Monday, December 10, 2007
When wannabe safety Anthony Smith opened his trap and publicly guaranteed a win over the Patriots, was there any doubt that New England would crush the Steelers? Before making (and failing to deliver on) his promise, Smith was most widely known as the answer to the following question: "Who the hell is that guy in the Pittsburgh secondary?" Now he will forever go down in history as the answer to THIS question "Who was the Steeler toolbox who ran his mouth and then got smoked like a Cuban cigar while his team was steamrolled?"
And another group of people who will be enjoying leftover crow all weekend will be the "architects" in the national (and even local) sports media, who repeated the words "blueprints" and "exposed" ad nauseum. These clowns will probably come up with something new to fill their crappy columns and blogs this week. I wouldn't be shocked if we see a rise in the amount of SpyGate B.S. with the Jets coming to town next weekend. And we'll probably also have in depth analysis and breakdowns of Bill Belichick's post-game handshakes over the years.
Now that I've gotten my ranting out of the way (for now), let's get to the important stuff: the Patriots' 34-13 drubbing of the so-called Steel Curtain, a.k.a. Blitzburgh, a.k.a. Anthony Smith's Black and Gold Warriors of Stupidity, a.k.a. "the best defense in the NFL," a.k.a. the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In my opinion, Sunday's 34-13 victory over Pittsburgh was the best played game the Patriots have had all year. The defense bent, but didn't break; the offensive line picked up blitzes; Brady put up Colt Brennan numbers (399 yards, 4 TDs); and the receivers were once again astounding (Moss: 7 rec, 135 yds, 2 TDs; Gaffney: 7 rec, 122 yds career high, TD; Welker: 9 rec, 78 yds, TD). We didn't do very well on the ground with 22 yards from 9 rushes. Then again, we didn't need to. And remember that pile moving run by Maroney early on? That was pretty impressive.
The Steelers' first drive went all the way to the New England 5 yard line. But it ended with a vintage Patriot defensive stand, something we haven't seen too much of. In terms of TD percentage, the Pats have the worst red zone defense in the NFL. However, they stopped Pittsburgh at the 5, and forced a field goal attempt. 3-0 Pittsburgh.
The Patriots response was set up by a 39 yard kickoff return by Chad Jackson. This would be the first and only drive that would feature a heavy dose Laurence Maroney, which set up play action later in the game. The key play of the drive was a 3rd and 2 converted by Brady and Moss. About to get hit, Brady threw to Moss near the sideline. Moss was perfectly covered by Ike Taylor. But Randy elevated and ripped the ball from the air, gaining 16 yards and a pivotal 1st down.
The drive culminated with a 4 yard TD pass from Brady, to Moss. It was Tom's 42nd of the year, which is good for 4th most in NFL history. It was Moss's 18th TD reception, which is a new career high for him. Remember, it's only week 14. 7-3 New England.
After the PAT and kickoff, Jarvis Green sacked Roethlesberger for a loss of 9. Two plays later the Steelers were forced to punt.
What followed was a 1 play, 0:10 drive, Brady to Moss down the middle, and a touchdown. 14-3 New England. The play action was sold beautifully by Brady and Maroney. Moss was wide open in the center of the field, and Brady hit him in stride for the 63 yard TD.
Give credit to the Steelers, however. They responded with a touchdown drive of their own. Willie Parker rushed for 34 yards on two carries, and had a 4 yard reception to lead Pittsburgh to the end zone. 14-10 New England.
After going three and out, New England regained possession thanks to a muffed punt recovery. However, they were unable to do much with the ball, despite getting it on Pittsburgh's 34 yard line. Gostkowski missed a 48 yard field goal. This missed opportunity may have been the only poorly played sequence the Patriots would have all evening.
The Steelers mustered a near 6 minute drive that didn't do much except run the 1st half clock down. They did their power run thing, throwing in a few dink and dunk passes and some Roethlesberger scrambles. They got to the New England 26, but couldn't convert a 3rd and 2, and were forced to kick another field goal.. 14-13 New England.
The Pats ran their 2 minute drill, but were unable to recover from a holding penalty committed by Faulk. Gostkowski kicked a 42 yarder to once again make it a four point game at 17-13. The Steelers kneeled the ball, bringing the game to half-time.
Pittsburgh punted to end their first drive of the second half, thanks in large part to Vince Wilfork's sack for an 8 yard loss. The Patriots then scored a touchdown on what was undoubtedly the play of the game.
On 1st and 10 at his 44, Brady dropped back short, throwing to his right. The ball was thrown slightly backwards, so it was a lateral. The play appeared to be a normal WR screen to Moss. But the backward pass was low, hitting the ground before Moss could pick it up. Randy then threw it back to Brady, who was all by himself. At this moment, 70,000 fans at Gillette Stadium collectively inhaled, as they could see that Brady had plenty of time to throw, and there was an open Patriot receiver downfield. Jabbar Gaffney had already smoked the aforementioned Anthony Smith, and it was only a matter of execution. Brady's bomb made a perfect landing in Gaffney's arms for a 56 yard touchdown. 24-13 New England.
NFL.com's play-by-play describes this complicated play like this:
(10:17) T. Brady FUMBLES (Aborted) at NE 35, recovered by NE-R. Moss at NE 35. R. Moss to NE 33 for -2 yards. T. Brady pass deep left to J. Gaffney for 56 yards, TOUCHDOWN. flea flicker. Backwards pass to Moss on right sideline, then backwards pass back to Brady.
I would have described the play as a WR Flea-Flicker with a muffed (or aborted) QB/WR exchange. What's funny is that the last time I've seen this play was when the Steelers did it against Cincinnati in the playoffs a few years ago.
Earlier in the drive, Moss had a 22 yard reception, which pushed him over the 100 yard mark. This was Randy's 54th career 100+ yard receiving game. That is the 3rd most 100 yard games in NFL history.
After Pittsburgh went 3 and out, the Patriots embarked on a 10 play, 4:35 drive that was almost exclusively passing. The only run was a 4 yard scramble by Brady. It was mostly underneath passes for 5 to 8 yards a piece. On the drive, Brady went past the 4,000 yard milestone for the 2nd time in his career. He also surpassed the 300 yard mark for the game, his 6th 300 yard game of the season. The drive ended with a 2 yard touchdown pass to Welker. New England 31, Pittsburgh 13.
All season, we've seen the death knell of Patriot opponents be a lengthy scoring drive, or a big TD pass. Last night, it was a good old fashioned goal line stand that sealed the victory.
The Steelers diligently moved the ball downfield, driving all the way to the New England 1 yard line. On 3rd and goal from the 1, Roethlesberger threw incomplete, thank to some good coverage poured on by Rodney Harrison. On 4th and 1, the big bad power running Steelers tried a WR motion end around off the right tackle. There was no attempt made to misdirect the defense, and the ball was given to Hines Ward, hardly the most elusive man to catch. Ward was stopped by Harrison and Richard Seymour just shy of the goal line. The first few nails had been driven into the coffin.
The Pats drove for 6:28, kicking a field goal to make the score 34-13. Then Pittsburgh seemed to quit. Despite being down by three TDs, there was still 7:00 left in the game. But they took 4:06 off the clock with a 13 play drive. They were still running the ball with Parker, still throwing short passes in the middle of the field and not getting out of bounds, still taking their time to get the next play in. Apparently, Mike Tomlin read "The Tortoise and the Hare" in preparation for this game. Sorry, but slow and steady don't win anything when you're down by 21 with 7 minutes left.
It was almost as if the Steelers were worried about being absolutely destroyed by the Patriots instead of merely crushed. It was almost as if they were afraid of the Patriots putting up another touchdown (or two). 34-13 doesn't sound nearly as bad as 41-13, or 48-13. Whatever the reason, with 7:00 on the clock, down by three TDs, the Steelers threw in the Terrible Towel. And if I were a Steelers fan, I'd want an explanation from Mike Tomlin.
For the past few weeks, the word "blueprint" has been tossed around by ESPN, Fox, CBS, NBC, and so on. But it seems like the only part of the blueprint that the Steelers took from the Ravens was to lose control over themselves at the end of a game. James Harrison was called for a late, cheap-shot hit on Kyle Eckel after a Patriot punt. If I were Harrison, I wouldn't be messing with Eckel, he went to school with Marines.
There was some more pushing and shoving, the type of classless, immature, silly behavior you'd expect from a team like Pittsburgh. Of course, the national media will never call them anything but "tough, hard-nosed, smash-mouth, take no prisoners, lunch-pail, working class, blue collar" and so on. The B.S. perpetrated by teams like Baltimore and now Pittsburgh at the end of games will continue to go unnoticed by most. Meanwhile, people will get on Bill Belichick's case for not playing grab ass with the opposing head coach.
My favorite moment of the game wasn't the "flea-flicker" or the goal line stand, or even Randy Moss's celebration of a long overdue defensive holding call. I don't know if it was clearly heard on TV, but late in the 4th, when the game was well in hand; a chant of "GUARANTEE" arose from the Gillette Stadium crowd. As the entire building echoed this word, the jumbotron displayed a closeup of Anthony Smith on the field in between plays. It was PISSAH! He's really made a name for himself, especially here in New England.
Here's a quick excerpt from Bill Belichick's post-game press conference:
Q: What did you say to the team, if anything, about Anthony Smith's guarantee?
BB: You know, I think Rodney put it the best, so I'll just leave it at that. But we've played against a lot better safeties than him, I'll tell you.
Q: Did running that play have anything to do with Pittsburgh, or was it something you'd been looking to get in? Was it because of their aggressiveness?
BB: Well, again, the safety play at that position was pretty inviting.
That's about as much emotion as one will get from Coach Bill. By the way, this was his 100th victory as Patriots head coach.
The road ahead for the Patriots appears relatively easy. This victory clinched a first round bye in the post-season. Another win (or an Indianapolis loss) would clinch homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. New England hosts the Rats next Sunday, then the Dolphins on the 23rd. Then it's a trip to Giants Stadium, to face the easily shaken Eli Manning and the slightly above average New York Giants. The path to an undefeated season seems smooth, so long as the Patriots continue to play at the level they're currently playing.
But let's take a moment and look at how difficult the road up to this point has been. The Patriots have beaten the three other AFC division leaders. The Steelers and Chargers were both crushed. The Colts were beaten at Indianapolis. The 8-5 Browns were mauled. The 7-6 Bills (who would be 7-4 if they didn't play the Pats twice) were also brutally beaten twice. Oh yeah, the Patriots are the ONLY team to beat the Cowboys; in Texas Stadium, no less. To go 13-0 by beating the best of the rest in the NFL is nothing short of amazing.
The early spread for the Pats/Rats game is -24.5. If I were a gambling man, I'd jump on it.