Well, that was a kick in the teeth. The final score doesn’t nearly indicate how close the game was in the first half – if not for the Stephen Gostkowski missed chip-shot field goal the Pats would’ve been ahead at the half. The third quarter was as ugly an offensive performance as you will see from an NFL team and the Steelers are too good to let the Pats get away with it. These next two games are absolute must wins, but the Jets loss to the Broncos last week has kept the Pats in the hunt for the division crown. Here are the answers to my pre-game questions:
- Can the Steelers stop the Matt Cassel attack? Yes, in a big way. Cassel did have two costly fumbles in the third quarter but it’s tough to fault him completely because the pocket was collapsing. The interception he threw early in the fourth should have been caught by Ben Watson (don’t get me started) and the weather definitely affected his play. Cassel was hurt by a few huge drops (Gaffney and Moss in the end zone) and didn’t rush the ball at all like he has in the past few games. He definitely didn’t have a very good outing overall but a lot of the credit has to be given to the Steelers defense which is fast and strong at nearly every position. They will be tough to stop in the playoffs.
- Can the defense stop anyone? For the most part the Pats defense did a terrible job stopping the Steelers outside the redzone but a fairly effective job inside the red zone. The Steelers scored 10 first half points despite being in the redzone on a regular basis. The opening drive gave Patriots fans some hope with the nice Vrabel interception, but the rest of the game belonged to Big Ben as he ended up throwing for 179 yards and two touchdowns. With Rosie Colvin back in the mix and Junior Seau now officially a Patriot again, veteran leadership may be on the way for the defense.
- Can the Patriots lose and still be a favorite to make the playoffs? It’s looking less likely that the Patriots can claim a wild card spot (unless they win out). Both the Colts and Ravens won on Sunday which Puts the Pats behind them, and in effect two games behind the Colts because of their loss to Indy earlier in the season. Thankfully the Jets got smoked by the Broncos so they remain just a game ahead. With games against the Seahawks and Raiders, the Patriots should come in to the week 16 showdown with the Cardinals at 9-5 and a win there or against Buffalo could vault them into the playoffs. The Jets have easy games against the 49ers and Seahawks left but also play Buffalo and Miami down the stretch and my guess is division record is going to be the final decider on who wins the AFC East.
This game was close in the first half but just snowballed in the third quarter. Matt Slater’s fumble on the kickoff was pathetic and the pocket collapsed twice on Cassel, causing fumbles. The Steelers defense is incredible and the elements sure didn’t help the Patriots offense. The secondary again showed no real signs of life, which may not be a big deal in the next two weeks. The Seahawks have the worst passing defense in the NFL so Cassel/Moss/Welker (if he plays) should have a field day through the air. It goes without saying that the next two weeks should be easy wins for the Patriots if they want to make the playoffs. After seeing them live, I now consider the Steelers as the favorite to win the AFC thanks to their defense and ability to convert big third downs.
Tags: Ben Roethlisberger, Jabar Gaffney, Junior Seau, Matt Cassel, Randy Moss, Roosevelt Colvin, Wes Welker