Week 3 Game Recap: New England Patriots 23, Pittsburgh Steelers 20
What you need to know
The Patriotsí win was marred by injury. Rodney Harrison went down early in the game with an ugly looking knee injury, and was carted off the field. He did not return and itís feared the injury was an ACL tear. Matt Light had his right leg pinned on a pass play, and he too was carted off the field and didnít return. Gus Scott, who had replaced Harrison earlier in the game, went down late with a leg injury, but he was able to return. Duane Starks injured his thigh early in the game and missed most of the first quarter, but did return later. Corey Dillon left the game in the second quarter with a leg injury, but he would return in the third quarter. Kevin Faulk was limping badly after his final catch of the game late in the fourth quarter, but didnít appear to be in too much pain.
Tom Brady started slowly but finished strong, going 12 for 12 in the fourth quarter. His favorite target was David Givens, who exploited Ike Taylor for several long gains. Givens received more looks than Deion Branch largely because Taylor covered him most of the day. Deion Branch didnít disappoint either, catching six of the seven passes thrown at him for 78 yards. Kevin Faulk played an important role in the passing attack, replacing starter Corey Dillon on clear passing downs and catching balls underneath and in the flat. After losing Matt Light, the Patriots sparingly used multiple receiver sets and instead kept extra blockers to protect against the blitz.
Corey Dillon looked spry early in the game, dancing away from would be tacklers, in the backfield at times, and making the most of what small openings were available. He got dinged up in the second quarter and was replaced by Kevin Faulk, who didnít disappoint. Late in the game, Dillon appeared slower to hit the holes and struggled to gain yardage. Dillon did, however, punch in two scores near the goal line. The first came on the first drive of the game on a four yard plunge. The second touchdown was a seven yard run outside the right tackle that Dillon finished with a leaping dive over defenders into the end-zone.
Adam Vinatieri added to his legend with a 43 yard field goal that gave the Patriots the lead with only one second remaining.
Willie Parker came back to Earth after very good production in the opening two weeks, rushing for 55 yards on 17 carries. He was met in the backfield by defenders more than once and did his best to turn those plays into gains. Most of the time, however, there simply werenít many holes available. He didnít dance around looking for holes but instead plowed his way forward as yards were scarce. Late in the game, the Steelers inexplicably went away from the run even though the game was well within reach, only handing the ball to Parker one time in the fourth quarter. They paid the price, as Roethlisberger was harassed all day without the running threat to keep the defense honest. Verron Haynes replaced Willie Parker in obvious passing situations. Duce Staley saw his first action of the season, playing on around three downs, but didnít do much more than block.
Ben Roethlisberger was forced to carry the load for the first time this season. He hit Hines Ward on a short slant that Ward turned into an 85 yard touchdown on their first offensive play, but after that only found Ward three more times. Roethlisberger was able to elude the pass rush early in the game and kept a few plays alive with his feet, but late in the game his attempts to keep plays alive only resulted in sacks when throwing the ball away was a better option. He got hurt late in the second quarter on a hit by Don Davis, and the injury appeared to be to his left non-throwing shoulder. He would return to the game though, and his injury didnít appear to affect him much. Roethlisberger had a late touchdown pass to Ward to tie the game at 20 points each after a pass interference call kept the drive alive.
Antwaan Randle El had a terrible game and may have cost himself the starting receiver slot opposite Hines Ward. Early in the game, Randle El was not able to haul in two Roethlisberger passes in the end zone, although both passes were off the mark. Early in the second quarter he made one of the bonehead plays of the year. After scampering for 49 yards on a short pass from Roethlisberger, he attempted a lateral to Ward as defenders converged. Ward wasnít expecting it, and the fumble resulted in a turnover that almost certainly cost the Steelers points. On the very next drive, Randle El cut off his route right as Roethlisberger threw the pass, and was lucky that Eugene Wilson dropped an easy interception. In the third quarter, Randle El dropped a pass as he was wide open on third down that would have extended a drive that ended in a punt. After this play he was pulled in favor of Cedrick Wilson.
The difference in the game could have been an off sides penalty on a field goal try. Late in the second quarter, Jeff Reed lined up to attempt a 47 yard field goal. He made the attempt, but the play was negated because of an off sides penalty on Barrett Brooks. His subsequent 52 yard attempt sailed wide left.
What you ought to know
|QB Tom Brady, Pass: 31 - 41 - 372 - 0 TD / 1 INT|
Brady started slow but improved as the game wore on. In fact, Brady was perfect in the fourth quarter, completing all 12 of the passes he attempted. He showed impressive mobility within the pocket, eluding Pittsburghís blitz for most of the afternoon. Bradyís passes became an extension of the run as Corey Dillon struggled to find holes, passing on a number of dump plays to Kevin Faulk. David Givens was Bradyís favorite target all game, and he was open across the middle on a number of occasions. Brady had a pass intercepted deep in Steelersí territory late in the second quarter. His throw was tipped by Kimo von Oelhoffen and intercepted by Chris Hope. He showed impressive accuracy as usual, with a completion percentage of 75.6%.
|RB Corey Dillon, Rush: 22 - 61 - 2, Rec: 2 - 23 - 0 (2 targets)|
Dillon started off the day on a roll, eluding tacklers in the backfield on a couple pf plays to avoid losing yardage. He punched in for the first score of the day on a four yard goal line run. As the game wore on, however, he looked slower and was stuffed for little to no gain several times. He appeared hurt at one point, and was replaced by Kevin Faulk with about seven minutes remaining in the second quarter. He would return in the third quarter. He did manage a few good runs late in the game as the Patriots fought to take the lead, and he scored his second touchdown on a seven yard rush where he leapt into the end zone late in the fourth quarter to give the Patriots the lead. On the drive for the winning field goal, Dillon was replaced by Faulk and did not return to the game when Faulk was hobbled; Faulk instead gave way to Patrick Pass.
|RB Kevin Faulk, Rush: 7 - 13 - 0, Rec: 7 - 71 - 0 (7 targets)|
Faulk had an up and down game, making some great plays but also costing his team at times. He was the main back on passing downs, and he also replaced Corey Dillon when he was hobbled midway through the second quarter. Early in the second quarter with his team inside the ten yard line, Faulk caught a screen pass and appeared to have an easy touchdown when he was stripped of the ball. Later in the second quarter, Faulk was hit hard immediately after receiving a handoff and fumbled the ball. Both plays resulted in drive killing turnovers. The underneath route was available for Faulk for most of the day, and he used this to his advantage late in the game with the Patriots driving with the game tied. He caught a pass from Brady, made a nifty move on the linebacker and scampered out of bounds with a 17 yard gain. He injured his left leg on the play though and would not return.
|RB Patrick Pass, Rush: 1 - 5 - 0, Rec: 1 - 14 - 0 (1 targets)|
Pass came into the game in lieu of Corey Dillon after Kevin Faulkís injury, and caught a pass for 14 yards to get the Patriots in field goal range. Besides that play, he was used only to block.
Givens was Tom Bradyís favorite target on the day, mainly because he was matched up against Ike Taylor most of the afternoon. Taylor failed to cover Givens well, and Givens was wide open on a few occasions. Later in the game Troy Polamalu shaded over to Givensí side more often, but Givens still was able to do well, slipping a tackle at one point and sprinting for a 30 yard gain.
Branch was not targeted early in the game, but came on as the game progressed. He didnít see as many targets as counterpart David Givens because the Patriots tried to take advantage of Ike Taylor. He saw a number of passes over the middle, and had a long catch of 22 yards in the third quarter.
Brown was the third receiver in this game and had his usual solid effort. He was not in the game much, however, as the Patriots had to keep in extra blockers to help out their banged-up offensive line.
Johnson caught one pass, but was used primarily as a kickoff returner. He almost broke one return for a touchdown, tackled in Steelersí territory, but the play was called back because of penalty.
Dwight saw one pass his way early in the third quarter, and also saw action as a punt returner. One return was solely responsible for a Vinatieri 47 yard field goal after no yards were gained by the offense.
Watson caught one pass early in the game, then rarely saw action after that. Watsonís deficiencies as a blocker seemed to limit his playing time.
Graham couldnít catch either pass thrown at him, but it wasnít his fault. One pass was thrown behind him on an out route, and the other was overthrown on a deep slant.
Vinatieri was three for four on field goal attempts, missing a 53 yard attempt early in the third quarter and then later making a 48, 35, and 43 yard attempts. His final 43 yard attempt came with one second left, giving the Patriots the lead and virtually ending the game, adding to Vinatieriís late game legend. He also made both extra point attempts.
The Patriots stifled the Steelersí rushing attack, allowing only 79 yards and no scores. They met Willie Parker in the backfield, and while he squirmed free for a few yards every time, they limited his big play ability, as Parker had a long run of 11 yards on the day. They werenít tested late in the game, however, as the Steelers only attempted one rush with a running back in the fourth quarter. Ben Roethlisberger gained 17 yards on scrambles and quarterback draws, but wasnít able to break one. The Patriots rotated players in and out often, as no player had more than five tackles.
The Steelersí passing attack had a number of big plays, but their consistency was marred thanks to the Patriots. While the Patriots failed to intercept a pass, they did have the chance to intercept two (one dropped by Eugene Wilson, another by Richard Seymour), and they recorded four sacks. This was a unit marred by injury. Rodney Harrison left the game with an ugly looking knee injury early on, and did not return. Duane Starks left the game briefly with a thigh contusion, and Gus Scott, Harrisonís replacement, left briefly as well. Both would return. Scott led the team with five tackles and one assist.
Roethlisberger passed more often in this game than he usually does, and he battled most of the afternoon with mixed results. On the Steelersí first offensive play, he faked to Willie Parker and threw to Hines Ward as he cut inside. Ward slipped past two defenders and raced 85 yards for a touchdown, tying the game. Roethlisberger showed impressive elusiveness under pressure on a number of plays, evading potential sacks and scrambling for yardage or gaining time to throw. However, he relied on his feet too much and was caught for sacks when he should have thrown the ball away. On a play out of the shotgun on fourth down from the Patriots 40, Roethlisberger punted the ball for the first time in his career, resulting in a touchback. Late in the second quarter, Roethlisberger was hit from behind by Don Davis. He managed to get the ball away but fell on his left (non-throwing) shoulder. He left the field in pain but would return to the game and did not miss any playing time. As the game wore on, the Patriots were able to force him into making some errant passes and flushing him from the pocket. He did lead the team down the field though and scored the game tying TD with a pass to Ward.
Parker started the game and was underutilized in the loss. Pittsburgh only called 19 runs for their running backs, 17 of which went to Parker. His play belied his average numbers, as he eluded defenders in the backfield and turned losses into short gains. He was pulled on clear passing downs in favor of Verron Haynes. His blocking was solid, including a good blitz pickup on the Steelersí final score. He had runs of 11 and 10 yards where he came close to breaking long gainers before being tripped up. Parker didnít dance around looking for holes when there were none, instead powering into the defense for as many yards as possible.
Haynes saw action on third and longs as a pass receiver out of the backfield. He blocked well, and made one particularly nice play late in the game that kept the Steelersí hopes alive. On third and 16 from their own one yard line, Haynes caught a dump from Roethlisberger two yards downfield, and made two would be tacklers miss en route to an 18 yard gain.
Staley saw his first action of the season but didnít record any statistics. He played on around three downs and mainly was used to block.
Kreider was the target of one pass on the day. He saw action on running downs as a blocking fullback.
Ward was Ben Roethlisbergerís favorite receiver yet again. He scored the first points of the game for the Steelers on a sensational 85 yard touchdown on their first offensive play. He tied the game up with under two minutes to play with a four yard touchdown catch after a play fake to Willie Parker. Ward injured his right hamstring late in the game, but returned after tape was applied by the training staff.
Wilson came into the game late after Antwaan Randle El struggled. He caught a pass that could have been an interception by ripping the ball out of the defenderís grasp. He showed better effort and concentration than Randle El while the ball was in the air, but he lacked the separation speed of his counterpart and was better covered.
Randle El started the game and turned in a horrid performance, quite possibly costing his team a victory. In the first quarter he was targeted on two successive plays in the red zone. He was overthrown on the first and under thrown on the second, and neither incompletion was his fault. Early in the second quarter, Randle El came wide open near the sideline, catching a pass from Roethlisberger and scampering for 49 yards. However, as defenders converged on him, he attempted a lateral to Hines Ward. Ward was not ready for the lateral, had it bounce off his chest, and the Patriots recovered the fumble. On the very next drive, Roethlisberger threw a pass intended for Randle El that appeared to be intercepted by Eugene Wilson. The interception was Randle Elís fault, as he stopped off his route just as Roethlisberger threw the ball. Fortunately for the Steelers, Wilson dropped the ball and the play was reversed upon official review. All in all, a terrible outing for him.
Morgan saw action late in the game and caught his first pass as a Steeler, a nine yarder. He was also interfered with on a pass coming his way on fourth and 11 near the end zone with under two minutes remaining. The penalty gave the Steelers an important first down that led to a score one play later.
Miller made a spectacular play in the third quarter, catching a pass over the middle and knocking over two defenders that hit him simultaneously, gaining a first down in the process. He didnít see much playing time though, as the Steelers went with other players on running plays.
Reed missed a 52 yard field goal while making tries of 33 and 24 yards. His made a 47 yard attempt that was called back because of an off sides penalty. On the next play he missed the 52 yarder. He made both extra point attempts.
The Steelers were strong against the run, only allowing 80 yards on the day. Corey Dillon started strong and faded late, but still scored two touchdowns on goal line plays. Late in the second half, with the Patriots in the red zone, Kimo von Oelhoffen tipped a pass that was later intercepted by Chris Hope. The line backing unit saved a score early in the third quarter, as Clark Haggans forced the ball loose from Kevin Faulk and Larry Foote recovered.
This unit started the game strong, stifling Tom Brady and forcing the Patriots to punt early on. As the game dragged on, however, the Patriots found holes that they exploited. Ike Taylor led the team in tackles with 11, but he was exploited by the Patriots' offense over and over again. It seemed that whether Taylor was covering Deion Branch or David Givens (he was mainly locked on Givens), the Patriots would throw to his side of the field. He almost made up for it with a leaping one handed interception, but lost control of the ball as he hit the turf. Deshea Townsend was injured early in the game, but later returned. Troy Polamalu was largely stifled. He came on a few blitzes but was either blocked or ignored as the play progressed to the opposite side. Chris Hope intercepted a pass to end a New England scoring opportunity late in the first half.