Monday, September 26, 2005

Patriots 23, Steelers 20 (9/25/2005)

Hope you enjoyed yesterday’s game, because games that entertaining don’t come along every day. Hard-fought, smash-mouth, in-your-face, hard-hitting, a contest of wills – choose your own worn-out cliché, but I would call it a statement game. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, it was the Patriots making the statement, winning a 23-20 road decision win over the favored Steelers. A quick glance at the stat sheet might trick you into thinking the Pats laid another egg. 10 penalties for 118 yards, 2.7 yards a run, and 3 turnovers (2 inside the Steelers 10 yard line) could easily have cost them the game. But 35:23 in time of possession, 8 of 16 third-down conversions (while holding Pittsburgh to only 3 of 13), and 4 sacks and a dozen QB pressures were just enough to save their bacon.

The Pats offense started fast again, scoring a touchdown on their first drive, But after that they went into a coma for two quarters, scoring no points despite three trips inside Steeler territory. Kevin Faulk’s two fumbles were killers, and Brady’s lone interception came during that stretch. But they righted the ship as the third quarter came to a close and scored on each of their last four possessions.

Brady’s passing line was 31 of 41 for 372 yards, but it told only part of the story. He was harassed for much of the game, but never made the critical mistake (the INT was a tipped ball). He waited and waited until the Steeler defense was tired and after their pass rush slowed just a bit, he went 12 for 12 with 165 yards in the fourth quarter. Kevin Faulk wiped out what could have been a great day with two fumbles, and the offensive line was headed for disaster early when Nick Kaczur (Matt Light’s replacement) looked lost. But by the end of the game, the O-line had worn down the Steelers front seven, and it was easy passing yards from then on.

And I can’t say enough about the receivers. They took huge hits after almost every catch, and they held onto the ball and even made catches that I had a hard time believing they’d made. David Givens led with 9 grabs, and Deion Branch and Troy Brown caught some dangerous passes in traffic. The Steelers like to intimidate receivers, but with these guys, they should try another tactic. Just doesn’t happen. The tight ends were mostly shut out of the passing game, but did yeoman’s work in the running game and in pass protection.

The defense played a great game. The D-line was ferocious, dominating Pittsburgh for the final three quarters, holding Willie Parker to 55 yards, and sacking Ben Roethlisberger 4 times (no easy task to tackle Big Ben, as the 5 missed sacks will attest). And if Richard Seymour had held onto a sure interception, he might have the inside track as the NFL MVP (and no, I’m not kidding). Vince Wilfork got bopped around a bit, but he always took on two men so others could make the play – and Jarvis Green, Willie McGinest, Rosevelt Colvin, Ty Warren, and Monty Beisel all took advantage, each seeming to get pressure at least twice in the game. And to top it all off, they stopped the NFL’s #1 rushing team; and stopped them cold. Just a great overall effort.

And I would say that the secondary held up pretty well, what with Rodney Harrison out in the first quarter and Tyrone Poole and Randall Gay not making the trip. Eugene Wilson made a bad read on the long touchdown, but aside from that the subs (Ellis Hobbs, Duane Starks, and Chad Scott) played admirably. Mike Vrabel played inside, outside, and even at safety, and the banged-up secondary held coverage long enough to make Roethlisberger look like a bad QB.

If the defense can continue to improve like this, it will be another fun second half of the season.

As for special teams, Adam impressed, as always. He kicked three field goals, including the game winner, and over half of his kickoffs were so deep they were unreturnable. The punt and kickoff coverage teams were a little better, but they gave up a crucial 44 yard return to allow the Steelers to tie the game too easily. And there were still some untimely penalties (thank you, Tully Banta-Cain). Still some work to do, but overall some improvement.

And finally, the coaching staff was better than against Carolina. After the early strike by Pittsburgh, the defensive adjustments basically held them in check until late, and while the offense struggled through the second quarter, they had some chances cut short by turnovers. At least they were moving the ball, something they couldn’t do against the Panthers. I think they can still improve their play-calling. For example, I thought the blitz that led to a pass interference penalty against Chad Scott late in the fourth quarter was just too risky. And they should have called more screen passes to keep the Steelers defense honest. But I am hopeful that they’ll get better as the year progresses.

So where does that leave us. Well, the Patriots are now tied for first place in the AFC East with the Miami Dolphins, and next Sunday they’ve got a much-needed home game against the San Diego Chargers (who got their first win yesterday). I like their chances in this game and think the up-coming schedule is pretty favorable, even though both the Atlanta and Denver games are on the road. And beyond the Dolphins, the rest of the division looks pretty shabby, with huge QB questions for both the Bills and Jets.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "Do you think Richard Seymour could make a run for NFL MVP? I know the NFL hasn’t had a defensive MVP in almost 20 years (Lawrence Taylor in 1986), but he’s been a monster in the first three games and with the dearth of great QB numbers, could this be the year it happens again?"

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 2-1!

No comments:

Post a Comment