FOXBOROUGH — Ryan Clark was gambling and he knew it.
The Patriots were on their way to running for 197 yards as a team Sunday and throwing for 413, and all the Pittsburgh Steelers could do was guess which one was coming.
On first and 10 from the 19 with the Steelers trailing, 41-31, late in the third quarter, Clark’s job was to play the pass.
But his gut told him to play the run.
When Patriots quarterback Tom Brady aired out a deep ball for wideout Aaron Dobson, safety Clark realized how wrong his hunch was.
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor was left on an island by himself. Dobson was on his way to the end zone. Clark was sprinting full-speed, trying in vain to chase him down.
So many things about their 55-31 loss to the Patriots were hard for the Steelers to swallow, but that 81-yard touchdown did as much to bruise a proud team’s ego as anything.
“It’s like any loss,” Clark said. “You hate that you lost. You hate that you’re the reason that you lost. We had a chance to get back in it there and I was trying to do too much, left Ike hanging on the outside, gave up a big play.”
“Everybody had played well enough for us to get back into the game and I gave that play up and there was no chance for us to come back after that.”
The blowout put the Patriots and the Steelers on opposite ends of history.
The Steelers set a franchise record for points allowed, one-upping the 54 points the 1941 Steelers gave up to the Green Bay Packers.
It was the seventh time in team history the Steelers gave up 50 points or more but just the first since 1991, when Buffalo hung 52 on them.
It was the sixth time the Patriots scored at least 50 points in a game started by Brady, who put up his 432 yards on 23-of-33 passing with four TDs. It was the 15th time in his career that he’s thrown four touchdowns and no picks in a game, carving up a Steelers team that came in with the second-best pass defense in the league.
“We didn’t do the things that you have to do to win football games,” Clark said. “From the first snap to the last, we were beat by a much better team. By a team who executed better, who played more physical. When you allow a team to do all those things better than you do, you give up 50-something points, and that’s what we did today. It’s embarrassing for ourselves but more so the organization. This isn’t not an organization that does that, that gives up points like that. But what can you say, it’s on film now.”
With eight penalties for 96 yards, the Steelers didn’t do themselves any favors.
The secondary was the biggest culprit.
Pittsburgh had only been flagged for pass interference twice in the first eight weeks of the season. They were called for three of them Sunday — two on the same second-quarter drive.
With a shrug and a smirk, Clark said, “We played the Patriots man. Stuff like that happens.”
Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas, and William Gay racked up 55 yards worth of pass interference penalties between them.
“They were good throws,” Clark said. “Guys had chances to catch the ball. We had chances to make plays on it. Sometimes that happens. It’s split-second decisions you have to make both mentally and physically and they make the calls.”
To coach Mike Tomlin, the flags told more about the Steelers than who they were facing.
“It’s just indicative of how we performed tonight,” Tomlin said.
Clark put the blame on his shoulders.
“I’m the hub of communication,” Clark said. “I need to make sure everybody’s on the same page. So I put that on me. When you’re the leader of the secondary, when it’s your job to make sure everyone is assignment-sound, you have to do that, especially against a guy like Tom Brady, and he had it working today.”
The loss left the Steelers with bleak hopes of returning to the playoffs, sitting at 2-6.
“We’re going to comb through this with a fine-toothed comb as we should and those people that are lacking effort won’t be playing,” Tomlin said. “It’s that simple.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.