January 23, 2005

AFC Championship

New England Patriots @ Pittsburgh Steelers, 6:30 PM 1/23/05 - Titanic showdown here. The forces are arrayed for battle. I'm pretty nervous, I must admit. I think we're going to see a very physical game, with some great clips for "Jacked Up." The Pats shot themselves in their collective foot when these teams met earlier in the season; after last week's defeat of the Colts, it's clear that the Pats are at the top of their game. Big Ben looked shaky last week, but as a whole the Steelers were good, and they pulled out the W. Both teams seem primed for this game, and it's gonna be a good 'un...here we go.

Coachwear - Cowher in a simple coat and cap; Belichick in his tried-and-true gray gym teacher sweatshirt and blue headband. Hardcore, businesslike - this is the way it should be.

  • Q1; 11:30 - Fantastic play by Eugene Wilson! Diving, he grabs the double-tipped ball for the INT off Big Ben's first pass attempt. The Pats steal the possession from the Steelers. They get an immediate 1st down on a great end-around run by Deion Branch, but can't make much more progress. 4th & 6...but where's the punting team? Vinatieri's coming on the field! AutomAdam boots a 48-yard field goal, tying the record for the longest at Heinz Field. Great to score first in this game. Huge kick there for the Pats.

  • Q1; 6:58 - Big defensive stop by the Pats. Cowher goes for it on 4th & 1, and the Pats wrap up the Bus right at the line of scrimmage. As a sidenote, Bettis fumbled and the Pats recovered. So far the defense is looking great; Bettis hasn't done much and the only real yardage has come from a Ben-Burress hookup for a 3rd down conversion.

  • Q1; 6:49 - On the first play of their possession, the Pats score on their longest TD reception of the season. Brady, who had enough time in the pocket to read Anna Karennina in the original Russion, launches a 60-yard bomb downfield to Deion Branch, who had a couple steps off of his defender and caught the ball on the run right into the end zone. Beautiful play. 10-0 New England. Big, early lead. Just how I like it. And Pittsburgh just went 3-and-out really quickly.

  • Q1; 3:32 - Steelers come back with some good defense. Faced with 3rd & 16, Brady fires to David Givens, who would have had the 1st down if he had held onto the ball, but a vicious hit causes the football to pop right out. Pass incomplete, and Josh Miller punts for 27 yards. Great.

  • Q1; 1:22 - The Steelers get on the board with a 43-yard FG by Jeff Reed. 10-3 NE. I'm very glad that the Pats were able to hold the Steelers to 3, given their excellent field position starting that possession. After an initial completion for a 1st down, the Steelers went 3-and-out and had to settle for the FG.

    Ground "attack?" - Nobody's doing much on the ground in this game so far. Both defenses are wrapping up the rush attack before it can get going.

  • Q2; 10:00 - Good job on the Pats' part forcing the Steelers to punt again. Hank Poteat puts the hit on to knock the ball loose!

  • Q2; 7:08 - Brady fires it downfield to Branch again for 46 yards on a play very similar to, if not the same as the previous 60-yard TD rec. Again Brady has all the time in the world to make the throw. And now David Givens catches a 9-yard TD reception! 17-3 NE.

  • Q2; 2:30 - 87-yard TD return on an INT by Rodney Harrison! He stepped in and picked off Big Ben's pass cleanly, then took it all the way to the house - helped along by Vrabel shoving Roethlisberger out of the way near the end zone. Huge, HUGE defensive play by Harrison. What a player...24-3 NE. This game is taking on a decidedly unanticipated character in the first half.

    Halftime - Well I am literally shocked at the score at the half. The key in the first half has been the turnovers by the Steelers. Those 2 INT's absolutely killed them. Both teams have done a good job stopping the run - the Pats have been loading the line to defend against Bettis/Staley and pretty much giving Ben room and time to pass. By taking away the rushing game - the Steelers' bread and butter - the Pats force them into relying upon Ben's less than stellar passing game. Some huge defensive and offensive plays by the Pats have really opened up this game at the half.

    In the 2nd half the Steelers will be forced to pass a lot, and I expect the Pats to rely more on running the ball, even if somewhat ineffectually. All they need to do is try to control the ball and not turn it over and they'll be able to hang onto the win. The Steelers aren't built to come from behind, but the Pats can't get complacent in the second half.

  • Q3; 10:54 - The Pats waste their possession starting off the 2nd half with a quick 3-and-out. Ben starts completing passes and next thing you know Bettis rumbles into the end zone for a TD. I don't like it. The Pats need to score on this next possession. 24-10 NE.

  • Q3; 7:40 - Christ. Givens makes a great catch, then gets hit. The ruling is that Givens fumbled, and the ball was recovered by PITT. Belichick is challenging, and on the replays it looks clear that Givens' knee hit before the defender stripped him of the ball. Hopefully they'll overturn this. And they do. And with the late-hit personal foul, NE has the ball on PITT's 25-yard line.

  • Q3; 7:27 - Corey Dillon picks a good time to break off a big run! In front of an overloaded right side, Dillon takes it 25 yards to the house. Huge. And that is a backbreaker of a series. The Pats should have been 3-and-out except for a holding penalty, and then the pass and added penalty, and now Dillon runs it in to make it 31-10 NE.

    Ipswich I.P.A. - Pretty good. IPA's aren't my favorite type of beer in general, but this ain't bad. Especially cause it's free.

  • Q3; 2:35 - Big Ben comes up with a huge TD pass to Hines Ward. He floats it right down the left sideline over Bruschi. Big, big play. The Pats need to ratchet up the defense in the remaining quarter-plus in this game.

  • Q3; 1:00 - Huge call overturned by Cowher's challenge. Brady made a nice throw downfield to Givens, who appeared to catch it in a dive, but on the replay it appeared that the ball hit the ground. Good call, but a big overturn for New England.

  • Q4; 15:00 - The Steelers now have it out at around the 5-yard line. The Pats have given up a big run to Bettis as well as big rec's. This upcoming series is huge. There's still a quarter left to play. If the Steelers can score a TD here then it's a new ballgame. If the Pats can hold them to 3 then it'll be much more difficult to come back. And they do hold them: 31-20 NE.

  • Q4; 8:08 - Townsend has a nice pass defense in the end zone as Brady has to hurry the pass under pressure from the Steelers' blitz. Vinatieri comes in and boots it through the uprights, 34-20 NE.

  • Q4; 7:24 - We have another Cowher challenge of an official ruling - this one a Eugene Wilson interception. This time it stands. Not when PITT wanted to turn the ball over.

  • Q4; 2:00 - The Pats grind out the clock and move the chains gradually downfield. Brady hands off to Branch on an end around 23-yard TD run. First shovelful of dirt on the grave of the Steelers' Super Bowl hopes this year.

    Postgame - Final score: 41-27, Patriots. The Steelers scored another TD in the final minutes, but it was irrelevant. Wow. I'm quasi-shocked right now, to be honest. I thought the Pats would win, but I thought it would be a low-scoring, tough game decided on a field goal or something. In the 3rd quarter, things were getting a little dicey, as I thought the Steelers could come back and make a game of it. But the game was always just out of reach.

    Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. You cannot make them in the postseason against quality teams and expect to win.

Posted by MRhé at January 23, 2005 07:07 PM | TrackBack

My analysis of the first half:

Patriots have played fine. They're doing what they always do. Game isn't as 1 sided as the score though, two deep passes (one on a blown coverage by Samson Polamalu) and that second INT for a TD was good.. Also good stop on that fourth down (I don't know why they lined up Bettis 8 FUCKING YARDS off the line though...)

Steelers: HORRENDOUS play calling. They have been able to move the ball ok, but they're being COMPLETELY PREDICTABLE. Run, Run, Pass, bleh. The few times they threw on first down it was usually successful. And what the fuck is with third and 11, and receivers catching the ball three yards short? This is bush league.

So my thoughts in summary: both sides said they needed to just keep doing what they're doing to win. Pats have done that. Steelers have gone WAY too conservative on offensive play calling, and that plays right into the Pats defensive schemes. So I wonder what kind of an offense the Pats can expect the Steelers to run now, down 21? My guess is it will be pass heavy. I'm putting money down that the Pats go with the no-down-lineman look by the middle of the 3rd.

Posted by: footer at January 23, 2005 08:46 PM

Also to pat myself on the back:

I said on your old post how the Steelers needed to use Plaxico to open up the run. Haven't done that. I think he has one catch, and then there was that one other pass thrown to him at the end of the half with Asante Samuel on daecent coverage. They should have done more play action in the first half (i.e. actually throw the ball a few times) and that play would be more available. Now that they've been forced into pass-heavy mode, that play action won't be as effective.

Posted by: footer at January 23, 2005 08:48 PM

I agree - the Pats have been loading the line for run defense, and Ben had a couple successful completions to both Plax and Ward. I was surprised they weren't doing more.

The Steelers are gonna be forced to go pass-heavy now that they're in such a deep hole. Their success this season has been predicated on getting a lead and holding it by grinding down the other team; they aren't built to come from behind.

Bottom line is that turnovers absolutely kill you in the playoffs. And the Steelers have 3 already (the Bettis fumble was practically inconsequential, but the two INT's led to 10 NE pts).

Posted by: MRhé at January 23, 2005 08:57 PM

Well Pats win. They played better; no mistakes. And mrhe is right, they'll kill you in the playoffs.

I only wish the Steelers had played the way they did in the third quarter the whole game. When they actually balanced themselves, the Pats had huge problems stopping them, and the D was up to snuff. I think settling for the fieldgoal at the start of the 4th quarter (which should have been the end of the third quarter; Ward was ruled out of bounds, hence no TD, with 7 seconds left on the clock, and the Steelers started the 4th with 1st and goal, what the flip?) really took the wind out of their sails.

Take away those turnover pts and the steelers would have won. Goes to show mistake free football is the name of the game.

Posted by: footer at January 23, 2005 10:28 PM

Check me out, I hold court.

Posted by: Rigs at January 23, 2005 11:18 PM

That was supposed to have been a link:


Posted by: Rigs at January 23, 2005 11:19 PM

Just wanna say, SUPERBOWL BOUND!! Feels great!!


Posted by: mr. blackandwhite at January 23, 2005 11:45 PM

The Colts went way conservative against the Pats too, when I thought if they had just played normally, like they did in the first game of the season, they would have been more successful.

I think what is going on now is that teams are psyching themselves out against the Pats. There is a perception that the Pats defense doesn't give up big plays, thus no one tries to go big. It was kind of like the perception of couple of years back that no one could beat the Rams. Then the Pats (of all people) came along and roughed them up and won.

I think the Colts and Steelers are guilty of over-thinking their game plans. They should have just gone out there and been themselves. To thine own self be true, DungyCowherManning, etc.

Posted by: steele at January 24, 2005 10:16 PM

I disagree Mr Steele. If any team changes from week to week it's the Pats. The Colts lost because other than Manning, James, and Freeney, the team is crap. The only way the colts will compete with the Pats in the playoffs is if they bulk up on defense and special teams. The Patriots adapt their gameplan from week to week to fit their opponent. "Being themselves" is how they lost. The Colts tried to pussyfoot around the patriots and were demolished. The Steelers were too conservative and didn't use their wide receivers enough or at least try to early in the game. You need to play the style that it takes to win the game. And I think that contrary to your assertion, that's exactly what IND and PITT didn't do. That is why the Pats are going to Jacksonville and Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlesberger have 9am tee times at Pebble Beach.

Posted by: Jon at January 25, 2005 11:26 AM
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