PITTSBURGH (AP) -- All this seemed to be too much, even for a New
England Patriots team that always wins big games. The injuries. A
second-half deficit. A Pittsburgh Steelers team determined to show
it is now the AFC's best team.
Not yet, they're not -- not after giving Tom Brady and Adam
Vinatieri a chance to beat them in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots, badly depleted by injuries, withstood the longest
scoring pass play against them in 15 years and two turnovers inside
the Pittsburgh 10 to rally in the fourth quarter behind Brady,
beating the Steelers 23-20 Sunday on Vinatieri's 43-yard field goal
with one second remaining.
"They showed us today why they're the champs," Steelers
linebacker Larry Foote said.
It's also why the Patriots have won three of the last four Super
New England, trailing for most of the game, led 20-13 late in
the fourth quarter when a pass interference call on Chad Scott on a
fourth-and-11 play set up Ben Roethlisberger's second scoring pass
to Hines Ward, a 4-yarder that tied it with 1:21 remaining.
But that was too much time for Brady, the NFL's best
late-in-the-game quarterback, and Vinatieri, its best clutch
"Our coaches always get us in situations where we can make
plays," said David Givens, who made nine catches for 130 yards.
"There always seems to be time for us to come back."
Brady, shouldering most of the offense, completed his last 12
passes and went 31-of-41 for 372 yards and Corey Dillon, all but
absent the week before in a 27-17 loss at Carolina, scored twice on
short runs to help end Pittsburgh's 16-game winning streak.
Dillon's 7-yard run early in the fourth made it 17-13 -- New
England's first lead since 7-0 on Dillon's 4-yard run on its first
The Patriots won in the same stadium where their own record
18-game regular season streak ended last season with a 34-20 loss
on Oct. 31. They came back 2½ months later and manhandled the
Steelers 41-27 in the AFC championship game, the second time in
four seasons their road to a Super Bowl title ran through Heinz
Just as in that game, the Patriots (2-1) all but took away
Pittsburgh's running game -- Willie Parker, coming off consecutive
100-yard games, was held to 55 yards -- and forced Roethlisberger to
try and beat them.
The Steelers also didn't help themselves when, early in the
second, Antwaan Randle El tried pitching the ball to Hines Ward as
he was about to be tackled on a 49-yard gain to the New England 11.
Randle El's errant toss was recovered by the Patriots.
"It was a bonehead play," Randle El said. "The team rule is,
if you're going to try that play, you'd better make it."
Roethlisberger, who hasn't lost to any other team in 18 NFL
starts, counting the postseason, wasn't much better than he was in
that AFC title game loss, when he threw three interceptions. Under
a heavy rush, he went 12-of-28 for 216 yards in his first loss in
16 regular-season starts, despite going against a badly depleted
Already without three injured cornerbacks, including starter
Tyrone Poole, the Patriots lost backup cornerback Duane Starks on
the Steelers' first play from scrimmage, though he returned later.
Then, after allowing an 85-yard Hines Ward TD reception, safety
Rodney Harrison and left tackle Matt Light went down with leg
Harrison was driven to the team bus on a cart, and Light was
seen with a cast on his right leg.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said nothing when asked about the
injuries, which forced the Patriots to patch together a secondary
on almost every series and to call plays that kept the pressure off
rookie offensive linemen Logan Mankins and Nick Kaczur. They gave
up two sacks early in the second half before tightening up.
"Because of all the changes they had to make, they had people
all over the place," Roethlisberger said. "Guys were going down,
they were moving people around. They had a guy who's normally a
linebacker (Mike Vrabel) lining up at safety and playing deep."
Despite Roethlisberger's misthrows and incompletions, the
Steelers (2-1) led 13-10 early in the fourth after New England
twice moved inside the Pittsburgh 10 without scoring.
Linebacker Clark Haggans stripped the ball from Kevin Faulk
after a 15-play drive to the Steelers' 8 early in the second
quarter, and Brady was intercepted on a tipped ball late in the
first half after New England had a first down at the 3.
"But we kept it close," Vrabel said. "It's important for us
that you keep it close, because we have a lot of confidence that if
we keep it close, we can win it in the end."
The Steelers' Jeff Reed, whose team-record streak of 21
consecutive field goals ended when he missed a 52-yarder, hit from
33 and 24 yards. But Vinatieri cut it to 13-10 late in the third
quarter with a 48-yarder, and made a 35-yarder in the fourth to
stretch it to 20-13.
"We felt we were in control. But they played 60 minutes and we
didn't. So now we've got to regroup and let's try to win 13
straight," Ward said.
Ward's TD catch was the longest against the Patriots since
an 86-yarder by Kansas City in 1990. ... Brady got his 50th career
victory in his 65th game. The only QB to win 50 in fewer games was
Oakland's Ken Stabler, who did it in 62 games. ... Pittsburgh's
11-game home winning streak also ended. ... Patriots coach Bill
Belichick is 4-1 against Pittsburgh with New England. ... Dillon
had 61 yards on 22 carries after having 99 yards in the first two
games. .. New England had four sacks after having two in two games.
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