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And the beat goes on

Page 2 of 2 -- As Michael Smith put it in his ESPN.com column this morning, “[E]ven with all the Steelers’ miscues, there was no confusing who was the better team at Heinz Field Sunday.” A-friggin-men. Certainly no one in Yellow and Black did anything to win the game, but I think it is because the Patriots simply wouldn’t let them. Maybe we can chalk Big Ben’s first pick up to early jitters, as his pass sailed over his own receiver’s hand, bounced off Asante Samuel and into Eugene Wilson’s waiting arms. But the second was, simply put, Rodney Harrison making a fantastic play on the ball, jumping the route. On the third interception, for a second there I was certain it was January of 2002 all over again, and Kordell Stewart had just been picked off by Tebucky Jones icing the game. Instead, it was Wilson foiling the Steelers absolute last effort with an interception of Rothlisberger. Sure, part of it was Wilson getting lucky, but plenty of the play was also the pressure on the rookie QB by the defensive line and the match ups and positioning of the defensive backs. When Bettis lost the football on the failed fourth-down conversion in the first quarter, it wasn’t Bettis failing to make a big play, it was the Pats defense, hurt, undermanned, disrespected, all of that, making a huge play, the same way they have the past four years. Maybe it was quite as clear as when Tedy Bruschi truly ripped the ball out of James Mungro’s hands last weekend, but it was the same idea. The Pats defense stepped up and played like a group of winners, but more than that, like a group of winners hungry to win more.

On offense for the Pats, it was the same thing. The Pittsburgh defense didn’t fail; they were beat, play after play, by Tom Brady and company. On the early deep touchdown to Deion Branch, Brady read the coverage and made the play. If the safety had stayed on Branch, being the great quarterback that he is, Brady would have gone underneath, finding a shorter receiver in the area vacated by the safety. It’s not rocket science, it is football. It’s just that the Patriots do it better than anyone else on the planet. The same goes for the screen pass touchdown to David Givens. Clearly, Brady and Givens took a look at the defense and knew what to do. The Belichick era has been about putting players in position to make plays. Once in position on that play Givens did just that, finding the end zone from nine yards out. The Steeler defense held Corey Dillon to only 73 yards, but when the power back got his chance in the third quarter and saw a hole, he exploded for it, dashing into the end zone on a huge 25-yard TD run, a score that answered, immediately, the Steelers’ first signs of life in the second half. Dillon did not have a great day, but on that play, he had a chance and he executed.

The Rothlis-rookie tag still fits, but much more, it was the entire Steeler team that played like rookies. The Patriots forced them to make mistakes, burned them deep, ran over them and shut them down. But then again, they are the Patriots. If they didn’t do that to other teams, wouldn’t we all be a bit upset? Let’s just see them do it in Jacksonville. 

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