FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Tom Brady had just finished passing for 432 yards and climbing the NFL's all-time ladder in various statistical categories, but Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley wanted to talk about run defense.
"We didn't do a good job of making them one-dimensional by stopping the run and forcing the pass and allowing us to get some pressure on the quarterback," Woodley said in response to the Patriots' 55-31 victory over the Steelers.
The 55 points constituted a franchise-record total against the Steelers.
Three New England pass-catchers topped 100 receiving yards (tight end Rob Gronkowski with 143, wide receiver Aaron Dobson with 130, and wide receiver Danny Amendola with 122).
But running back Stevan Ridley was likewise lethal, with 26 carries for 115 yards (4.4 yards per) and a pair of scores. New England rushed for 197 yards as a team (and averaged 5.6 yards on 35 attempts) to match the total posted by Oakland in a 21-18 victory over the Steelers on Oct. 27 in Oakland.
In each of their six losses this season the Steelers have allowed at least 100 yards on the ground (Tennessee 112, Cincinnati 127, Chicago 107, Minnesota 145, Oakland 197, and New England 197).
In their two victories the Steelers limited the Jets to 83 yards rushing and the Ravens to 82.
No wonder Woodley repeatedly referenced run defense even though he wasn't asked about it specifically during a postgame media scrum.
"It starts up front with all us guys," Woodley said. "We gotta do a better job of stopping the run up front to put our secondary in better position."
RETURN TO SENDER: If there was a turning point – granted, it's tough to identify anything as such when the opponent scores 55 points and gains 610 total net yards – it likely occurred with the Patriots leading, 27-24, and 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Steelers faced a fourth-and-10 from their 36-yard line and opted to punt. But before the snap they brought their gunners in to the formation to defend against an apparent attempt by the Patriots to block the punt.
Mat McBriar eventually got off a 41-yard punt down the middle of the field but it was returned 43 yards by New England wide receiver Julian Edelman to the Pittsburgh 34. Five plays later the Patriots were in the end zone again and it was a two-score game again at 34-24.
The Steelers would get no closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
"Without the gunners it's sort of depending on your punter to hit a better punt than he did, I guess," McBriar said. "I was trying to give them some hang time. When they're not out there you gotta make sure the guys can at least get down in the returner's face, and I didn't do that. I didn't feel a ton of pressure. It was just a really bad kick."
Coach Mike Tomlin called Edelman's return "a significant play. We had overcome some significant plays to that point in the game. We didn't," overcome that one.
NOW WHAT?: At 2-6 following the record-setting loss to the Patriots, the subject of how the Steelers can bounce back was bandied about in the visitor's locker room at Gillette Stadium.
Defensive end Brett Keisel: "Just gotta get up, get up and fight. We've all been in fights. We've all been knocked down. A lot of character is going to be on display this next week to see how we respond to getting beat like this. I think we'll respond accordingly. This is a disgusting taste, nobody likes it. The only thing you can do is dust yourself off and get back to work."
Tight end Heath Miller: "Each individual in the locker room, you can look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you're preparing to the best of your ability, if you're putting your full effort into it. I don't think it's our job to look at the collective approach; that's up to the coaches. As players we can evaluate ourselves and be honest with ourselves."
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders: "Tonight's game was embarrassing. We got our butts kicked, and that's obvious and that's not the Steelers way. A lot of guys' prides are hurting, including myself. You gotta go back in the lab. You gotta take constructive criticism and continue to get better."
Keisel again: "We just got our butts kicked. We did not play well. For a long time we've been tough because we've played great defense here. We need to get back to that."