PITTSBURGH - Tom Brady declared last week that the Patriots didn’t have anything figured out when it comes to facing the Steelers’ defense.
Brady’s history against Pittsburgh included six wins in seven games, but it didn’t mean much yesterday. The Steelers did what everyone said they rarely do - they changed.
They blitzed a little more. They sent six defensive backs on the field and played more man coverage. They did it all to slow the No. 1 offense in the NFL (the Patriots came in averaging 474.5 yards, including a league-best 350.5 yards passing).
“When you are playing a team like them who have tight ends that play like receivers and a quarterback who is pinpoint accurate and can throw the ball anywhere around the field, you kind of have to do that,’’ Steelers safety Ryan Clark said.
Brady completed 24 of 35 passes for a season-low 198 yards in the 25-17 loss. From the first possession, the Patriots struggled. They converted only 3 of 10 third downs. They were forced to punt four times and never held the ball longer than 4:38 on any of their nine possessions.
“We never really played with the lead and we never really played the game on our terms,’’ Brady said. “They played very well defensively. They have a lot of good players over there - great scheme, great coaching. We certainly give them a lot of credit.’’
Despite the performance, the Patriots had a chance.
After Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham missed a 43-yard field goal, the Patriots took over with 6:03 left in the game, down, 23-10.
Brady motored the offense downfield, eventually firing a pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski at the goal line with 4:15 left. Gronkowski (and the ball) appeared to be across the plane when he caught Brady’s pass, but it wasn’t ruled a touchdown. Coach Bill Belichick said he thought about challenging the play, but based on the replays, “there was no evidence to challenge it.’’
It would take another 1:35 before the Patriots could reach the end zone, Brady hitting tight end Aaron Hernandez for a 1-yard touchdown that made the score 23-17.
The Patriots got one last chance with 19 seconds to go, but as Brady surveyed downfield for a receiver, he didn’t see Brett Keisel, who charged and smacked the ball out of his hands. It led to a safety for the Steelers, and completed the second loss of the season for the Patriots, who lost the time of possession battle, 39:22 to 20:38.
“You always want to be out there and the defense is busting their butt to get them off the field,’’ Brady said. “We got to compliment them as well. If they go on a long drive, we can’t go in there and go three-and-out like we did. We have to do a better job of that.’’
While many things about the Steelers’ defense looked similar, Brady said there were a few changes.
“I think they played more man than what they’ve shown all year,’’ Brady said. “The way you beat man is you make plays against it and get them out of it and we didn’t do enough of that.’’
The loss was one thing, but to struggle after a bye week added to the frustration, Patriots receiver Deion Branch said.
“The thing is, we feel like we had a good week of preparation and we didn’t show it,’’ Branch said. “That’s the part that’s frustrating. Coach did a great job of working us and gave us everything we needed to win this game. We just didn’t execute.’’Monique Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @monwalker.