PITTSBURGH — You can beat a lot of quarterbacks by rushing the hell out of them and frying apart their nerves, and you deal with others with schemes and defensive trickery and stacks of fancy blueprints.
Last Sunday at Heinz Field, the Steelers, a squirrelly 1-6 lifetime vs. Tom Brady, found another successful way to do it — by locking the poor guy in the closet and hoping nobody hears the kicks and screams.
Keep-away, the big tilt in time of possession, gives you the story. After one quarter, the chart said Steelers 13:36, Brady's Patriots 1:24. Through three quarters, it was Steelers 30:39, Brady 14:21. At the very end, it was nearly 2-to-1 in minutes, and the Steelers won 25-17. The moral of it all was: Hey, this Brady's good, but he really ain't much without that fat leather ball stuck in his hands.
"We needed to control the ball and keep their offense off the field," a decompressed Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said afterward. "We tried to control it with the pass and we were able to get it going in that fashion. That was necessary for us to be good and be on schedule with the chains."
Added S Ryan Clark: "That's the way you have to play a top quarterback — you have to keep him off the field as much as possible. (New England) scoring a low amount of points is just as much the offense's job as the defense's. Time of possession was big for us."
The final clock showed Pittsburgh with 39:22 of ball time, and a collection of drives that went for 11, 16, 10, 14 and 11 plays apiece. They hit the Patriots with some key rushes by Rashard Mendenhall (13 carries, 70 yards), but the vast bulk of the damage came from Ben Roethlisberger, who threw 50 times and connected on 36.
"You would have thought that the game plan was just dink-and-dunk," Roethlisberger said, "but that's all they really gave us. They took away the deep ball. Well, that opens up stuff for us underneath (Antonio Brown had nine catches; Mike Wallace and Heath Miller seven each). When you think of time of possession and ball control with us, it's usually running. But we can also take the short pass and screens to the wide receiver and move it that way."
The Steelers had dug out an old Patriots formula that had embarrassed them in the past and reversed it — Roethlisberger gunning on nearly every down and connecting in clusters to his tight end and wideouts. And for vast stretches of the game, all Brady could do was watch as Big Ben stacked up numbers against the shakiest secondary in football.
"We never really played the game with the lead, on our terms," said Brady, who completed 24-of-35 passes for 198 yards and put together a semblance of a late rally. "You always want to be out there, and our defense is out there busting their butt to get them off the field. If (an opponent) goes on a long drive, we can't go out there and go three-and-out like we did ... there's just not much margin for error when you play a good team on the road."
You can praise the Steelers all you want for finally busting their New England jinx, and the Patriots moaned afterward about not executing, but in fairness it came down to a story of personnel. Pittsburgh is much stronger (at WR, RB) in matchups where the Pats are flimsier (at DB, LB). Roethlisberger was clicking, and the Pats couldn't come up with the timely stops.
And Brady? He's still terrific, but the man just can't do it all.