It's hard to complain when quarterback Tom Brady completes 68.6 percent of his passes and doesn't throw an interception -- that's typically a recipe for success. But the blitz-happy Steelers prevented big plays down the field (Brady's long was 23 yards), while limiting the overall damage by the likes of Aaron Hernandez (2 receptions, 9 yards) and Wes Welker (6 catches, 39 yards). Taylor Price and Chad Ochocinco are both targeted once apiece on downfield chucks, but can't connect.
When the Patriots play the Steelers they love to throw the ball and they didn't stray from what's worked in the past. But the Patriots craved a little balance and never got that Sunday. New England finished with 12 carries for a mere 43 yards (3.6 yards per trot), led by Kevin Faulk (6 carries, 32 yards) in his first game action in 13 months. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (5 carries, 9 yards) was invisible.
There's no way to sugarcoat it. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 36-of-50 passes for 365 yards. Yes, he threw an interception (Gary Guyton's pick set up an offensive touchdown), but the Patriots simply couldn't stop the short passing game. The Steelers dinked and dunked their way down the field, leaning on tight end Heath Miller (7 catches, 85 yards) early and their young-gun receivers the rest of the way (Antonio Brown was targeted 15 times, catching 9 passes for 67 yards).
The Steelers quietly piled up 98 yards on 23 carries (4.3 yards per trot) with Rashard Mendenhall doing the bulk of the damage (13 carries, 70 yards). Pittsburgh had a knack for the timely run that helped the Steelers keep moving the chains. It showed in their domination of time of possession (39:22-20:38). The only solace for New England: No touchdowns via the ground.
Just an atrocious night for the special teams units. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski bangs a 42-yard field goal off the right upright trying to make it a one-score game late in the third quarter, then short-legs an onside kick attempt at a critical juncture, never giving the Patriots a chance to even recover the ball. What's more, Danny Woodhead debuted on kick returns and didn't distinguish himself (4 returns, 74 yards, 18.5 yards per return, with a long of 21).
Patriots coach Bill Belichick will endure the brunt of this one in large part for releasing cornerback Leigh Bodden just days before a game against a potent passing offense. That left Antwaun Molden as the nickel corner and he struggled mightily. Add in a questionable decision not to challenge Rob Gronkowski's potential touchdown catch in the final minutes, and some overall clock management struggles, and it wasn't one of the coaching staff's stronger efforts of the season.