For a defense that has been widely criticized for being too old and slow, the Pittsburgh Steelers provided quite an eyebrow raising performance against the New England Patriots.
While the scoreboard read 25-17, the Steelers seemed to dominate most of the game. Ben Roethlisberger was 35-50 for 365 yards and two touchdowns. Pittsburgh continued their success with short passes, opening up holes for Rashard Mendenhall who finished with 17 carries for 74 yards. Heath Miller had 6 catches for 76 yards in the first quarter, alone. The Steelers racked up 29 first downs and were 10-16 on third downs while Roethlisberger found nine different receivers and looked very "Brady-esque". The Steelers finished with 39:22 time of possession.
"We never really played with the lead, we never really played on our terms,' said Tom Brady.
The Patriots never led and they never controlled the game.
On the first drive of the game, Roethlisberger found third down back Mewelde Moore on a slant route to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead. Following a three and out by New England, Pittsburgh answered with a field goal to take an early hold on the game. Brady's offense only managed three plays in the first quarter. The Steelers had a chance to go up by three scores but Gary Guyton's interception gave the Patriots life and, eventually, a touchdown as Tom Brady connected with Deon Branch to cut the lead to 3.
At the half, Pittsburgh was up 17-10 with the Patriots receiving the ball to start the second half. However, the Patriots' offense was stymied by Lamarr Woodley and the Steelers' defense until under five minutes remaining in the game. Brady's touchdown to Aaron Hernandez cut the Pittsburgh lead to six with 2:40 to go and the Patriots eventually got the ball with under a minute left in the game. Tom Brady, who had made a career out of last second comebacks, seemed to have just enough time to pull off another dramatic win. In the end however, the future hall of fame quarterback who had torched the Steelers in years past, was unable to put together a game winning drive as Brett Keisel's sack fumble found its way into the end zone for a safety.
The Pittsburgh defense, missing two of their key linebackers, were able to hold Brady to 198 yards passing and New England to 213 yards total. The same "old and slow" defense sacked Brady three times as the Patriots converted just 3-10 on third down. Wes Welker, who came into the matchup with the most receiving yards in the league, was held to 6 catches for 45 yards thanks in large part to Pittsburgh's aggressive man to man coverage. The heavily criticized secondary played their best game of the year and, in the end, slowed down one of the best offenses in the past decade.
Now, with a four game winning streak in hand, the Steelers will play host to the rival Baltimore Ravens; a team that embarrassed Pittsburgh in their week 1 matchup. Since that game, both teams seem to be heading in opposite directions. While the Steelers have won four straight thanks in large part to Ben Roethlisberger's hot hand (11 touchdowns 2 interceptions), the Ravens are coming off a dramatic comeback win against the 1-6 Cardinals after losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars the week before. In that span, Joe Flacco has turned the ball over three times and thrown only one touchdown. Still, in a divisional game everyone should expect a tough, close game for the Steelers. A win would give Pittsburgh breathing room atop the division as well as the driver's seat to the top seed in the AFC.
And don't think the defense doesn't remember week one or the "old and slow" criticism that followed.