FOXBOROUGH – Do not blame the weather.
You certainly can't blame the officiating.
And whatever you do, don't even think about blaming Matt Cassel, Randy Moss,Matthew Slater, or any other individual Patriot, for that matter.
No, if you insist on looking to pinpoint exactly why the Patriots lost at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the cold and rain, consider what head coach Bill Belichickhad to say about his opponents immediately afterward.
"Pittsburgh was the better team today. They beat us. They were the better team today."
An honest and accurate assessment.
Sure, the Patriots wide receivers dropped a lot of catchable passes (six, to be precise), but so did the Steelers. The rainy conditions may have contributed to the overall difficulty in both teams' passing games today. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger(17-for-33, 179 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) had nearly identical stats as Cassel (19-for-39, 169 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT).
"Both teams played in it, so you can never make an excuse for the weather," said WR Jabar Gaffney. "You just have to go play whatever the conditions."
"You can't worry about that, it is what it is," added Pittsburgh WR Hines Ward, who caught a touchdown pass. "We just made more plays than they did in the weather. They turned the ball over and we didn't."
And it's not like Ed Hochuli'sofficiating crew was out to get New England. In fact, Pittsburgh was out-flagged 8-6 by game's end.
You might make a case that the entire momentum of the game shifted the Steelers' way after the normally reliable Stephen Gostkowskimissed a chip-shot field goal at the end of the first half. And it only snowballed thereafter in that disastrous third quarter, when back-to-back-to-back fumbles led to 10 Pittsburgh points.
Yet, after Steelers kicker Jeff Reedhooked a 40-yard field goal wide left with 11-and-a-half minutes to go in the game, the Patriots had a chance to come back, down just 13 points.
However, New England couldn't make the plays when they had to, and Pittsburgh did when they had to.
For example, the Steelers converted half their 3rd down attempts (8-for-16), while the Pats were successful just once in 13 tries. The Steelers scored 50-percent of the times they reached the red zone. The Pats, just a quarter of the time.
"Lack of execution and they are a good defense," Cassel replied when asked about that lopsided statistics. "They made some plays out there. Our hats go off to them. They played well tonight."
On offense, Pittsburgh's tailback tandem of Willie Parkerand Mewelde Mooreread their blocks extremely well all evening, often cutting back at just the right moments to make long gains out of what would have been minimal pickups.
"The thing about it," Parker noted, "Coach Belichick he got those boys [on defense] respecting my speed. If I get the ball and if it even looks like I am going outside, they are jetting outside and it leaves so many holes up the middle that I can hit.
"The offensive line, they did a great job today, moving those guys back, moving [Vince Wilfork] back, that was just a plus for us. There were a lot of cutbacks."
"We were just making the proper adjustments so that we could get the ball moving," added Moore. "When we finally got some creases and some seams, we just pounded the ball, and making guys miss. That was what really helped us gain momentum. The offensive line did a heck of a job."
It wasn't like the effort wasn't there on the Patriots side.
Take tight end Benjamin Watson, for example.
His Usain Bolt-like sprint across the field to tackle Steeler LB Lawrence Timmonsshort of the goal line on an interception return looked identical to the one he had against Denver's Champ Baileyin a playoff game a few years ago.
And when the Patriots ran the ball, they did so quite effectively. Overall, the match-ups were fairly even. It came down to making plays at critical junctures.
"They have a great quarterback and actually they have a great offense," safety Brandon Meriweatherobserved. "We expected them to come in and do exactly what they did, they just executed to perfection. They made plays and we didn't. That is pretty much what got the game away from us … They just came to play in the second half and we didn't."
With the AFC East-leading New York Jets having lost to Denver at home, a Patriots win would have brought them right back to a tie at the top of the division – a thought that had occurred to some players after the game.
"Today was a pretty big disappointment for us," said guard Logan Mankins. "We came into the game with high hopes and we didn't play very well. We had a great opportunity because the Jets lost … we blew a big one today."
Face it, Pats fans. Pittsburgh was the better team on Sunday. And the better team won.