]()Coaching and execution. Coaching and execution. Coaching and execution. Keep repeating because that's what this game was all about. It was the type of game a team will point to when they want to describe who they are. The Patriots won it, 23-20, once again showing they are the best team in football.
The win was never a surety. Three turnovers -- two of them in the red zone -- and two key players out of action in the first half, made this game a lesson in determination, guts and team play.
Tom Brady was, well, Tom Brady, completing his last 12 straight passes when his team needed him most, finishing 31 of 41 passing for 372 yards. David Givens was his main man with 9 catches for 130 yards. Kevin Faulk chipped in with 7 receptions for 71 yards while Deion Branch had six catches for 78 yards.
Corey Dillon ran better although he was held to 61 yards on 22 carries.
In the end, the Patriots defense limited Willie Parker and the Steelers running game, which in turn put Ben Roethlisberger into must-pass situations and that was key to the Patriots win.
New England opened in a 4-3 formation on defense with Jarvis Green manning the right end spot alongside Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren. After Parker gained six on first down, Mike Vrabel absolutely leveled him on second for a loss of 6 after he caught a pass from Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers punted after three plays.
Tim Dwight did a nice job with the return, scampering 19 yards to the Steelers 46. From there, Dillon ran three straight times for a first down. Brady hit Givens for 15 on first and 10 from the 32. A 10-yard pass to Ben Watson brought the ball to the 4. From there, Dillon banged it in off left tackle for the score.
New England's early lead was short-lived. On the Steelers second play from scrimmage after the kickoff, Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward on a little slant over the middle and the wide receiver outraced Harrison and Samuel 86 yards for a touchdown.
An 11-yard sack of Brady by James Farrior on the Patriots next possession set up a deep punt for Josh Miller and the Steelers set up shop at the New England 49.
Roethlisberger looked deep over the middle on first down and Chad Scott got flagged for pass interference to move the line of scrimmage to the 24. Much worse, on the next play, Harrison was carted off the field after trying to make a play on a Parker run. Harrison got his left foot stuck in the turf while the rest of his body kept going. It was a knee injury and Harrison did not return.
With their emotional leader out of the game, the Patriots defense was still able to hold the Steelers to a 33-yard field goal despite Pittsburgh getting as close as the 10 on first down.
The Patriots next drive began at the Pittsburgh 17. Brady converted a third and 9 with a 15-yard pass to Troy Brown and later a third and 6 with an 8-yarder to Kevin Faulk. Dillon followed up the Faulk catch with a 9-yard run as the first quarter ended.
New England opened up the second quarter with a third and 1 conversion on a Dillon run to the Steelers 24. It was looking like New England would at least tie the game when, on first and 10 from the 14, Brady hit Faulk with a little screen pass. Faulk had a bit of running room until Clark Haggans got to him and stripped the ball loose. Larry Foote picked it up on the bounce and raced down the left sideline to the 35.
Things got really whacky two plays later when Roethlisberger hit Antwaan Randle El wide open in the left flat. Randle El had clear sailing until around the 15 when he inexplicably turned and flipped the ball back to Ward. Ward was as surprised as anyone and the ball fell free to the ground where Eugene Wilson recovered it at the 11.
The change of possession did the Patriots no good in terms of scoring and worse, Matt Light became the second Patriot carted off the field as he went down on a Faulk run on second down. No word came after the game on Light's situation.
Pittsburgh only got to the Patriots 39 when it looked like Wilson picked off Roethlisberger on third and 4. The Steelers challenged the call on the field and won as the ball clearly hit the ground before Wilson took possession.
That set up a fourth and 4 with Pittsburgh electing to go for it. At least it looked that way with Roethlisbeger standing in an empty backfield barking signals. But after the snap, the Pittsburgh quarterback pooch punted the ball and almost pulled off the attempt to pin the Patriots deep but the ball rolled into the end zone and New England had it back at the 20.
The Patriots offense never got out of first gear and again punted.
With the ball back, the Steelers were making progress until Roethlisberger got wrapped up by Don Davis as he attempted to pass on third and 7 from the Patriots 29. Big Ben got rid of the ball but Davis drove him into the ground and Roethlisberger was helped off the field with a left shoulder injury. Jeff Reed missed a 52-yard field goal attempt after a false start penalty on Pittsburgh and New England stayed within three at 10-7.
Roethlisberger's injury did not keep him out of the game.
Working at the two-minute mark of the first half, Brady began to click. He started with short passes to Faulk and then on third and 6 hit Branch for 14 over the middle, a pass Branch did a great job adjusting to as the ball was just behind him.
Brady looked to Faulk again, this time a little screen, and Faulk sped down the left sideline to the 3-yard line. After a false start penalty on Logan Mankins, Brady dropped back and looked left. The Steelers Kimo von Oelhoffen got a hand up and deflected the ball in the air. Chris Hoke caught it and the Steelers avoided losing its lead before time ran out in the first half.
The Patriots took the opening kickoff of the second half and drove into Steelers territory. David Givens made a fantastic catch in traffic for 18 yards to the 41. After an 8-yard sack of Brady, Branch caught a 14-yard pass over the middle to make it third and 4 from the 35. Brady looked to Branch again on third down but Branch could not hold on. Vinatieri came on for a 53-yard attempt but was wide left.
The Patriots defense continued to keep the Steelers within striking range but the Patriots offense was making matters tough. For the third time, New England turned over the ball, this time midway through the third quarter. Brady handed off to Faulk on a delay and the ball popped loose at the line of scrimmage. Travis Kirschke recovered and Pittsburgh was first and 10 deep in Patriots territory.
Once again, New England's defense kept the Steelers out of the end zone but not off the board as Reed was good from 24 yards out to make the score 13-7.
By the end of the third quarter, despite trailing, there was the sense that the Patriots were getting the edge. Its defense was handling the Steelers running game and Roethlisberger was looking human. When Josh Miller pinned the Steelers at their 6 with a beautiful punt and Pittsburgh once again went three and out, New England finally added to its point total.
Dwight returned Chris Gardocki's punt well into the Steelers side of the field and even though New England could get no further than the 30, Vinatieri was good from 48 yards out to make the score 13-10. It was the Patriots first score since their opening drive of the game.
Pittsburgh had the ball first and 10 to open the fourth quarter but only briefly. For the eighth time in nine third down plays, the Patriots defense kept the Steelers from converting.
]()Finally, the Patriots offense hit paydirt. Brady was working on all cylinders on his next drive (5 for 5, 76 yards). Fourteen yards to Givens, 8 to Branch, 19 to Brown. On third and 2, he hit Givens along the left sideline and Givens eluded Ricardo Colclough and made it to the Steelers 7 before he was hit out of bounds. Dillon did the rest, pounding it in around right end and with 10:37 left to play, the Patriots had regained the lead at 17-13.
The Steelers barely escaped a complete meltdown on its next series. Seymour sacked Roethlisberger on first down at the 10 for a loss of 8. Parker then picked up 2 to set up a third and 16. Roethlisberger dropped back in the end zone and was under all kinds of pressure. He managed to get the ball out to Verron Haynes who then made it up to the 22 for the first down.
New England kept the pressure on Roethlisberger, sacking him again (Willie McGinest) and the Patriots took over at the Steelers 24 after the punt.
Brady continued his torrid pace, hitting on his first three attempts for a total of 51 yards. The Steelers held, however, and Vinatieri was brought on for a 35-yard field goal which he made.
New England's special teams woes reared its head for the first time in the game on the ensuing kickoff. Pittsburgh's Colclough made it up to the 49 with the return giving his team good field position and down by a touchdown.
A couple of Roethlisberger completions moved the ball to the 38. Just before the two-minute warning, he hit Ward for 12 to the 26. Another pass for 9 went to Quincy Morgan after the timeout but on second and 1, a holding call negated a Roethlisberger run for a first down. Instead it was second and 11 from the 27. An incomplete and another Big Ben run for no gain brought up a fourth and 11 with 1:31 left.
This was the position the Patriots wanted to be in. All afternoon Roethlisberger had been put into must passing situations and the Patriots defense was giving him fits.
Not this time.
Roethlisberger lofted up a pass to the left corner in front of the end zone. Chad Scott was flagged for pass interference at the 4. On the next play, Roehtlisberger hit Ward for the score.
With the extra point, the game was tied at 20. New England had a last chance to win in regulation, first and 10 at the 38 with 1:21 left after the kickoff.
Brady opened with a 17 yard completion to Faulk to the Steelers 45. Next up was Patrick Pass who scampered for 14 yards on an outlet pass. Another 6 yards to Givens was all New England needed. Running the clock down to a few seconds left, Vinatieri lined up for a 43-yard field goal and of course, he was perfect.