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Old 12-01-2008, 05:23 AM   #1
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Default Defense reigns as Steelers crush Patriots, 33-10

Defense reigns as Steelers crush Patriots, 33-10
Monday, December 01, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England's days of NFL domination ended a while back, either in the past Super Bowl or, for sure, when the Patriots lost Tom Brady in the season opener.

Yesterday, their reign over the Steelers also came to a brutal, wet, cold and dank end. It's as if the Steelers took out a decade of frustration on the Patriots, crushing them 33-10 in a steady, hard, wintry New England rain.

For the first time in 11 years, the Steelers won here and for only the second time in their past eight games.

"It's a big monkey off our backs," said Steelers receiver Hines Ward, in his 11th season. "It seems like the Patriots have just been whipping our tails since I've been here."

They did until yesterday.

The Steelers' vicious defense turned extra mean on a Pittsburgh kind of afternoon. New England quarterback Matt Cassel was sacked five times, linebacker James Harrison forcing fumbles on two of them (for his 13th and 14th sacks after he hyperextended his back in the first half), and intercepted him twice. And safety Ryan Clark hit Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker so hard that up in Boston they may have thought the British were coming again.

"We haven't won here in years," said second-year linebacker LaMarr Woodley, a 13-year-old in Michigan the previous time the Steelers won at New England, 1997. "To come out here and get a win like this feels great."

Not only did they beat New England, the Steelers welcomed back their running game, and Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes in a contest for the first time since he had two at Cincinnati Oct. 19. Willie Parker (16 attempts for 87 yards) started at halfback and combined with Mewelde Moore (12 attempts for 67) to help the Steelers to 161 yards rushing, their highest total since the second game of the season.

The victory also boosted the Steelers to 9-3 and kept them a game ahead of Baltimore in the AFC North while the Patriots' playoff chances took a blow. They are now 7-5.

"I don't know about psychological," Parker said. "It's just great to come out and beat them at their place and beat them the way we did."

Roethlisberger completed 17 of 33 passes in the rain for 179 yards with one interception. He was sacked just once on a corner blitz and threw touchdown passes of 19 yards to Santonio Holmes and 11 to Hines Ward. Jeff Reed made four of his five field-goal attempts.

Cassel was 19 of 39 passing for 169 yards and had no touchdown passes, although the Patriots rushed for 122 yards, the most this season against the Steelers.

The only time it looked like a typical Steelers-Patriots game came early when linebacker Mike Vrabel intercepted Roethlisberger's second pass of the game at the Steelers' 14. Three plays later, Sammy Morris ran over the left side from 2 yards out and the Patriots had a 7-0 lead.

"Vrabel, he's a heck of a player and he made a great play on it," Roethlisberger said. "Heath [Miller] was open behind him and he goes up and catches it and it was one of the frustrating things."

Roethlisberger bounced back, though. He led the Steelers on a 62-yard drive after Holmes returned a punt 29 yards. They had to settle for a Reed 20-yard field goal. Stephen Gostkowski put the Patriots on top, 10-3, with a 29-yard field goal with 6:48 left in the second quarter.

It was the Patriots' last hurrah.

The Steelers tied it with 1:55 left in the half on Roethlisberger's 19-yard scoring pass to Holmes, who beat cornerback Deltha O'Neal.

New England did stun the Steelers in the final minutes before the half and had a first down at the Steelers' 9.

But Cassel threw behind Randy Moss in the end zone, a wide-open Moss then dropped a pass in the end zone and cornerback Ike Taylor allowed a potential interception to slip through his hands in the end zone and Moss nearly caught it.

Gostkowski then came on and missed a 27-yard field-goal attempt wide to the right in the steady rain.

The Patriots moved the ball well to open the second half too, reaching a second-and-1 at the Steelers' 31. However, Casey Hampton pushed up the middle to sack Cassel and New England came up empty on the drive.

The Steelers responded with a drive that carried 79 yards on 14 plays but again did not finish in the end zone. They settled for a 25-yard field goal by Reed that put them ahead for good, 13-10.

Their next possession turned out more profitable.

New England's Matthew Slater muffed the ensuing kickoff -- it hit his chest, right hand, left hand before he kicked it with his knee. Anthony Madison dived and prevented Slater from recovering the ball, and Keyaron Fox recovered for the Steelers at the New England 8.

"There's no excuse," Slater said of the weather conditions. "You have to field the ball. Yeah, it's wet. Yeah, there's rain. But I have to do my job."

Two plays later, Roethlisberger did his when he hit Ward at the 1 and he powered his way into the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown reception and a 20-10 Steelers lead.

Lightning on this rainy day struck again for the Steelers five seconds later.

New England set up shop at its 29 after the kickoff and on first down, Harrison beat tackle Matt Light around the corner and stripped Cassel of the football for a sack and a fumble that was recovered by Woodley at the 26.

The Steelers again could not get into the end zone, but Reed made it 23-10 with his third field goal, this one from 20 yards.

Harrison had another strip-and-sack of Cassel late in the third quarter but Reed missed from 40 yards out, only his second missed field-goal attempt of the season.

"That's what we've come to expect from him because that's what he's capable of," Tomlin said of Harrison, who pulled within one sack of tying the team single-season record of 15. "He's got tremendous talent. He's got tremendous work ethic and he's a heck of a football player."

So is Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu, who came up with his sixth interception of the season, which led to another field goal, this one of 45 yards, and a 26-10 lead with 5:43 left to play.

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons then returned an interception 89 yards to the New England 1 and Gary Russell plunged in from there for the final score with 2:44 left.

"It hasn't been much of a rivalry because they've gotten after us," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "For it to be a rivalry, we've got to win some and that's what we set out to do when we came up here today."

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