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[Patriots] Rookie QB makes them pay

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  • [Patriots] Rookie QB makes them pay

    Roethlisberger had the answers
    By Aaron Harlan, Globe Correspondent | November 1, 2004

    PITTSBURGH -- Just wait, the conventional thinking went.

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    Sure, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had sewn a dandy storyline in his first four NFL starts, but skeptics figured that hype would unravel against the New England defense -- a unit that's made the practice of unraveling quarterbacks more routine than a daily lunch break. But something unlikely happened yesterday when Roethlisberger braved the Patriots' blitz-and-confuse defense in a 34-20 Steelers win at Heinz Field. He didn't quiver. He didn't collapse. Instead, Roethlisberger looked poised and unflappable, completing 18 of 24 passes for 196 yards in a performance that may have helped the virtuoso rookie become the NFL's phenomenon du jour.

    If nothing else, the outing validated Roethlisberger among any remaining doubters. After throwing two incompletions to start the game, he completed 14 of his next 15 passes, as the Steelers built a quick three-touchdown lead.

    With help from running back Duce Staley, who bulled his way for 125 yards on 25 carries, the Steelers' passing game looked as sharp as the black ensemble Roethlisberger wore to his postgame media session.

    "He did a good job, no question," Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher said.

    And after the game, it was the Patriots -- not Roethlisberger --who were hit with a sudden trace of doubt. As New England's winning streak ended at 21, Roethlisberger, a No. 1 draft pick from Miami of Ohio, extended a streak of his own: He has won 18 starts in a row, dating to August of last season, when he was a college junior.

    Against the Patriots' defense, which constantly blitzed the rookie but never sacked him, Roethlisberger showed the whole spectrum of skills. He threw under pressure. He showed both zip and touch. He even ducked tackles, once shaking Mike Vrabel from his backside while scrambling. Roethlisberger entered the game second in the AFC in quarterback rating. His rating yesterday: 126.4.

    "It was definitely difficult," Roethlisberger said, though his actions screamed otherwise. "Their defense is very difficult. They're bringing people from all over the field."

    Roethlisberger, though, always resisted the pressure. On a play that led to Pittsburgh's first touchdown, New England ran an all-out blitz. Steelers wideout Plaxico Burress was matched opposite cornerback Randall Gay, playing for injured Ty Law.

    "He was just a lame duck out there," Burress said, smiling. "And we just kind of went after him."

    The Patriots went after Roethlisberger, too. As the pocket collapsed, he glanced downfield at a tight end, then rainbowed a pass to Burress, who beat Gay by several steps. The pass hit Burress in stride, and lifted Pittsburgh to a 7-3 edge. It was a lead the Steelers never relinquished.

    "It was an all-out blitz," Roethlisberger said, "and you have to give the line a lot of credit. For an all-out blitz, there shouldn't have been time like that. They gave me time to step up, I saw Plax running. And with Plax running downfield like that, you just want to throw it as far as you can."

    Though his NFL career is only months old, Roethlisberger already has trained himself to deflect accolades. When asked about his 11 consecutive completions yesterday, he ended up talking about the defense. On his completion to Burress, he talked about the offensive line. When asked about his recent roll, he stressed the importance of, uh, good field position.

    He's both mild-mannered and willing to listen. On the Steelers' fourth possession, as they churned through the New England red zone, Burress noticed a matchup with Asante Samuel -- a second-year defensive back Burress was certain he could beat.

    "Just throw it over there," Burress told Roethlisberger before the play. "Put some air under it."

    And so he did. Taking the snap from New England's 4-yard-line, Roethlisberger lobbed a pass to the right corner of the end zone, where Burress dived to the sideline and hauled it in.

    Though Burress began the season as the lost receiver in Pittsburgh's run-first, Hines Ward-second offense, the lanky wideout has emerged in the last few weeks.

    Yesterday, he caught three passes for 63 yards. His 47-yard touchdown catch was the longest scoring pass allowed by New England in more than two years.

    Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

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  • DJRamFan
    [Patriots] Busted at 21
    by DJRamFan
    A continuation of Patriot streak is not in cards
    By Nick Cafardo, Globe Staff | November 1, 2004

    PITTSBURGH -- Their baseball brothers, the Red Sox, are proof that all streaks must end, winning the World Series last week after an 86-year drought. So as if to balance the slate, the sports gods yesterday looked down upon New England and said, "Do not be greedy."

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    Thus, the Patriots' record 21-game winning streak ended. The Team That Could Not Lose finally met its match in the Pittsburgh Steelers, 34-20, before a record-breaking Heinz Field crowd of 64,737.

    There were no excuses from anyone in the Patriots locker room as to why they lost for the first time since Sept. 28, 2003, to the Steve Spurrier-coached Washington Redskins.

    That's because the Steelers played very much in their tradition, dominating the trenches, creating mistakes, and smashing Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the mouth every chance they got.

    "I wish we could play again tomorrow," said New England defensive end Willie McGinest. "We're not going to make any excuses, like blame the refs, or injuries, or anything like that. It's disappointing we got our butts kicked and got outplayed. We have to come in tomorrow and look in the mirror and make sure each and every one of us can see what we did to add to this. It's not the end of the world. We have time to come back from this."

    The Steelers forced turnovers -- four of them -- which led to Pittsburgh scores. Two were caused by linebacker Jerry Porter, who played an emotional game, saying he was fired up by words McGinest uttered to him before the opening kickoff.

    If that was the case he made the Patriots pay big time, and young quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (18 for 24 for 196 yards, two touchdowns and a 126.4 rating) looked as calm and collected as a guy named Bradshaw in picking apart the wounded Patriots secondary.

    They didn't make excuses, but the Patriots were missing starting running back Corey Dillon, had to use a makeshift offensive line with starting right tackle Tom Ashworth out with a back ailment, and then lost left tackle Matt Light, who got the wind knocked out of him.

    The Patriots also lost cornerback Ty Law to a foot injury in the third series of the game, and when rookie free agent Randall Gay replaced him, the Steelers went right at him and made the Patriots pay.

    But in the past, the Patriots had never missed a beat because of injuries.

    "We've lost players to injuries before," said linebacker Tedy Bruschi. "We play as a team. Whoever is in the game has to do their part. That's the way we do it around here."

    With Dillon out, New England ran the ball six times for 5 yards, forcing Brady to throw it 43 times. The defense allowed the Steelers to romp over them...
    -11-01-2004, 09:48 AM
  • DJRamFan
    [Patriots] Defense missed the stop signs
    by DJRamFan
    By Joe Burris, Globe Staff | November 1, 2004

    PITTSBURGH -- Patriots cornerback Ty Law yesterday suffered a left foot injury at the 4:52 mark of the first quarter. Initially, he tried to continue playing, but then signaled for help. And as he limped off the field the Patriots' chances of slowing the Pittsburgh offense may have gone with him.

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    He was spelled by rookie Randall Gay and it didn't take much to figure what was coming next. Pittsburgh became opportunistic. Gay became a moving target.

    Two plays later, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 47-yard pass to wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who was covered by Gay. Burress leaped over the defensive back and caught the ball in the end zone for the game's first touchdown, giving the Steelers a 7-3 advantage with 3:46 left in the first.

    That marked the beginning of a poor defensive performance by a unit that ended up yielding 27 points. In its previous three games, New England allowed 37 points combined.

    Law's departure was far from the unit's only problem. Steelers running back Duce Staley rushed for 125 yards on 25 carries for his fourth 100-yard performance in the Steelers' last five games. And goal-line specialist Jerome Bettis, who had a total of 64 yards on 37 carries entering the game, rushed for 65 yards on 15 carries.

    Burress's touchdown was the Steelers' longest pass reception of the day, yet he was among three Pittsburgh receivers to post catches of at least 20 yards. That helped the Steelers more than double the Patriots' time of possession in the first half (20:38 to 9:22).

    "We came out and we didn't play well at all," said Patriots safety and leading tackler Rodney Harrison, who posted a game-high 18 stops (10 solo). "We made a lot of mental errors. It wasn't good and they [took] full advantage of our mistakes."

    Burress said the Steelers' intent was to attack Gay immediately.

    "It's like they say, when there's blood in the water, you have to go after them," he said. "We knew that Ty went down and that they were a man short. We just went after them as far as throwing the football."

    Burress followed his first touchdown with another score while being covered by Eugene Wilson with 29 seconds left in the first quarter to put Pittsburgh ahead, 14-3. Deshea Townsend then scored on an interception return for a touchdown to put the Patriots down by 18.

    The 21 first-quarter points was unusual for a team that had yielded 21 points in a contest just five times during its 21-game winning streak.

    "Guys were just saying, `Let's continue to fight, the game's not over until it's over,' " said Harrison. "We had opportunities and we just didn't capitalize one them."

    Pittsburgh finished with 417 yards of total...
    -11-01-2004, 09:54 AM
  • DJRamFan
    [Patriots] Porter really carried them
    by DJRamFan
    Linebacker kept up the pressure
    By Aaron Harlan, Globe Correspondent | November 1, 2004

    PITTSBURGH -- He tried to play it off as if it was no big deal, as if these three-sack, two forced-fumble days come around just about every Sunday.

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    But Steelers linebacker Joey Porter didn't keep the act up for long.

    "We kept hitting [Tom Brady]," Porter said, still serious. "Even when we didn't get sacks, we still got pressure.

    The more Porter talked, though, the more excited he got. He couldn't help it. A wide smile spread across Porter's face as he added one more thought about a day when he -- and the entire Pittsburgh defense -- kept Brady running and scrambling and falling.

    "We kept hitting him. And he didn't like that at all."

    For good reason, too. In yesterday's 34-20 win against New England at Heinz Field, Porter turned into a pass-rushing demon. He led the Steelers in nearly every defensive category. He had eight tackles. The three sacks and two forced fumbles. Heck, he even broke up a pass.

    It seemed almost merciful, then, that New England possessed the ball for just 17 minutes yesterday. After all, the only time Porter slowed down, he was on the sideline watching the Steelers' offense.

    "The game he had today, that's one of the best performances I've ever seen since I've been here," fellow linebacker James Farrior said. "He had a great day. You guys have been on him a lot, calling him a bad guy and stuff. But it just shows, he's still going out there playing his best."

    Indeed, Porter's been alternately inconsistent and controversial in the last 1 1/2 years. Before the 2003 season, Porter was struck in the buttocks by a stray bullet while at a Colorado bar. Based on his performance last year -- a season in which he lacked his traditional big-play tendencies -- he recovered slowly from the accident.

    Earlier this season, Porter drew criticism for a hit on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap. As Baltimore attempted to spike the ball in a game Sept. 19, Heap, injured seconds earlier, hobbled into place so the Ravens could run the play. Porter shoved Heap to the ground, and Heap writhed in pain.

    "People are giving him a hard time and writing things about him, but we watch him on film, we see what he can do," cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "And once a great pass rusher gets on a roll, it's hard to stop."

    With New England's Corey Dillon injured, the Patriots turned into a team with only one option -- throw. Every play. In all, New England called just six running plays, which produced just 5 yards.

    That allowed Porter to get going. He knew the Patriots' strategy. He also knew his job: Get to the quarterback.

    "When they pass the ball," Porter said,...
    -11-01-2004, 09:53 AM
  • DJRamFan
    [Patriots] The breakdown? A system failure
    by DJRamFan
    By Ron Borges | November 1, 2004

    PITTSBURGH -- Whatever the Patriots practiced last Friday isn't likely to be the topic of Bill Belichick's news conference today.

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    Belichick went to some lengths to offer up unsolicited last Monday how the Patriots had practiced two days earlier "exactly the situation" his team faced the previous day against the Jets just before halftime, when it marched downfield for what proved to be the winning touchdown. This was not the first time Belichick had talked after a victory of some prescient moment he'd had during one of the team's closed practices a day or two before a game. Always, it seemed, whatever they'd practiced miraculously came to fruition when it counted.

    Well, unless they practiced picking their quarterback up off the ground last Friday, there couldn't have been much they worked on last week that had anything to do with what occurred yesterday at Heinz Field, where the Steelers manhandled the previously undefeated Patriots, 34-20.

    Poor Tom Brady was pummeled all afternoon and so was New England's run defense. So, too, was the prevailing theory that rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be so mentally taxed by Belichick's schemes and mind-numbing defensive game plan that he would be reduced to a rubber room by halftime. That latter idea went up in smoke when by that point his quarterback rating was 141.7 and his team was leading, 24-10.

    One loss does not a season break, however, and it should be noted this one came with Belichick's troops depleted with running back Corey Dillon, tackle Tom Ashworth, wide receiver Deion Branch, and cornerback Tyrone Poole out before the game began, and cornerback Ty Law and tackle Matt Light joining them on the sideline by halftime. What this may lead to, though, is a shocking lesson for some of the Patriots' more rabid followers.

    Simply put, systems without their best players executing them are considerably less baffling to their opponents than systems with their best players executing them. Asking Law to demonstrate your genius is one thing. Ask Randall Gay to do it and you better have something around to put out the flames.

    Gay, an undrafted rookie free agent, had played well in limited roles the past few weeks but when Law went down with Poole already out Gay was forced to play cornerback for real, which is to say actually on the corner. Just two plays after Gay entered the game, Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress entered the end zone with a 47-yard touchdown catch that made it 7-3. Pittsburgh never trailed again.

    "We know when a player like Ty Law goes out of a game," Roethlisberger said. "It's one of those things where we have to keep an eye on who's over there. I said `Let's get the ball to Plaxico.'

    Remarkable though it may seem to some, although not to Brady, he could...
    -11-01-2004, 09:50 AM
  • DJRamFan
    Steelers snap Patriots' record winning streak
    by DJRamFan
    By Bob Ryan, Globe Staff | November 1, 2004

    PITTSBURGH -- To the question of whether it would end with a bang or a whimper, here is the unequivocal numerical answer: Pittsburgh 34, New England 20.

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    ''It was pretty clear the Steelers were the better team," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. ''They outcoached us. They outplayed us. They certainly deserved to win, and they won convincingly."

    Thus ended yesterday an almost unimaginable football feat. The New England Patriots had gone 21 games and 13 calendar months without losing a game, and had become the National Football League champions for the second time by winning the Super Bowl last February. But their bid to make it 22 victories in succession ended under ideal conditions on a late afternoon when the Steelers delighted a franchise record gathering of 64,737 with a truly inspired performance.

    To the end, the Patriots stayed relentlessly on message regarding their endless succession of victories. The word ''streak" had been officially banned from their vocabularies by Belichick. In the team's pregame notes, the media was informed that "The Patriots have recorded a one-game winning streak 21 consecutive times, setting an all-time record for the 85-year history of pro football." "It was never about the streak," said linebacker Mike Vrabel. "It was not in our preparation this week."

    Week after week the Patriots had, as the pundits like to say, "found a way to win." This time, however, they submitted a brilliant formula for defeat, combining a sputtering offense with a defense that allowed a disturbing 417 yards, of which a whopping 221 came on the ground. Four turnovers led to 24 Pittsburgh points.

    "We didn't do anything near the way we are capable of doing it, and they played an outstanding game" said Belichick. "That's the result you get when those two forces collide."

    There is nothing disgraceful about losing to the Steelers. Pittsburgh is a good team. The Steelers entered the game with a 5-1 record and they regarded this game as something akin to an mid-semester exam. They always have enjoyed the backing of a raucous crowd. No one ever looks forward to playing in Pittsburgh. This was true when they played in Three Rivers Stadium, and it remains true now that they play in the outstanding facility known as Heinz Field.

    The problem is that the Patriots feel they didn't give themselves much of an opportunity to win this particular game. "We knew that, eventually, we were going to lose a game," said safety Rodney Harrison. "But we don't want to lose in that fashion."

    The Patriots started the game the way they normally do, which is to say they scored first. Pittsburgh won the toss and elected to receive. The Patriots got them off the field quickly,...
    -11-01-2004, 09:46 AM
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