach the mirage only to end up trying to drink sand.
- The third quarter ended with the Steelers drinking sand.
The Steelers answered the Patriots field goal drive with a 9 yard run by Bell, followed by a 16 yard catch by Cotchery. Ben then ran for nill, threw an incomplete pass, and was forced to take a time out on third and 10. The Steelers didn’t convert.
After that the Patriots made it painfully clear that Pittsburgh’s visions of finding an oasis in Foxboro were nothing more than pipe dreams.
The Tomlinator Hath No Clothes
The record will reflect that the Patriots returned the Steelers punt after failing to convert on 3rd and 10 43 yards. After that, little else really counts. Sure, the Steelers brought it with in 10 at one point. It’s one thing to threaten to come back against bottom feeders, who’ll let you stay in the game till the final tick. Try that against at true contender like the Patriots and they’ll kick out your knees with reckless abandon.
- Tom Brady fried the Steelers defense in the fourth quarter with short, long, and medium passes.
- The Patriots ran at will.
- They intercepted Roethlisberger, and sacked him around like a rag doll.
- The Steelers managed to lose yet another offensive lineman to injury.
In the process, they scored 55 points, the most the Steelers have given up since losing 51-0 on opening day in 1989. Those ’89 Steelers of course came back to make the playoffs and win the franchise’s first playoff game in 5 years.
No rational being could suggest that these Steelers are capable of a similar effort in the back eight games of the 2013 season. If the Steelers ’11 victory over New England was the team’s post Super Bowl XLV high water mark, there is nothing to suggest that the franchise has hit bottom with this loss.
Nonetheless, Mike Tomlin must solider forward….