By Mark Madden
Beaver County Times
October 31, 2011
Heath Miller(notes) #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs through tackles with the ball after catching a pass against the New England Patriots during the game on October 30, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The Steelers almost never beat New England. Not in this millennium, anyway.
So yesterday at Heinz Field, the Steelers turned into the Patriots. To great effect.
The Steelers came out executing their version of the Patriots' spread. Ben Roethlisberger threw 20 times on the Steelers' first two possessions, staking his team to a lead it would never lose.
Deep down, it must have hurt.
Not Roethlisberger. He's waited his whole career for a game plan like this. Not the Steelers' trio of great young receivers. Not tight end Heath Miller, who emerged from playbook-mandated oblivion to grab seven balls, including six on those first two drives.
I'm talking about the old guard. Steelers purists. To dance like Ali, not pound like Tyson -- despite the victory -- had to sting just a bit. That's OK. Have another beer.
Yesterday's victory should serve as a symbolic rebirth of the Steelers brand. The Steelers started the ‘70s as a defensive behemoth. They ended the decade as an offensive juggernaut. The same transition seems to be in play now.
That's how it should be. It's Roethlisberger's team.
Yesterday's triumph was not without trepidation. You don't usually beat the Patriots by bunching up field goals. Taking that route scripted anxious moments at game's end. The Steelers' red-zone inefficiency was ghastly and nearly costly.
Injuries mounted. Four starters were on the inactive list, including fresh additions Hines Ward and James Farrior. LaMarr Woodley left the game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury. I don't even know who No. 54 is -- and then he jumped offside.
At the death, desperate times called for unusual measures: After Brett Keisel stripped the football from Tom Brady, Troy Polamalu punched it into the end zone, where it rolled out for a safety. Roll over, Ken Stabler, and tell Dave Casper the news.
The catalyst was Roethlisberger. Ben knew it wasn't good to kick so many field goals. Did you see him on the sideline? I never saw anybody mourn three points before.
Roethlisberger was 36 for 50 for 365 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. His passer rating was 97.5. But beyond stats, Roethlisberger proved he was capable of assembling a ball-control offense via passing 71 percent of the time.
The Steelers had the ball for more than 39 minutes. Their scoring drives took 11, 16, 10, 14 and 11 plays. Brady took three snaps in the first quarter.
The Steelers' defense used a lot of tight man-to-man coverage that was particularly effective early. The Patriots' first possession in each half resulted in a three-and-out. That provided the Steelers important momentum.
The Steelers frustrated New England the same way the Patriots had frustrated them so many times before. It's only a regular-season game, but a weight has been lifted. Should a rematch arise, the Patriots won't seem so imposing in the playoffs.
Speaking of rematches...
Next Sunday, Baltimore visits Heinz Field. Last time these teams met was 9/11 at Baltimore. The Steelers stood toe-to-toe with the Ravens and got knocked out, 35-7. That game was not nearly as close as the score indicated.
Should the Steelers slug like Tyson, or dance like Ali?
With a quarterback like Roethlisberger and pass-catchers like Miller, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace, I would think the answer is obvious. If there's any doubt, just check yesterday's game tape.