Monday, November 1, 2004

Patriots 20, Steelers 34 (10/31/2004)

This was the scariest Halloween in years! It was bound to happen eventually, and it did yesterday. The Patriots lost for the first time in 399 days, and in the process set themselves up to lose the tie-breaker to Pittsburgh should the teams meet in the playoffs. My congratulations to the Steelers for playing a great game yesterday and to the Patriots for a mind-boggling 21-game winning streak. It was 3 games and 17% longer than *any team in 72-years of NFL history*, and is an extraordinary achievement.

Now, on to the game. In my pre-season preview, I wrote that: "The Pittsburgh and St. Louis games could be tough, with both games on the road the week after the opponent had a bye.... Expect the Pats to lose one of these two games, but not both." Well, they lost their one game so I expect them to get back to winning next week against St. Louis. The big problem with that is injuries to the defensive secondary don't bode well for a game with a pass-happy opponent. Tyrone Poole hasn't played significant minutes in the past three games (out of the last two entirely), and Ty Law and Randall Gay were injured yesterday when the turf let loose on them. If neither Law nor Gay can go next week, it'll be interesting to see how the Pats try to compensate for having third-string players on the field.




The Pats defense didn't play as badly as it seemed yesterday, despite the alarming statistics. Pittsburgh had one -- count 'em one -- long drive for a touchdown. The drive was 80 yards and 68 of them came on two plays -- one where Ty Law got injured (21 yards), and one where Ty Law's replacement was one-on-one against Pittsburgh's best receiver (47 yards). Other than that, Pittsburgh scored on the following gifts given by the Pats offense: Brady fumble at the NE 27 (touchdown), Brady INT (returned for a touchdown), Kevin Faulk fumble at the NE 17 (touchdown). Aside from those gaffes, the Pats defense made the Steelers drive the length of the field and held them to field goals, one in the second quarter, one in the third quarter. And that's exactly what they've been doing all year, all through the streak. But when you don't take care of the ball, you can only win against a sub par opponent (see the Cardinals game from earlier this year). Against a good team, especially on the road, you've got real trouble.

Now Pittsburgh's big statistical advantage is undeniable. But don't panic about the run defense yet. The Steelers are near the top of the NFL heap in yards rushing, and they held the ball for so long the Pats defense couldn't rest (time of possession was 42:58 to 17:02). Once the game seemed in hand, the Steelers simply ran it right at the Pats, and with little time to regroup and so much time on the field, there was little the Pats could do. And with a decided running advantage and a depleted New England secondary, Pittsburgh's young quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) looked like a world-beater. The Patriots were supposed to confuse him with blitzes and different zone coverages, but the blitzes never got to him and the secondary was like Swiss cheese most of the day. If the Pats had made a game of it and forced "Big Ben" to pass more often, it could have been even worse.

Special Teams

Well, the kickoff return team got a lot of practice. There wasn't much of note on special teams, actually. Bethel Johnson made a head's up play by touching a kickoff while he was out of bounds, but the Pats missed the chance to pin the Steelers at their two yard line. Maybe I should have skipped this category.


Well, what can I say? I would call the Steelers my daddy, but that line's been done to death. The Pats lost one and it isn't the end of the world. If I had to guess, I would say they won't end the season 6-10, they will somehow stop some running backs before the year's over, and Brady will not turn the ball over 27 more times this season. It's only one loss and there's nothing to do about it now. But if they have any thoughts of making a deep run into the playoffs, the Pats will have to take better care of the ball and they will have to get healthier in the defensive backfield.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Expectations can be a pain. If Pete Carroll still coached here, we'd be ecstatic with a 6-1 record. But with Belichick and company at the helm any loss seems like it could have been avoided. I guess two Super Bowl championships and 21 straight wins will do that to you."

Keep the faith (and for the first time this year, I really *mean* that),

- Scott

PS. 6-1!

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