PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers no longer have a Tom Brady problem. And that may be a problem for the rest of the NFL.
Old, slow and over? Not quite yet.
Ben Roethlisberger picked apart the NFL’s worst defense and the Steelers rattled the nearly unflappable Brady in a 25-17 victory on Sunday, putting an end to the two-time MVP’s decade of dominance over the defending AFC champions.
Brady came in 6-1 all-time against the Steelers, putting up eye-popping numbers in the process. He never got the chance on a chilly day at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh (6-2) controlled the ball for nearly 39 minutes and never let Brady get into a sustained rhythm.
“It’s been all Tom Brady versus the Pittsburgh Steelers and looking back on the past, how he’s owned the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I think everybody forgot about our offense a little bit and the things they’ve been doing out there,” Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “I think they took that a little personal.”
Playing efficiently and working almost exclusively on short, safe, underneath routes, Roethlisberger completed 36 of 50 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns as the Steelers won their fourth straight following a 2-2 start.
“We can be as good as we want to be,” Roethlisberger said. “When we don’t kill ourselves and stop ourselves, we can be pretty dangerous.”
Brady passed for two touchdowns but threw for a season-low 198 yards. His attempt to lead the Patriots to an unlikely comeback ended when Pittsburgh’s Brett Keisel sacked him, forcing a fumble that Troy Polamalu slapped through the end zone with 8 seconds left to provide the final margin.
“We all have to individually look in the mirror and figure out what we need to get better at,” Brady said.
There was no sense of panic among the Patriots, who fell into a tie with Buffalo atop the AFC East. Yet the Steelers did something no team has been able to do this year: keep Brady under wraps.
Pittsburgh sacked him three times, held wide receiver Wes Welker — on pace for an NFL record for yards receiving in a season — to 39 yards on six receptions while limiting the Patriots to their fewest points since a 34-14 loss to Cleveland last year.
The Patriots punted four times, missed a field goal in the third quarter that would have drawn them within a touchdown and failed to recover an onside kick with just over 2 minutes remaining.
Not the kind of brisk execution that’s been the hallmark of Brady and coach Bill Belichick’s highly successful tenure.
“It just wasn’t a really good day for us in any phase of the game, in any area,” Belichick said. “We just didn’t do a good enough job. That’s really all there is to say.”
Brady and Belichick remain tied with Don Shula and Dan Marino for most wins by a coach/quarterback tandem. Win No. 117 will have to wait at least a week after the Steelers emphatically awoke from an early-season slumber that included one-sided losses to Baltimore and Houston.
Pittsburgh didn’t panic after the slow start. And while the Steelers weren’t ready to declare they’re back, there was a definite sense of vindication on a day that felt more like January than late October, and not just because of the chilly weather.
“It’s a huge step,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “The New England Patriots have Belichick and Brady. This is a team that contends in the AFC every year and goes to the championship or the Super Bowl. So having this win, in our house, is huge and something to build on.”
On both sides of the ball.
Roethlisberger has built a career and won two Super Bowls by chucking it deep with abandon. On Sunday he didn’t complete a pass over 26 yards. He 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.
“It’s very frustrating,” New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “You talk about getting a team in second-and-longs and third-and-longs and taking advantage of those situations. We had them in those situations; we just didn’t take advantage of them.”
Despite being dominated for long stretches in the first half, the Patriots trailed just 17-10 at the break. Yet the magic Brady has been able to muster repeatedly against the Steelers throughout his career never appeared. On the same field where he won two AFC championships, Brady never really got comfortable.