PITTSBURGH — Brett Keisel’s short-term memory is a little hazy. Actually, his long-term memory’s not so great either, at least when it comes to the New England Patriots.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end isn’t quite sure how many times Tom Brady has beaten the defending AFC champions through the years.
Is it four? Five? All Keisel knows is, whatever the number is — six, actually — it’s too many. He also knows he’s not dwelling on it heading into Sunday’s showdown at Heinz Field.
“I really haven’t thought about what they’ve done in the past, honestly,” Keisel said.
The Steelers have won 129 games (including a pair of Super Bowls) since Brady took over as Patriots starting quarterback in 2001. Only one of those victories have come against the two-time MVP.
Does that mean New England is in the Steelers’ heads? Keisel has the ultimate respect for the Patriots, but he’s not ready to go there.
“If they feel good about themselves for beating us back in whenever, and it’s an advantage for them, so be it,” Keisel said.
The Patriots haven’t just beaten the Steelers through the years, however, they’ve dominated.
New England’s average margin of victory against Pittsburgh since 2001 is 12.3 points with only one game decided by less than seven points.
Impressive, to be sure.
Also, the Steelers point out, irrelevant.
“The amazing thing is none of that counts,” safety Ryan Clark said. “They clearly have no reason to be afraid of us, but neither do we.”
Maybe, though the Steelers (5-2) are well aware they’ve played second fiddle to the Patriots (5-1) over the last decade in which the two organizations combined to win half the Super Bowls and seven AFC titles.
“That’s how it always is,” linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “They’ve got a great organization, great coaches, great players. Last time I checked, we were pretty good too.”
Just not good enough to beat Brady.
The Steelers insist there’s no secret formula to beating Brady. Put pressure on him, disrupt his timing and try to put him on the ground.
“If I knew the reason why they’ve beaten us more than we’ve beaten them, we wouldn’t have that problem anymore,” nose tackle Casey Hampton said. “So, we’ve just got to go out there and do what we do.”
And just do it better than they’ve done it in the past even if Brady seems immune to whatever schemes the Steelers throw at him. If they blitz, he finds the hot receiver. If they drop back and give him time, he picks them apart.
Brady’s numbers against the Steelers seem like they’ve come out of a video game. He’s racked up 2,008 yards passing with 14 touchdowns against three interceptions vs. Pittsburgh, remarkable statistics against any team, mind-blowing considering the Steelers annually rank among the league’s top defenses.
This year is no different. The Steelers are third in the league in average yards against and first against pass.
Yet Brady is in a different league than the likes of Curtis Painter, Blaine Gabbert and Tarvaris Jackson, and the Steelers know it.
New England has beaten the Steelers in a variety of ways. Early in Brady’s career the Patriots relied on the defense and running game. Now coach Bill Belichick lets his quarterback throw it all over the field.
Whatever button the Patriots push works. That’s typically not the way it goes when teams face the Steelers.
“You see them one week and they do this, then the next week they do something completely different,” Clark said. “One week it’s five receivers and the next it’s two tight ends.”
And sometimes it’s both in the same game.
The Patriots slogged to a 10-3 halftime lead a year ago only to pull away for a 39-26 victory, with Brady throwing for 350 yards and three scores.
“We scored points and our defense played pretty good but it was like something that was missing, like we were trying but we just couldn’t get there,” Steelers receiver Mike Wallace said. “You always going to keep that in the back of your head that you have to beat this team because of what happened.”
If the Steelers need advice on how to turn things around, they need only look within their own locker room.
Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery spent seven seasons in New York before signing with Pittsburgh during training camp.
The Patriots whipped the Jets regularly early in Cotchery’s career before New York evened things out over the last three seasons. The Jets went 4-3 against New England from 2008-10, including an upset victory in last season’s divisional playoffs that served as an exclamation point in one of the AFC’s most heated rivalries.
How did the Jets go from patsies to Pats-beaters? Cotchery says it started with an attitude adjustment. Former Jets coach Eric Mangini — a longtime New England assistant — gave his players the belief they could hang with New England.
Rex Ryan, Mangini’s replacement, took it a step further by telling the team to ignore New England’s star power and just hit the delete button.
It’s a lesson Keisel is already following. Cotchery thinks it would be wise for the rest of his new teammates to follow suit.
“You just have to play ball, you don’t play history,” he said. “It’s not Steelers versus history. It’s Steelers vs. Patriots.”