Best of the AFC: Pats or Pitt?
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not the 2011 AFC Champions. They are, however, the 2010 AFC Champions, and they played like it on Sunday. The New England Patriots found themselves outclassed in all three phases of the game this past Sunday and were lucky to escape Heinz Field alive after losing by the deceptively close score of 24-17. The Steel Curtain defense was back as the ageless Dick Lebeau finally found an antidote to his Tom Brady poison.
Brady is still one of the best, if not the best, quarterback in the league, but blitzing defenses get to him; 24 for 35 passing for 198 yards and two touchdowns is not Brady-like. Despite all the rule changes and celebrations, defense still wins championships, and it certainly carried the day in this clash of AFC titans. Ben “obligatory joke about his sketchy bar-room habits” Roethlisberger threw for 365 yards and a pair of scores against New England’s still lackluster defense, but linebacker Gary Guyton did manage to pick off Big Ben, which set up the only Pats TD of the first three quarters.
The men from the Steel City were more driven and physical from the outset. This is the type of game that the Steelers play, and they type that they win. If you let Pitt get physical with you, you better be able to match a toughness that no other team in the league consistently puts out there. The Pats used to be able to win these types of games, but not anymore—not with the spread offense of the 2007 to present era. There were really only two bright spots for the boys in blue this week.
Andre Carter and the front seven as a whole were able to generate pressure against Roethlisberger better than they have against anyone else. The defense totaled five sacks, which probably doubled their season total, and Big Ben had someone in his face most of the day. Only one issue there: Ben Roethlisberger likes to have someone in his face. He thrives off of scrambling around back there, extending the play; why can’t they generate pressure against someone like Ryan Fitzgerald or Mark Sanchez who might actually be affected?
The other bright spot was, of course, Rob Gronkowski, a.k.a. the only man who would give Bibi Jones the business and then deny it. He made seven catches for 94 yards and managed nearly half of the Pats total yards himself.
The Patriots must regroup and face a New York Giants team that is 5-2, including two improbable late comebacks and two head-scratching losses. The Giants are consistently inconsistent this season, but are playing the Patriots at home. The last time these two teams played with anything at stake was the game that never happened, Super Bowl *&%$#!@.
The Pats have a long way to go if they want to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl (much less win it) as many people predicted them to in the preseason. How they respond after a tough loss should give us some idea of whether this team will really contend this year or not.