Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots: A Rivalry of Pain and Misery

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Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots: A Rivalry of Pain and Misery
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

So, here's the situation. You're a 13-year-old kid that just got into following football after years of being tortured by a certain baseball team that has never rewarded your loyalty up until this point.

This particular football team has been your three hour get-a-way from life each Sunday afternoon and has gone 13-3, sewed up a division title and clinched the AFC's top seed in the playoffs. It was set in stone. They were coming off of a huge playoff victory over their bitter rival and were 10-point favorites to beat the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship and advance to Super Bowl XXXVI.

You wake up that Sunday morning, a beautiful morning I might add, and your first thought is that this football team will be going to the Super Bowl by nightfall.

Oh, how wrong you were. You were teased just like a lonely man going to a champagne room in a strip club. The 10-point favorites crumbled under the pressure. Blocked field goals, blown punt coverage, fumbled snaps, interceptions and Jerome Bettis' bum groin were all factors that led you to turn off the television with three minutes remaining and listen to the rest of the game on Westwood One. This is where you would hear one sentence that would resonate with you for the next few years: "Now you can celebrate!" Except that you weren't the one he was referring to.

Fast forward three years later. Your team is now 15-1 behind the magic of a rookie quarterback that hasn't lost a game in his NFL career, the league's second-ranked running attack and  the top defense. You just watched them escape the jaws of defeat against the New York Jets whose kicker missed two golden opportunities to win the game. The next morning, the city of said team was in a collective agreement that this team couldn't lose.

Then the Patriots came to town for that Sunday's AFC Championship. Only this time, your team was slapped in the face by being named 3-point underdogs at home. This comes after a severe beat down earlier that season on Halloween. A 34-20 win for your team that ended a 21-game winning streak for the Patriots.

As Yogi Berra once said, it was Deja Vu all over again when you awoke that Sunday. You were convinced that the horrors you watched on your television three years prior could not possibly occur again. You figured that your team would take that point spread, blow it up inside their heads, then come out and drag the Patriots through the turf like they did that October.

You were wrong. You were forced to have the very same nightmare you did in January of 2002 and you knew the game as over on the first drive when the Patriots dropped eight into coverage and Ben Roethlisberger forced a pass that ended up being intercepted.

Mix that with a few more memories of Rodney Harrison's pick-six, Bettis' fumble on fourth down and Plaxico Burress hot-potatoed touchdown catch and you found yourself thinking that it was all too familiar. You knew this couldn't be happening again, but it was.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Hot-Potatoe

I'm sure some of you have read something where I talk about how I remember my dad never being able to watch game seven of the 1992 National League Championship series. I'm not going to rehash the details for those of you that were of the age of accountability in order to truly witness what exactly transpired that night, but you get my point.

Somehow my dad knows when it's on and when ever I'm watching a replay of it he leaves the room. Well, call it genetics, or call it something that all of us sports fanatics suffer from. With the two football games I have mentioned, I too have trouble watching or reading anything that related to them. If anything comes on my television about either game, I can instantly recognize it. For the 2002 title game, it's how sunny and bright it was and for that painful night in 2005, it was that ugly shade of green the turf wore.

Sorry for the long intro, but I feel it adds the necessary tone for what I'm about to discuss from last night's comedy of errors put on by our beloved Steelers.

I too was convinced once again that it was finally time for this team to overtake Tom Brady and the Patriots that own us so. Unfortunately I knew what was coming right after the first possession of the game ended.

Here's what else went wrong.



Injuries

I don't feel that injuries are to blame for what happened at Heinz Field last night, but it sure did play a factor. No Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Brett Keisel or Aaron Smith. That meant that the entire left side of the offensive line was reserves and New England exploited it all night long.

No Smith and Keisel means that the Steelers were vulnerable to getting gashed on the ground, which by their standards they did. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 87 yards on 18 carries, the highest yard total allowed by the Steelers defense all season. And you can't tell me you didn't see it coming after the first run of the night went for 18, which was the longest run they had given up all season.

Don't forget that Hines Ward as forced to exit the game. He was hit by Patriots safety James Sanders with what appeared to me to be a helmet-to-helmet hit. In my eyes it's just football, but by the new NFL standards it should have been flagged. Since it wasn't James Harrison doing the hitting, I'm not surprised there wasn't a flag.



Jeff Reed

Mr. Reed took another step closer to not being a Steeler next season. He missed his seventh field goal attempt of the year from an impossible distance of 26 yards. His excuse this morning on the radio? The Heniz Field turf gave way, but he said he doesn't make excuses.

He went on to make more bonehead comments, which he has more of this year than field goal conversions, when he said that five percent of the fans that go to games only purchase a ticket so they can heckle him. You can read more quotes in this morning's edition of the Post-Gazette.

Also, according to Adam Schefter's Twitter, the Steelers are bringing in kickers tomorrow morning for tryouts. I wouldn't be worried because I think that changing kickers now just makes the problem worse than it already is. It's just a scare tactic to ensure Reed stops posing for pictures with cocktails while he wears a tiara on his head.



Defense

I don't even know where to start on this subject. So, I'll just pick my poison.

The Steelers once vaunted pass defense has now sunk to 26th in the NFL with an average of 252.2 yards a game. Many candidates can be at fault for this statistic and by many I mean Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Bryant McFadden and William Gay.

The man who is best at ripping our hearts out, Brady, did so once again by completing 30 of 43 passing attempts for 350 yards for three touchdowns. He had one rushing touchdown, but afterward he showed how unprofessional of a quarterback he is, at least while on the field, by spiking the ball in the face of Steelers fans in the stands.

But back to the issue at hand. Polamalu and Clark haven't made an impression on the field in about a month now. Too many Head and Shoulders commercials for Polamalu? I think so, but it's apparently alright with the rest of Steelers fans because he pays for peoples dinners around town.

As for Clark, I have a theory that how good Polamalu plays effects the way Clark plays alongside him. When Polamalu is all over the field, Clark can compliment him better than anyone in football. When Polamalu pulls a Houdini, this is what happens.

I've grown tired of William Gay making me look bad. He couldn't cover a sloth last year as a starting corner back, but had a fantastic start as a nickel back this year. The past few weeks he has been horrid in coverage and it was evident last night.

When you are a corner you are expected to be able to cover some of the fastest men in the world. Last night, Gay couldn't cover a tight end and was torched for three scores. Rob Gronkowski looked like Shannon Sharpe out there.

It almost seemed as if the Patriot offense knew what was coming, as it has always seemed. It's also something that Deshea Townsend elaborated on back in the Spygate days. Almost every completion Brady had featured a receiver that was open by an average of 10 yards, or that's how the nightmare appeared to my eyes.

Is this defense aging faster than we thought? Do the Patriots just know how to beat this 3-4 scheme? Here's what I think. Heads might need to roll by the off season. It's time to let Mike Tomlin put his stamp on this team and install the Tampa-2 scheme that gave out parents four Super Bowl Championships.


Pass Rush

It appeared to me that the Patriots were taking quite a few liberties in the game of grabbing the jersey, but that's still no excuse for the disappearance of James Harrison and Lamarr Woodley. There were no sacks from the Steelers defense and there wasn't much pressure at all on Brady as he had the time to order a few pizzas while he stood, yes stood, in the pocket.

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