The Pittsburgh Steelers spread 'em out and carved 'em up, eschewing any notion of traditional smash-mouth football to expose what we all have known to be true for some time now: the Patriots can’t stop the pass. New England can’t get to the quarterback, can’t cover and, in the immortal words of Bart Scott, can’t stop a nosebleed, the latter even with a case of facial tissue and a cauterizing tool.
The dissection of the New England defense and the exposing of the Patriots overall, by the ever-revealing numbers:
8: Times a Steelers running back carried the ball in the first half, an inflated number that includes an inside draw by Mewelde Moore (who gained 16 yards) when Pittsburgh was trying to run out the clock at the end of the first half. By contrast, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger chucked the ball 33 times during the same period of time, attempting more passes in the first 30 minutes than 11 starters attempted all game yesterday throughout the now pass-happy NFL.
55: Times Roethlisberger dropped back to pass in the entire game, after which he presumably returned to the Steelers locker room and popped open a tall boy while knocking down some popcorn chicken (from Popeye’s, of course) and icing his arm. In all likelihood, Roethlisberger did not eat or drink during the game.
1: Passes caught yesterday by Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton, who set up the Patriots' first touchdown with an interception of Roethlisberger on a poor throw that Guyton promptly returned to the Pittsburgh 8-yard line midway through the second quarter.
0: Passes caught by Chad Ochocinco, who was targeted once and otherwise did nothing.
40: Percentage of the Patriots’ sack total (five) that came on Pittsburgh’s final possession, after the Patriots were out of timeouts, when the Steelers inexplicably tried to pass the ball on consecutive downs. Pittsburgh ultimately punted the ball away with 28 seconds left, leaving the Patriots with the ball at the New England 22-yard line with 19 seconds to play.
2: Points awarded the Steelers on the next play when New England quarterback Tom Brady was strip-sacked amid a succession that resulted in a safety.
2: Solo tackles in the game by Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo (one solo, one assisted), who returned to action following a knee injury and was generally invisible. In his career, Mayo has four forced fumbles – never more than one in any season – to go along with 3.5 sacks and zero interceptions. What a playmaker, eh?
1.5: Of the Patriots’ 15 sacks this season, total recorded by New England linebackers. By contrast, Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley had two sacks in about a 10-minute span during the second quarter of yesterday’s game, bringing his season total to nine.
46: Selection with which Woodley was chosen in the 2007 NFL draft, 22 spots after the Patriots selected defensive back Brandon Meriweather (24th overall) in the first round.
4: Other than Mayo, who was taken 10th overall in the first round, draft picks used by Patriots coach Bill Belichick to select a linebacker in the first three rounds during Belichick’s 12-year run in New England. Those players include Shawn Crable, Tyrone McKenzie, Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham, the first two of whom are no longer with the organization.
96: Number worn by Cunningham, who was a healthy scratch yesterday and has the grand total of one – one – tackle this season. Regarded as a pass rusher extraordinaire taken with the 53d overall selection of the 2010 draft, Cunningham has one career sack.
16: In yards, longest pass yesterday caught by a Patriots wide receiver, namely Deion Branch. Brady attempted deep throws late in the game to both Taylor Price and Ochocinco, neither of which came close to being completed. In Price’s defense, he appeared to have separation but Brady threw the ball behind him.
39:22: Time, in minutes and seconds, that the Steelers maintained possession of the football, proving that the term “ball-control passing attack” is hardly an oxymoron.
5,170: Passing yards the Patriots are on pace to allow this season, a figure that would break the single-season passing yardage total established by former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino (5,084) during the 1984 season.
4: Times the New England offense was called for false-start penalties that broke down as follows: Logan Mankins (two penalties, 10 yards), Matt Light (one penalty, five yards) and Sebastian Vollmer (one penalty, five yards).
9: Total yards accumulated by Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (nine) as well as receivers Price (zero) and Ochocinco (zero).
50: Field goal percentage of Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who doinked a 42-yarder off the right upright late in the third quarter that would have closer the Pittsburgh lead to 20-13.
0: Interceptions this season for cornerback Devin McCourty, who had seven picks last year as a rookie. McCourty, who was credit with 17 passes defended last season, has been credited with just three such plays this year.
6: Catches by Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller in the first quarter of yesterday’s game, a pace that would have produced 24 catches if maintained throughout the course of the afternoon. Miller entered yesterday’s game with 23 catches on the year.
23: Number previously worn by Patriots cornerback Leigh Bodden, who became the latest defensive back cast off by the Patriots over the weekend, joining a group that includes, among others, safeties Meriweather and James Sanders. Additionally, the Patriots placed defensive back Ras-I Dowling on injured reserve on Saturday.
92.9: Combined passer ratings of opposing quarterbacks against the Patriots this season, a number that relates directly to postseason success (according to Kerry Byrne of Cold Hard Football Facts) and places the Patriots 27th among the 32 NFL teams in pass defense. The only teams worse than New England in this area are Minnesota, Carolina, Miami, Denver and Indianapolis.
6-32: Combined won-lost record of the Vikings (2-6), Panthers (2-6), Dolphins (0-7), Broncos (2-5) and Colts (0-8).
102.1: Passer rating this season of New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, whose team is due to face the Patriots on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
Tony's Top 5
Best offseason moves in recent Red Sox history