Rain, cold and a tough Pittsburgh Steelers defense were too much for Matt Cassel and the New England Patriots on this day. Cassel had two interceptions, two lost fumbles and was below 50 percent passing. He wasn't helped by his teammates with Randy Moss dropping a sure touchdown and another pass around 40 yards downfield. Moss wasn't alone among the Patriots whose poor execution, particularly in the second half, has New England now on the outside looking in for a playoff berth chance.
Cassel had his roughest day as a Patriot, throwing 19 of 39 for only 169 yards. He was sacked five times and as a team, the Patriots converted only one third down out of 13 tries. They also turned the ball over five times to Pittsburgh's one.
Kevin Faulk did everything he could to help his team with 6 runs for 73 yards and 7 catches for 48 yards.
The game started off on a positive note for New England as Mike Vrabel set up the first Patriots score early in the first quarter.[
On his first series in the game, Ben Roethlisberger was second and 12 from his 22. He looked to pass to his right but didn't get enough height on the throw to get over Vrabel's outstretched arms. Vrabel held on and returned it to the Steelers 14. New England took over on offense and Cassel hit a streaking Wes Welker over the middle on second down for 12 yards to the 2. Sammy Morris put the finishing touches on the drive from there and New England had a 7-0 lead.
Pittsburgh got three points back later in the first quarter on a 20-yard Jeff Reed field goal. Roethlisberger converted a third and 7 early in the drive with a 15-yard completion to Nate Washington and later went back to Washington for 16 yards on third and 12 from the Patriots 27. On second and 6 from the 7, Roethlisberger scrambled but came up a yard short of the first down marker. On third down, fullback Gary Russell carried but was stuffed for no gain up the middle and the Steelers sideline elected to play it safe with the field goal.
A 29-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal gave the Patriots their touchdown lead back with just under seven minutes left in the first half. On the drive, the Patriots were in good shape after converting a fourth and inches from the Steelers 21 with a Morris run. But on third and 2 from the 11, Troy Polamalu hit Cassel just as he was throwing to Moss to force the field goal unit onto the field.
At the two-minute warning Pittsburgh was threatening to score, second and 6 from New England's 19. The Steelers got there mixing pass and run to Mewelde Moore along with Hines Ward converting a third and 2 with a 4-yard catch at the Patriots 23. When play resumed, Roethlisberger found a wide open Santonio Holmes in the right top corner of the end zone to tie the game with the extra point.
With Ellis Hobbs' return to the 27, New England had 1:50 to work with and two time outs.
]()After Welker caught a 6-yard pass, Faulk had a dandy of a run off left guard in which he deked out a couple Steelers and took 41 yards to the Pittsburgh 26. Two plays later Morris ran the same play to the right side for 14 yards to the 9. From there Cassel had three tries and plenty of time. He came up empty but his second pass attempt should have been an easy touchdown for Moss that was dropped. His third pass should have been an easy interception for Polamalu but he too, flubbed it. To make matters worse for New England, Gostkowski was wide right on his 27-yard attempt and the first half ended knotted at 10.
The Patriots had the ball first in the second half but a Casey Hampton sack stopped New England's momentum and the Patriots punted at the Steelers 37.
The Steelers took over at their 14 and started pushing around the Patriots defense. Moore was good for a 20-yard run on the first play of the drive along with two other runs of 7 and 13 yards. Pittsburgh eventually got down to the Patriots 9, first and goal but couldn't get further than the 7 with Roethlisberger throwing incomplete on second and third down due to good red zone coverage by New England. Reed was good on a 25-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 13-10 lead.
Disaster struck for the Patriots on the ensuing kickoff. Matthew Slater tried to field the kick, bobbled it and then kicked it toward the sideline. Keyaron Fox recovered before the ball went out of bounds and Pittsburgh was back in business, first and goal at the Patriots 8.
Two plays later, Roethlisberger hit Ward from 11 yards out and it was Pittsburgh up by 10, 20-10.
It got worse for the Patriots. On the next play from scrimmage, James Harrison got around Matt Light and stripped Cassel. LaMarr Woodley recovered for Pittsburgh on the Patriots 25.
Back on the field, Roethlisberger immediately hit Miller over the middle for 19 yards to the 6. Once again, however, the Patriots defense did its job in the red zone, holding Pittsburgh to a 20-yard field goal to make the score 23-13 with 2:50 remaining in the third quarter.
Harrison did it again on the Patriots next series. The Patriots drive had just been extended due to a vicious and unnecessary hit on Welker by Ryan Clark. The penalty gave New England a first down but two plays later Harrison found his way to Cassel again and this time James Farrior recovered for Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh would have liked to settle for three points yet again but this time Reed's kick from 40 yards went wide left. It was a big break for New England; on the previous play Washington dropped a sure touchdown on third and 8.
With 11:29 left to play, the Patriots needed two touchdowns.
Any hope of a comeback was pretty much dashed when Cassel overthrew Benjamin Watson down the middle on third and 13 from the Steelers 43 during the next series. Polamalu was playing deep safety and came up with the interception, returning it to the Steelers 34.
It was a slow death for the Patriots as the Steelers came up with only three points after the turnover, a 45-yard field goal to make the score 26-10. The 6-play drive left only 5:39 for New England.
Finally, the Pittsburgh defense put the Patriots out of their misery when Lawrence Timmons picked off Cassel's first and 10 pass from the Steelers 14.Cassel was looking for Faulk, who was one of the few players in blue having a good game, but Timmons stepped in front and returned the ball all the way to the New England 1 where Watson caught up to him.
Two plays later, Russell ran it in to make the final score 33-10.