Too much time for Brady &amp; amp; Co. is a time bomb
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger suffered his first regular-season loss.
By ROB TODOR
VINDICATOR SPORTS EDITOR
PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- Once the euphoria died down, Steeler fans knew. They just knew there was too much time remaining.
Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward hooked up for their second touchdown of the game with 1 minute, 21 seconds remaining in Sunday's showdown against the New England Patriots. That TD, and Jeff Reed's extra point, tied the score at 20.
But on the other sideline, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, winner of three Super Bowls, was ready. He calmly drove his team, without timeouts, 37 yards in five plays, and Adam Vinatieri drove in the dagger, kicking a 43-yard field goal with one second remaining to give New England a 23-20 win at Heinz Field Sunday.
The victory snapped Pittsburgh's 16-game regular season winning streak and the Steelers' 11-game winning streak at Heinz Field.
It also marked Roethlisberger's first regular-season loss as starting quarterback after 15 straight wins.
It was a poor performance for the second-year pro from Miami (Ohio) against a defense that was missing two starters in the secondary and lost a third -- perhaps the inspirational leader of the Patriots -- Rodney Harrison, in the first quarter.
Roethlisberger finished 12-of-28 for 216 yards and two touchdowns. But, between an 85-yard strike to Ward in the first quarter and going 5-for-9 on the Steelers' last possession, he was 6-of-18 for 93 yards.
"We didn't convert third downs," said Ward. "They sacked our quarterback and put us in second and long, third and long; that's hard to [convert], especially against the champions."
Pittsburgh was 3-of-13 on third down after going 9-of-21 the first two games.
Roethlisberger was hit hard by New England's Don Davis late in the second quarter, injuring his left shoulder. He didn't miss a down, but missed badly on his next two throws.
"They got to me a couple of times," said Roethlisberger. "They bring [pass rushers] from all different angles. They have people moving all over the place."
The injuries -- at one point the Patriots had four healthy defensive backs -- forced them to make personnel changes. Roethlisberger said he never knew where to expect Davis, a linebacker, to line up.
"They started throwing people all over the place," said Roethlisberger. "You're sitting there looking at it, and a guy that's normally a linebacker is playing safety, he's dropping deep."
Both teams bemoaned lost scoring chances.
Pittsburgh led 10-7 early in the second quarter when Roethlisberger found Antwaan Randle El alone in the flat. The speedy Randle El raced 49 yards downfield, but around the Patriots' 11 he inexplicably lateraled to teammate Hines Ward, who mishandled the ball. New England's Eugene Wilson recovered.
Then, the Steelers led 13-7 early in the third quarter but had just 22 yards on 14 plays covering three possessions before their final last-ditch scoring effort.
The Patriots, meanwhile, moved the ball throughout the game, but turned the ball over twice inside the Pittsburgh 5 in the first half.
"We hurt ourselves with some penalties [and] turnovers, and we gave up some big plays," said New England coach Bill Belichick. "In the end, Tom made some good throws."
New England finally broke through late in the third quarter, when Tim Dwight's 28-yard punt return set up a 48-yard field goal by Vinatieri with 14 seconds remaining in the third quarter, trimming Pittsburgh's lead to 13-10.
It marked the first of four consecutive scoring drives for the Patriots to end the game.
"When the Steelers dropped off in coverage in the last drive, [Brady] got the ball to an open man," said Belichick. "Tom did a good job, the line held up well against a good pass rush [and] the receivers made some big plays and got some yards after the catch."
After forcing the Steelers to punt, Brady directed a seven-play, 86-yard scoring drive (completing five passes) and New England took a 17-13 lead on Corey Dillon's 7-yard run with 10:37 remaining in the game.
Following another Pittsburgh punt, the Patriots drove 59 yards in seven plays -- Brady completed four passes -- and Vinatieri's 35-yard field goal split the uprights with 3:19 to go, making it 20-13.
Ricardo Coclaugh returned the ensuing kickoff to the Steelers' 49, and from there, Roethlisberger directed a drive to the New England 17.
On fourth down from the 27, Roethlisberger lofted a pass to Quincy Morgan and Chad Scott was called for pass interference at the 4.
On the next play, Roethlisberger used play action to find Ward alone in the back of the end zone.