Ben Roethlisberger passed for 365 yards and two touchdowns and the Steelers finally solved their Brady problem with an emphatic 25-17 victory over New England.
Roethlisberger completed 36 of 50 passes and led the Steelers (6-2) on a series of clock-chewing drives, effectively keeping Brady and the NFL’s top-ranked offense off the field. Pittsburgh held the ball for more than 39 minutes and survived a late rally to win its fourth straight following a 2-2 start.
Brady passed for two touchdowns but threw for a season-low 198 yards and couldn’t get into any sort of rhythm while losing to the Steelers for just the second time in his career.
The Patriots (5-2) drew within six when Brady hit Aaron Hernandez for a 1-yard touchdown pass with 2:35 remaining, but a last-gasp drive ended when Brady was sacked and the ball rolled out of the end zone for a safety with eight seconds to play.
It may be October, but the game had a January feel, and it wasn’t just the chilly conditions.
The defending AFC champions pointed to the matchup as a litmus test after a sluggish — by the franchise’s lofty standards — start. Were they the “old, slow” bunch that looked overmatched in losses to Baltimore and Houston or were they simply taking their time getting started?
The answer, it appears, is the latter, even if the Steelers solved Brady using un-Steeler-like methods.
Rather than pound away with running back Rashard Mendenhall, Roethlisberger — who never met a deep ball he didn’t like to throw — did his best Brady imitation, moving the chains with a controlled passing attack that took yardage in small bits.
The Steelers didn’t complete a pass over 26 yards. They didn’t have to. Roethlisberger consistently found Antonio Brown (a career-high nine receptions), Heath Miller (a season-high seven grabs) and speedster Mike Wallace (seven catches) on short and intermediate routes.
The West Coast-style approach worked perfectly.
Pittsburgh’s five scoring drives lasted 11, 16, 10, 14 and 11 plays. The Steelers converted 10-of-16 third downs and Shaun Suisham kicked three field goals as Pittsburgh kept Brady on the sidelines for long stretches.
When he did get in the game, the Steelers were able to disrupt his timing just enough. Pittsburgh sacked the two-time MVP three times and kept Wes Welker in check. Welker, on pace to set a league record for receiving yards in a season, finished with six catches for 39 yards.
Brady fell to 6-2 against Pittsburgh as the NFL’s top offense was held to 213 yards, less than half of New England’s average of 474. The loss kept Brady and coach Bill Belichick tied with Miami’s Don Shula and Dan Marino for the winningest coach/quarterback combination in league history.
The duo is stuck on 116 for at least another week while the Steelers, an afterthought early in the season, appear to be peaking.
Pittsburgh capped an 11-play, 68-yard opening drive when Roethlisberger found running back Mewelde Moore for a 5-yard touchdown, a lead that grew to 10-0 on Suisham’s 32-yard field goal.
Facing their largest deficit of the season, the Patriots looked uncharacteristically out of sorts before a rare mistake by Roethlisberger allowed them to get back in the game.
Pittsburgh faced third-and-17 at its own 15 when Roethlisberger tried to hit Emmanuel Sanders down the seam. Instead he threw the ball directly to New England linebacker Gary Guyton, who returned it to the Pittsburgh 8. It took Brady all of two plays to get in the end zone, hitting Deion Branch for a 2-yard score.
Roethlisberger bounced back to complete 6-of-7 passes on Pittsburgh’s next drive, capping it with a 7-yard scoring pass to Brown, part of a half in which he put it up 32 times.
Still, the lead was only a touchdown at the break after New England’s Stephen Gostkowski hit a 46-yard field goal.
Yet the momentum-swinging plays that have made Brady a nemesis for one of the league’s most successful franchises never happened.
Gostkowski missed a third-quarter field goal that would have pulled New England within a touchdown and Pittsburgh responded with another lengthy drive that ended with Suisham’s third field goal to put them up 23-10.