October 31, 2004
Steelers vs. Patriots
At Heinz Field, Steelers WIN, 34-20
By Scott A. Benson

You don稚 get there by making excuses.

You don稚 get to be champions � twice � by making excuses. So let痴 not start now.

The Patriots were thoroughly outclassed by the Pittsburgh Steelers today, losing ignominiously at Heinz Field by the deceptively close score of 34-20. The Steelers were just being kind, I think, but by the end, everybody knew that the Greater Pittsburgh area was officially the Patriots� daddy.

You can talk all you want about Corey Dillon, Ty Law, Matt Light and whoever else, but answer me this. The Patriots made their bones by remaining oblivious to every injury and obstacle in their path. No excuses. So why should today be different?

No, the injuries didn稚 kill the Patriots. The Steelers killed the Patriots.

They killed them along the line of scrimmage, offense and defense. They killed them from pillar to post. The Pittsburgh Steelers won every physical battle, earned every edge, and just generally waxed the backsides of the New England Patriots in a game that will almost certainly reverberate beyond today.

It was the first Patriots loss since September 28, 2003.

But that doesn稚 matter a bit now, does it? What matters today is that they got their lunches handed to them in a conference game against an opponent they may well see again. What matters is that they lost one of those tiebreakers that you end up nervously checking every week in December. You know the kind. The kind where you end up having a stroke while watching a Cleveland-Pittsburgh game on some Saturday afternoon just before Christmas.

Maybe this seems like nitpicking to you, but if it痴 the difference between a first round bye, or a home playoff game, I壇 say that was pretty important, wouldn稚 you? Important enough that you shouldn稚 get blown off the field by anybody, anywhere, not even by the mighty (today) Pittsburgh Steelers.

Yeah, they started without their lynchpin running back, and they lost their most decorated defender, and they had a patchwork offensive line, but you know what? Go sell your soap somewhere else, sister. They didn稚 get there by making excuses.

Don稚 make any for them now.

Patriots on Offense

There is one thing certain in life: you are not going to win a football game when your offensive line gets blown up the field every play like a mess of unraked leaves.

That痴 it. You don稚 need to say another word about the offense today. Just that the Patriots are not going to win any games when their offensive line plays like that.

It was their worst performance in God knows when. They got pushed around on the run and flattened in pass protection. If they were a dike, we壇 be underwater. They were physically and mentally bettered in every sense of the word, from the opening gun to last sad whimpers. With this effort on the horizon, the game was over before it started.

That doesn稚 exempt the 壮kill� players, except for David Givens, who can稚 be expected to carry the entire team by himself. Tom Brady was far more anchor than sail this week. Never more than when he committed two consecutive spleen-ripping 1st quarter turnovers (including a 39 yard interception return for touchdown by Deshea Townsend) that left the Pats in a 21-3 hole. He never was comfortable in the pocket (sacked four times and rarely had room to step up) and never seemed a serious threat to lead the Pats back, even when he ran off another two-minute drill touchdown to close it to 24-10 at the half.

Listen to me. Kevin Faulk is not a three down back. He will never be a three down back. Do not ask him to be something he痴 not. When you do, the result will not � ever – be positive.

I understand the Pats were in a pinch with Dillon out, and Faulk is a trusted veteran, but for crying out loud, run Cedric Cobbs out there. Faulk, a very productive specialist and playmaker, didn稚 measure up as a lead when it came time to establish the run, and even worse, contributed to the Patriots� rich tapestry of devastating turnovers with a fumbled pass that led � surprise! � to a Steelers touchdown.

Faulk痴 fumble came on the first play of the second half, and ended any brief flirtations the Patriots may have had with the comparatively slim two touchdown deficit. Game over, which was disappointing considering there were still almost 30 minutes to play.

Three times the Patriots had turned the ball over on the first play of a drive, and three times the Steelers had a touchdown on a short field. I can稚 imagine why they lost by 14 points.

Anyway, moral of the story, when you致e got the opposing defense gearing up to stop Kevin Faulk, there痴 going to be trouble. The Patriots have to do a better job at finding a lead runner to carry the egg when Dillon cannot.

Patriots on Defense

Like we said earlier, this game was won and lost along the line of scrimmage. Mostly lost.

The Patriots defensive front seven was as embarrassed as their offensive (literally) colleagues by the physically superior Steelers. Though it seemed at first they would be able to slow down the Pittsburgh running attack, the Pats D gradually wilted under the strain of short fields and three touchdown deficits. By the end of the game, both Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis ran freely through a totally whipped New England defense.

The same weak front plagued the pass defense, and as a result, rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger will be a whole lot more famous tomorrow morning. You know how we love stories, and this one痴 made to order � rookie QB beats pants off rookie QB-killing defense and coaching staff.

With no pass rush, and nobody ever able to lay a mitt on him, Roethlisberger hit on 75% of his passes and led the Steelers to more than 400 total yards. Look, the kid threw two nice touchdowns to Plaxico Burress, and he never once turned it over, but it just seems to me Ben Roethlisberger got the impression this whole thing was pretty easy today, and that makes me mad as hell.

Nobody could cover Burress once Law left the game in the first quarter with a leg injury. Rookie Randall Gay got burned for a 47 yard touchdown bomb the play after Law left, and Eugene Wilson was later badly outfought on a Burress fade route. In other news, Hines Ward was his usual pain-in-the-ass self. Thanks to him and his friends, the Patriots could never get off the field on third down.

Patriots on Special Teams

What friggin� difference does it make?

Patriots on the Sidelines

I知 not sure the Patriots didn稚 have a good enough plan to beat the Steelers today. I知 not sure it wasn稚 simply a matter of players not making plays.

Still, when your team gets manhandled like that, as if they were completely overmatched, in a game not without meaning, it痴 hard to say you had a good coaching week.

Patriots Next Week

Another road game, this one against an NFC opponent, as the 6-1 Pats head to St. Louis for a Super Bowl rematch with the Rams. I知 sure that痴 how the Rams will see it. We, on the other hand, should be happy with a pulse.