The final fourth down was decisive against New England.
“That last play he was kind of fading off, you know he didn’t really have to,” outside linebacker T.J. Watt recalled of quarterback Tom Brady’s pass on fourth-and-15 from the Steelers’ 21-yard line with 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
“It just kind of shows how much we were around his feet, around his throwing motion all night long.”
Watt had beaten right tackle Marcus Cannon on the play but fell to the turf to Brady’s right.
Brady also had running back James White helping with pass protection, but still wound up leaning left and backward as he launched a pass down the middle of the field for wide receiver Julian Edelman.
Brady went to the ground without being touched as the pass ultimately fell incomplete.
“I just felt like we were in a groove all night long,” Watt continued. “I liked my match-up. A lot of guys liked their match-ups that they had and we were able to get to him and just affect his throwing.
“That stuff leads to errant throws, overthrows, tipped balls and everything. It’s not always going to show up in the stat books but it will definitely show up over the longevity of the game like it did this past Sunday.”
The Steelers only sacked Brady once in their long-awaited, 17-10 win over New England, but they were credited with seven quarterback hits.
One of those occurred on the Patriots’ second-to-last possession on a pass cornerback Joe Haden intercepted at the Steelers’ 4.
Brady threw off his back foot while retreating just before defensive end Stephon Tuitt knocked Brady to the ground.
“They had Tom feeling a little uncomfortable, kind of throwing a little off balance,” Haden maintained.
The next challenge for the Steelers’ pass rush will be to do the same to Saints quarterback Drew Brees this Sunday in New Orleans.
Brady was under siege at the end against the Steelers’ consistent four-man pressures.
Tuitt drew a holding penalty on second-and-5 from the Steelers’ 11 with 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Defensive end Cam Heyward registered QB hits on the next two snaps (incompletions to tight end Rob Gronkowski).
And on fourth down Brady succumbed to pressure that wasn’t actually there.
The Steelers will find out in New Orleans if such pressure is sustainable on the road.
Watt was among those who credited a crowd he called the “loudest I’ve heard” at Heinz Field for contributing to the defensive effort against the Patriots.
“You see how many false starts they had and the get-off we were allowed to get because of the fans,” Watt had said in the immediate aftermath.
This time, it will be up to the Steelers’ offensive line to contend with crowd noise.
The Saints’ offensive line will be able to operate in relative calm as it tries to protect Brees, the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards (74,111) and completions (6,559).
“They’ll be able to do some things where they have a hard count to use against us,” Heyward acknowledged. “We still have to get after the quarterback. We have to get him off his target. He’s a very prolific passer when he’s on his target and he’s able to throw.
“It has to be sustainable for us to be successful. Either we’re getting the sacks or the pressure and forcing bad passes. We have to be able to do it whether it’s at home or on the road because we’re playing good quarterbacks.”
The Steelers are tied for second in the NFL with 46 sacks.
But their ability to pressure can be every bit as impactful.
“It’s all clicking at the right time,” Watt said. “We just have to keep building momentum, keep growing and keep learning how each other rushes and keep going off of each other.”
The Steelers prepare for the Week 16 matchup against the New Orleans Saints