FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Heinz Field can be an intimidating stadium with screaming fans waving yellow towels while watching one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Not to Tom Brady.
The New England Patriots quarterback usually quiets the crowd with outstanding performances that have resulted in his 4-1 career mark at the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
His next visit comes Sunday when the Patriots (5-1) return from a bye while the Steelers (5-2) go for their fourth straight win.
“The Steelers are tough to beat at home,” Brady said Wednesday. “The times that we beat them we’ve had to play very, very good games. I think that’s what I’m probably most proud of. Some of our greatest games that we’ve ever played have been against them.”
Like last year’s 39-26 win in which an animated Brady yelled at his teammates on the sideline. The Patriots led only 10-3 at halftime but made it 23-3 after three quarters.
Brady finished the game with 30 completions in 43 attempts for 350 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks.
Since the Steelers don’t make major changes in a defense that has dominated the NFL for years, might Brady have similar success on Sunday?
“It’ll be just like last year?” he said with a smile before shooting down that notion. “We didn’t score much in the first half. … I think the second half we played a little bit better, but it all comes down to execution.”
Brady is 6-1 overall against the Steelers, including playoffs, with 14 touchdown passes and three interceptions. He’s completed at least two-thirds of his passes in six of those games. At Pittsburgh, he’s averaged 22 completions in 31 passes for 263 yards with a total of seven touchdown passes and three interceptions in five games.
And he’s won his two playoff games against the Steelers, both at Pittsburgh in the AFC championship games after the 2001 and 2004 seasons.
What makes that especially impressive is that the Steelers have the NFL’s best home-field record over the last 40 years through 2010. This year they are first in the league in passing defense and third in overall defense.
So what’s Brady’s secret to beating them?
There is none.
“It’s just execution,” he said. “It’s guys getting open and us completing (passes). I don’t think there’s (any) special thing we do. There’s no magic dust we put in our cereal in the morning.”
Reluctant to emphasize Brady’s success against the Steelers, coach Bill Belichick acknowledged only that “We’ve had our moments against them.”
But, he continued, “they’ve had their moments against us. They’re a good football team. They give everybody problems.”
Brady’s only loss to the Steelers came on Oct. 31, 2004, ending the Patriots 18-game regular-season winning streak. Two of his three career interceptions against Pittsburgh came in that game.
The result: Pittsburgh 34, New England 20.
“That was a rough day,” Brady said. The crowd was “going crazy. The towels were waving. The fans were really into it. It’s a great stadium. It’s very loud. It’s a very imposing stadium. What makes it the most imposing is the way they play and their physical style.”
A strong start on Sunday can build momentum — and take the crowd out of the game.
“If we make good plays, the crowd’s not going to be a factor,” he said. “If we don’t, then you better believe they’re going to be there all day long.”
But the Patriots, coming off a bye, have had extra time to prepare.
In his last outing, Brady recorded his 32nd win in a game in which the Patriots trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter. They beat the Dallas Cowboys 20-16 on his 8-yard scoring pass to Aaron Hernandez with 22 seconds left.
Only one of those comebacks came against the Steelers, but it was impressive. Trailing 13-10 after three quarters on Sept. 25, 2005, the Patriots won 23-20 as Brady completed all 12 of his passes in the last 14:19.
Now, Brady and Belichick are in their 12th year together. Their next regular-season win will be their 117th as a tandem, breaking a tie with Don Shula and Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins for most by any coach-quarterback combination.
“It’s been very important for me to never have to really change offenses or learn new terminology,” Brady said. “We’ve just built on — over the years — things that I learned 12 years ago when I came here. So, there are certain plays in our offense that I’ve literally run thousands of times.
“You make mistakes over the course of those plays and you learn from them.”
Since 2002, the Steelers are 2-6 against the Patriots, including a 2008 victory when Matt Cassel filled in for an injured Brady. Against the rest of the league, Pittsburgh is 102-48-1 in that span.
“We realize the kind of challenge that it is,” Brady said. “We put a lot of time into the preparation and we put a lot of effort into understanding what we’re trying to accomplish.”