By Teresa Varley
The Steelers scored 30 unanswered points, including 13 in the third quarter to take a lead over the Patriots that they wouldn't relinquish, en route to a 33-10 win at Gillette Stadium. The win, which had great play all around, improves the record to 9-3 and keeps them on top of the AFC North.
"It was just that - a team win," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "I think we had significant plays in all three phases. We had big returns, we got turnovers, the kicking game, the offense got going there and the defense, well, they were their usual selves. Needless to say, we're pleased with this. We'll keep it in perspective. We'll put it with the other ones. Our greater challenges, of course, lie ahead."
A dominating defense gave up only one touchdown when the Patriots were spotted great field position because of a turnover. James Harrison sacked Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel twice, forcing fumbles both times which the Steelers recovered. Troy Polamalu added an interception to stop a late drive by the Patriots and Lawrence Timmons did the same, returning his pick 89 yards to the one-yard line.
The running game was stellar in a torrential rain with Willie Parker and Mewelde Moore sharing the load, combining for 154 yards.
"That was the plan," said Tomlin of the running game. "We were going to use both guys. I think everybody knows what Willie is capable of and of course Mewelde continues to prove that he's a valuable asset to us. It was our plan to use both guys and it ended up working pretty well."
Ben Roethlisberger completed 17 of 33 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns, while spreading the ball around to six different receivers. Kicker Jeff Reed was his normally dependable self with three key field goals.
The Steelers dodged an early bullet when Carey Davis fumbled the opening kickoff but managed to recover at the 20-yard line. An unnecessary roughness call pushed the Steelers back to the 10-yard line, giving them the tough task of working deep in their own territory.
Parker looked strong on his first carry of the game, breaking around right tackle for a 13-yard gain, but was knocked for a two-yard loss on his next carry. On second-and-12 Roethlisberger looked for Hines Ward, but the only one near the pass was linebacker Mike Vrabel who intercepted it and returned it five yards to the 14-yard line.
With excellent field possession it didn't take the Patriots long to capitalize. After an incompletion, Matt Cassel hit Wes Welker for a 12-yard gain to the two. Sammy Morris then took it two yards for the touchdown to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead.
Moore got the nod for the ground game on the next series, but there wasn't anywhere for him to go. Moore had a three-yard gain on first down, but was stopped for no gain on second down. On third down Roethlisberger's threw incomplete to Heath Miller, forcing the quick punt.
The Patriots came out firing with Cassel hitting Randy Moss for a 27-yard gain. After that the defense hunkered down and stopped them, with Aaron Smith and James Farrior combining to sack Cassel for a seven-yard loss on third down.
Special teams has been an area the Steelers have been looking for a spark all season and they got one when Santonio Holmes returned the punt 29 yards to their own 36-yard line. Roethlisberger immediately looked for the big play, hitting Miller over the middle for 21 yards. Another big chunk of yardage came on third down with a 15-yard completion to Nate Washington. After an incompletion and a two-yard loss by Parker, Roethlisberger went back to Washington for 16 yards and a first down at the New England 11-yard line. Parker took it up the middle to the four and Roethlisberger scrambled for a five-yard gain for a third-and-one at the two-yard line. Gary Russell was stopped for no gain, bringing on Reed for a 20-yard field goal, to cut the lead to 7-3.
Morris carried the load on the ground for the Patriots with an eight and three-yard carry. Moss wasn't able to pull in a long pass from Cassel, but Kevin Faulk had a seven-yard reception. The defense tightened the reins, as Farrior and LaMarr Woodley stopped Faulk for a one-yard gain to force the punt.
The Steelers were unable to get anything going on their next two possessions, with three incomplete passes bringing the second drive to a quick halt.
It was the Patriots, though, who were able to get things going. Morris had a two-yard run and Faulk had an 11-yard reception. Moss added a 17-yard reception for a first down at the Steelers 30-yard line. Polamalu came close to picking off Cassel, but wasn't able to get his hands on the pass intended for David Thomas. On third-and-six Faulk was stopped just inches shy of the first down, but Morris got two yards on fourth down to keep the drive alive. The Patriots wouldn't go much further and Stephen Gostkowski was called upon to extend the lead to 10-3 when he hit on a 29-yard field goal.
The Steelers fought right back. Moore looked like he was going to be stopped for no gain on first down, but instead broke up the left sideline for a 10-yard gain. Moore continued to provide the punch for the offense with a five-yard reception and carries of three and 10 yards. On first down Ellis Hobbs blitzed and got to Roethlisberger, along with Richard Seymour, for a seven-yard loss on the sack. A neutral zone infraction got the Steelers some of the yardage back and another chunk came when Washington pulled in a 10-yard reception. On third-and-two Ward came up with a short reception to move the chains. Moore made a nice move for a four-yard reception to the Patriots 19-yard line. The Steelers tied the game 10-10 when a wide-open Holmes pulled in the 19-yard touchdown reception.
It looked like the Patriots were going to answer when they marched down the field, but Gostkowski's 27-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right to send the teams into halftime tied.
In the second half the tide started to turn in the Steelers favor. After the defense stopped the Patriots, the offense went to work. Moore rattled off a 20-yard run to the Steelers 34-yard line and Miller pulled in an 11-yard reception. Moore added a seven-yard carry and Holmes had a nine-yard grab. Moore came back with a 13-yard carry and Parker added six. Miller got the Steelers in the red zone with a nine-yard reception to the nine-yard line. The Steelers weren't able to get in the end zone, but Reed hit a 25-yard field goal to give them a 13-10 lead.
Matt Slater muffed the ensuing kickoff and Keyaron Fox recovered at the Patriots eight-yard line. Two plays later Roethlisberger hit Ward for an 11-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 20-10.
Things continued to roll in the Steelers favor when Cassel was sacked on the first play of the Patriots drive by James Harrison, who forced a fumble which Woodley recovered at the Patriots 26-yard line. Reed hit a 20-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 23-10 lead.
The defense continued to wreak havoc for Cassel and the Patriots. Harrison sacked Cassel for a seven-yard loss, stripping the ball loose on the play, and Farrior recovered at the Patriots 47-yard line.
This time, though, the Steelers couldn't convert when Reed's 40-yard field goal attempt went wide left.
For the first time in the second half the Patriots were able to get the offense going on their next drive. Faulk had a five-yard carry and Ben Watson added a 12-yard reception. Faulk added 13-yards to the Steelers 40-yard line. An incompletion to Moss followed by a three-yard loss on a Moss reception gave the Patriots a third-and-13. Cassel looked for Watson, but this time Polamalu came up with the interception at the 11-yard line and returned it 23 yards to the Steelers 34-yard line.
The Steelers kept it on the ground with Parker going up the middle for seven yards and exploding for a 31-yard carry. Parker added another seven yards and Matt Spaeth had a four-yard reception to the Patriots 27-yard line. Reed capped the drive with a 45-yard field goal for a 26-10 lead.
With a little life still left in them the Patriots went on another drive, but once again the defense took the air right out of their sails. Timmons intercepted Cassel and returned it 89 yards, coming up just one yard shy of the end zone at the one-yard line. Russell pounded it into the end zone to give the Steelers a 33-10 lead.