PITTSBURGH – How'd they do it?
How'd the Patriots silence raucous Heinz Field and the vaunted Steelers defense?
How'd New England become the first team to rush for more than 75 yards against Pittsburgh this season?
How'd Tom Bradystoke his passion and rediscover his sixth sense?
And how in the world did the Patriots almost let the Steelers back in the game at the end?
For starters, they did the little things that, collectively, make a big difference. On defense, they tackled well. The front seven took advantage of a patchwork Pittsburgh offensive line, sacking QB Ben Roethlisbergerfive times. Even when they weren't bringing Big Ben down, they were cleaning his clock, chasing him out of the pocket and forcing into ill-advised throws.
They were more physical, man-to-man, with the Steelers. The Patriots defense essentially ripped the heart out of the Steelers offense when they knocked wide receiver Hines Wardout of the game with a reported neck injury in the first quarter.
And when the Patriots offense took over, Brady took command.
Please. He was sidestepping Blitz-burgh with deftness – on the rare occasions that the Steelers got past New England's stout offensive line, which kept Brady's jersey clean all evening (he wasn't sacked once).
Diminutive Danny Woodheadchipped in with some excellent blitz-pickups in the backfield as well. Rookie tight end Rob Gronkowskimore than atoned for his blunders of a week ago by hauling in all three of Brady's TD passes.
The Patriots came out fired up, in every aspect of the game, while the Steelers looked lethargic for most of the night. And when the Patriots' comfortable lead began to tighten, Brady let his teammates have it.
NBC cameras caught Brady in a heated moment, barking angrily at his offense on the sideline at one point. Later, when he rushed for a touchdown of his own on a QB sneak from the 3-yard line, he emphatically spiked the ball and yelled demonstrably at the Steeler fans in that end zone.
"I don't run much," Brady explained with a beaming smile in his post-game comments. "Certainly don't sneak from so far out … I don't know, I was pretty excited."
It wasn't a perfect game, by any means. New England was flagged for thirteen penalties, and appeared to let up on the gas in the fourth quarter, allowing Pittsburgh to claw its way back within striking distance and pad their stats in the process. The Patriots dominated the contest far more than the 39-26 final score might suggest.
Brady, though, was the catalyst.
"He had a great game. He was moving around in the pocket, getting the ball out on time, like he normally does," said left tackle Matt Light.
"He's always intense. You guys know that, too," Gronkowski told reporters. "If we're down, he's intense, if we're up, he's intense. It's Tom Brady … you know how he is. I really didn't notice a difference."
Ah, but there was. We haven't seen that Tom Brady all season. Perhaps it was the low-point of the year – last week's embarrassing loss to Cleveland – that awoke the sleeping giant.
"You come off a week like last week, we played so horrible, then you come into a game like this and get a lead … you don't want to let it slip away," guard Logan Mankinssuggested.
"[Tom] wanted to make sure everyone was aware of the situation, making sure everyone knows the game's not over. He was trying to keep everyone focused."
"We're pretty good when we execute," Brady continued. "We got off to a fast start. That's big for us."
Of course, he credited his o-line for giving him the opportunity.
"[The pass protection] was phenomenal. It's been that way all year. We have a veteran group … Logan adds so much. I love those guys. They're my boys and I'm so proud of them."
As they, no doubt, are of him.