Patriots struggle in 25-17 loss to Steelers
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Tom Brady built his career — and won three Super Bowls — finding ways to do things to the Pittsburgh Steelers no other quarterback can.
On Sunday, he found himself on the sideline far too long to continue his mastery over the defending AFC champions.
The Steelers controlled the clock and held the NFL's top offense in check in a 25-17 victory, ending Brady's decade of dominance of them by forcing him to spend most of the day in a baseball cap watching Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger do his best Brady impression.
Roethlisberger picked apart the league's worst defense, completing 36 of 50 passes for 365 yards and throwing a pair of touchdowns. Brady threw two scores of his own but New England could only muster 213 total yards, far less than half their average of 474.
"There was a poor level of execution," Brady said. "Too many three-and-outs. We all have to individually look in the mirror and figure out what we need to get better at."
Getting off the field on defense would be a good place to start.
The Steelers held the ball for more than 39 minutes, converted 10-of-16 third downs and ran 78 plays while the Patriots (5-2) snapped the ball just 50 times.
"It's very frustrating," New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. "You talk about getting a team in second-and-longs and third-and-longs and taking advantage of those situations. We had them in those situations; we just didn't take advantage of them."
Not nearly enough to hold off the surging Steelers.
Pittsburgh (6-2) won its fourth straight and beat Brady for the first time since 2004 behind a series of long drives that Brady could only watch.
"You always want to be out there and the defense is busting their butts to get them off the field," Brady said. "We needed to do a better job complimenting their drives. If they have a long drive, our offense can't just go in there and do a three-and-out like we did. We've got to do a better job. We made a lot of errors."
The Patriots punted four times and Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal that would have pulled New England within a touchdown in the third quarter.
Brady threw a late touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez with 2:35 to go cut the deficit to 23-17, but the ensuing onside kick failed to go the required 10 yards. Pittsburgh all but ran out the clock, and New England's last-gasp drive ended with Brady fumbling while getting sacked by Pittsburgh's Brett Keisel.
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu practically pushed the loose ball through the end zone for a safety to provide the final margin and hand the Patriots their second loss to the Steelers in Brady's eight career starts against them.
"It just wasn't a really good day for us in any phase of the game, in any area," coach Bill Belichick said. "We just didn't do a good enough job. That's really all there is to say."
It may be October, but the game had a January feel, and it wasn't just the chilly conditions.
The Steelers pointed to the matchup as a litmus test after a sluggish — by the franchise's lofty standards — start. Were they the "old, slow" bunch that looked overmatched in losses to Baltimore and Houston or were they simply taking their time getting started.
The answer, it appears, is the latter, even if the Steelers solved Brady using un-Steelerlike methods.
Rather than pound away with running back Rashard Mendenhall, Roethlisberger — who never met a deep ball he didn't like to throw — did his best Brady imitation, moving the chains with a controlled passing attack that took yardage in small bits.
The Steelers didn't complete a pass over 26 yards. They didn't have to. Roethlisberger consistently found Antonio Brown (a career-high nine receptions), Heath Miller (a season-high seven grabs) and speedster Mike Wallace (seven catches) on short and intermediate routes.
The West Coast-style approach worked perfectly.
Pittsburgh's five scoring drives lasted 11, 16, 10, 14 and 11 plays. When the Steelers didn't get in the end zone, Shaun Suisham knocked in three field goals.
The long drives kept Pittsburgh's defense well-rested and the Steelers were able to use their fresh legs to get after the Patriots.
Pittsburgh sacked the two-time MVP three times and kept Wes Welker in check. Welker, on pace to set a league record for yards receiving in a season, finished with six catches for 39 yards.
The loss kept Brady and Belichick tied with Miami's Don Shula and Dan Marino for the winningest coach/quarterback combination in league history.
The duo is stuck on 116 for at least another week while the Steelers, an afterthought early in the season, appear to be peaking.
Notes: Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley finished with two sacks to become the first Steeler to record multiple sacks in four consecutive games. ... New England running back Kevin Faulk ran for 32 yards on six carries and caught five passes for 20 yards in his first game of the season. ... The Patriots lost for the second time in their last 11 games coming off a bye and lost in October for the seventh time since 2003. ... New England tight end Rob Gronkowski set a career-high with seven catches. ... The Steelers played without offensive captain Hines Ward and defensive captain James Farrior, who missed the game with injuries. ... New England defensive lineman Andre Carter had two sacks for the 11th time in his career.