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Old 12-01-2008, 06:14 AM   #1
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Default Steelers' defense typically brilliant

Steelers' defense typically brilliant
By Mike Prisuta
Monday, December 1, 2008

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. The Steelers' defense was either outstanding or average on Sunday afternoon against the Patriots, depending on one's perspective.

"They were their usual selves," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of a unit that forced New England quarterback Matt Cassel into four turnovers, including two interceptions, in a 33-10 victory.

The victory allowed the Steelers (9-3) to maintain a one-game lead in the AFC North Division over Baltimore, which upped its record to 8-4 with a 34-3 win in Cincinnati. The Ravens host the Steelers on Dec. 14.

On Sunday, the Steelers took the field at Gillette Stadium leading the NFL in rushing, passing, total and scoring defense. Still, the manner in which they relentlessly hammered away at Cassel was impressive.

They sacked him five times, limited the Patriots to one third-down conversion in 13 attempts and held an offense that had put up over 1,000 total net yards in its past two games to a mere 267.

"We've been rolling," Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior said. "There hasn't been quite such a stretch as this since I've been here. We've been playing well pretty much every week."

No one was better on Sunday than outside linebacker James Harrison.

Included among his team-leading nine tackles were two sacks resulting in fumbles that were recovered by the Steelers.

The first of those came on the possession that followed a muffed kickoff and recovery by Steelers linebacker Keyaron Fox at the New England 8.

The Steelers had turned that gaffe into an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to wide receiver Hines Ward for a 20-10 lead with 5:04 left in the third quarter.

Harrison's initial sack-strip, on the first snap of the Patriots' subsequent possession, and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley's fumble recovery, set the table for a 20-yard Jeff Reed field goal and a 23-10 lead with 2:50 left in the third.

The next time New England got the ball, it took Harrison six plays to take it away again, and Farrior recovered at the Patriots' 47.

The Steelers failed to change the scoreboard following that third consecutive turnover as Reed missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt.

Still, they had made their point and altered the Steelers' record book.

Harrison's two sacks upped his season total to 14. Coupled with Woodley's 11.5, the two have become the most prolific sacks tandem in Steelers' history, surpassing the 24 registered by outside linebackers Kevin Greene (14) and Greg Lloyd in 1994 and equaled by outside linebackers Jason Gildon (13.5) and Joey Porter in 2000.

"I think he's up for (NFL) Defensive Player of the Year," Farrior said of Harrison. "He's playing that well. He's able to take over a game. He did a little of that today. He's been doing it all year."

The Steelers' five sacks against New England increased their season total to a league-leading 43.

Tomlin was also quick to credit the offense and special teams in a game he maintained generated "significant plays from all three phases."

A running game handled mostly by a Willie Parker-Mewelde Moore co-operative effort generated 161 yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. Roethlisberger rallied from an early interception and threw a pair of touchdown passes.

And the special teams contributed a 31-yard kickoff return from Gary Russell and a season-high 29-yard punt return by Santonio Holmes in addition to Fox's recovery of the kickoff muffed by New England wide receiver Mathew Slater.

"It doesn't really matter until you start winning these games in December and January and February," Farrior said of the Steelers' decisive victory. "You can be a good defense all year, but if you don't hold up in the end when it really counts, it really isn't going to matter."

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