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Sun., Mar. 29, 2015 12:00 AM to 10:59 PM EDT
Mon., Mar. 30, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:59 PM EDT
Tue., Mar. 31, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:55 AM EDT
PITTSBURGH - Monday is Halloween, but Sunday could not have been more frightening for New England.
These stats'll scare you:
Pittsburgh possessed the ball almost 40 minutes exactly.
The Steelers converted 10 of their 16 third-down opportunities.
That means they held the ball for two out of every three minutes in the game and picked up first downs on two of every three third-down attempts.
After two previous games where the Patriots appeared to make progress defensively, they reverted to their old ways, surrendering 365 yards through the air.
"Those guys were just finding space, finding dead space," said a disappointed Jerod Mayo. The linebacker returned to the Patriots' lineup after missing the past two games with a left knee injury.
"I'm not sure [why]," he continued. "It comes down to the players. Coaches draw up a game plan, it's up to us to execute. We just didn't do that today."
"It was us," cornerback Kyle Arrington conceded. "Credit to the Steelers, they have a lot of talent over there, gave us a lot to prepare for. We just didn't do well in our coverages."
At the outset, it appeared as if the Steelers were simply the more motivated team. Which is uncharacteristic of the Patriots, who had won their last eight games immediately following their bye week.
But Sunday at Heinz Field, New England looked lethargic for the first 55 minutes. The Steelers would find themselves in third-and-long holes, only to dig themselves out with one big pass play after another. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger completed 36 of his 50 pass attempts, mostly to tight end Heath Miller (7 catches for 85 yards) and wide receivers Antonio Brown (9 for 67 and a touchdowns) and Mike Wallace (7 for 70).
"We just didn't play well. We had them in long down situations, and couldn't overcome them," co-captain Vince Wilfork stated matter-of-factly, with an expressionless face. "We had them in those situations and couldn't take advantage of them. Against a team like that, if you can't get off the field on third down, it's going to be a long day, which you saw tonight. You have to give them a lot of credit. They came out with a good game plan, they attacked us, they executed, and we obviously didn't."
The Steelers' best defense on this day was a good offense. They kept the ball out of the hand of Tom Brady and the New England offense. Pittsburgh engineered long, time-consuming scoring drives.
Eleven plays, 68 yards, 5:52.
Sixteen plays, 72 yards, 7:47.
Ten plays, 76 yards, 5:39.
Fourteen plays, 70 yards, 7:06.
Eleven plays, 63 yards, 5:54.
And when the Patriots did have the ball, they rarely capitalized. A three-and-out to start the game was all Brady and Company saw of the first quarter. Then, trailing by just seven to start the second half, they went three-and-out again, failing to mount a potential game-tying drive and change the momentum of the game after the intermission.
"Anytime you do get the ball, you have to take advantage of it. We didn't do a good job of that," admitted wide receiver Wes Welker.
In the spacious visitors locker room afterward, players on both sides of the ball felt confined in their answers for what went wrong. Insisting they weren't flat coming off their bye, the Patriots nonetheless acknowledged that they weren't the better team Sunday.
"I don't know about guys sleeping, but … we didn't come to play," declared running back Kevin Faulk, fresh off the PUP list.
"They made a lot more plays than us. That's all you can say."
"No, I think coming off the bye week, we were well rested, well prepared. The coaches stressed to us to come out with a spark, we just didn't answer the call today," Mayo remarked.
"We had a decent bye week," Wilfork replied. "We just didn't' come to play today."
"The plays we normally run well, we just didn't run well at all," Arrington attempted to explain. "Unfortunately, you know, you have … bad days, I guess."
"I have no clue," exclaimed a dejected safety Patrick Chung. "I just know we have to play better."
Yet, as poorly as they played, though, the Patriots found themselves in position to mount an improbably comeback in the final few minutes. In this city of bridges, however, the task proved a bridge too far for New England.
If the Patriots can take any consolation out of this game, it is this: the last time a Tom Brady-led New England team lost at Pittsburgh was on Halloween night, 2004. They went on to beat the Steelers in the AFC title game, then win the Super Bowl that same year.
Perhaps the Patriots and Steelers will meet again later this season.
"Hopefully, we do," said Mayo. "You never want to go out like this."