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Making a comparison: Steelers-Patriots

The Patriots arrived at the NFL Combine as the NFL's champions and as the NFL's gold standard, but before departing for Indianapolis Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert made it clear he wasn't interested in such comparisons.

"We don't get to compare ourselves to anyone else but Baltimore in my opinion because (the Ravens) are the ones that eliminated us," Colbert said.

Those broaching the subject in Indy acknowledged New England's position atop the NFL's mountain but cautioned against trying to become the Patriots of 2015.

"I think everybody looks at the successful organizations in this league, and they have consistently been and set the bar in this league, been very successful," Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak observed. "But Denver has been very successful, too. I think you look at the situation, how do you get better? You've got to stay focused on yourself. I think if you're worried about everybody else or chasing one team, you're probably going to make some mistakes.

"We'll stay focused on trying to get better."

Added New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles: "I don't think it means anything to us right now. You can't beat the Patriots in February."

Even if you could, "Just beating the Patriots is not going to cut it if you lose to everybody else," Bowles added. "We've got to have a growth process of how to win while we're winning and trying to beat more than just the Patriots."

Such points are well taken.

But comparisons between the Patriots and the rest of the league are no less interesting as the NFL prepares for the annual re-boot that is the draft and free agency.

Comparisons between the Patriots and Steelers, for example:

Total Offense:
Patriots - No. 11 (18th rushing, ninth passing)
Steelers - No. 2 (16th rushing, second passing)

Total Defense:
Patriots - No. 13 (ninth rushing, 17th passing)
Steelers - No. 18 (sixth rushing, 27th passing)

Special Teams:
Patriots - No. 3
Steelers - No. 21
(according to special-teams rankings compiled annually in a 22-category survey by The Dallas Morning News)

Patriots - T-No. 2
Steelers - T-No. 16

A look back at the Steelers rookies this time last year at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Patriots - T-No. 11
Steelers - No. 23

Patriots - T-No. 1
Steelers - No. 10

Red-Zone Offense:
Patriots - No. 9
Steelers - No. 18

Red-Zone Defense:
Patriots - T-No. 6
Steelers - No. 18

Beyond the regular-season numbers, there were some situational characteristics that helped define the Patriots, as well.

Those might be worth examining, not in terms of comparison but as a way of understanding why New England was able to accomplish in 2014 what every team will be out to accomplish next season.

Among those:

Finishing strong - The Patriots ran their record since 2009 in the last four games of a regular season to 20-4 (.833).

Earning a first-round bye - New England has done that nine times since 2001, more than twice as many times as any other franchise.

We thought Lucas Oil Stadium needed more black & gold, so we added some.

Bouncing back - The Patriots are 37-4 after a loss since 2003.

Shutting it down - New England has won 74 straight home games in which it led at halftime (the all-time number at Gillette Stadium since 2002 in 66-0).

Working fast - The Patriots scored in the final two minutes of the first half in 10 of 16 regular-season games and led the NFL with 66 points in such situations.

Rising to the occasion - The Patriots didn't allow a second-half TD in their final six regular-season games and outscored opponents 67-12 in second halves in that span.

New England accomplished all of that on the way to winning the Super Bowl with a roster that, heading into the postseason, was comprised of 24 draftees, three waiver claims, three players acquired in trades, 14 veteran free agents and nine rookie/first-year free agents.

One of those in the latter category was an undrafted rookie cornerback from West Alabama.

Perhaps the challenge for the rest of the NFL at present is to find next season's Malcolm Butler.

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