By: Bob George/
September 23, 2005

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PITTSBURGH -- Often times, losses help the Patriots more than they hurt them.

Where: Heinz Field
Pittsburgh, Pa.
When: Sunday 9/25/05
4:15 PM EDT
TV National:
TV Local:
DSS: DirecTV
Channel 713, 930
2005 Team
Patriots 1-1
Steelers 2-0
Latest Line: Steelers by 3
When you have been to the top of the mountain as often as these Patriots have been in recent times, it may not be possible to get up for every blessed game on your schedule. At times, even the best of teams will hit a mental wall, or a physical wall, or a little of both. Unless you can say you played for the 1972 Miami Dolphins, achieving sheer perfection in the NFL is a literal impossibility.

These Patriots, however, seem to be pretty good at the impossible. Some experts think this collection of Patriots constitute the best team in the history of the NFL because they have been able to string together three championships in four years during a time where league parity and the salary cap would seem to be a built-in anti-dynasty mechanism. So, when the normally efficient and almost impeccable Patriots cut a stinker like they did last weekend down in Andy Griffith country, it certainly makes you stand up and look on with great concern.

And now the Patriots have to travel to a tougher venue than last week, against another tough foe with revenge on their minds. Needing to right your ship on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers may be akin to treating sunburn with rubbing alcohol. Mindful of last Halloween, when the Patriots went into Heinz Field and got spanked, 34-20, Bill Belichick may be losing a bit of sleep this week.

But Bill Cowher might not be sleeping much this week either. The Patriots know the Steelers very well. The Patriots are 4-1 against this team in the last five games (counting the postseason). The last time Cowher saw the Patriots, they came to his house in January and dealt him still another home loss in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots went from a beaten team in October to an impervious machine in January, making the Steelers look inept and silly on their way to Jacksonville and another Vince.

So, this weekend pretty much comes down to which Patriot team will show up on Sunday. You know which Pittsburgh team will.

The Pittsburgh team which will show up will be frothing at the mouth to kick the tar out of the Patriots, exacting payback for January. Ben Roethlisberger will be much more careful this time around, even though he can say that he has beaten the Patriots once in his career. The Patriots now have Willie Parker to defense against, the new Steeler flavor of the month in the backfield. And rookie tight end Heath Miller has drawn rave reviews and could be a new kind of Steeler weapon the Patriots might not be totally prepared for.

But the Steelers are also the same thing. By that we mean that Belichick will pretty much know what is coming. Belichick can outcoach Cowher in his sleep. Assuming that the Patriots don't shoot themselves in the feet with dumb penalties and turnovers like they did against Carolina (and they also had seven penalties the week before against Oakland), if coaching is the decisive factor in this game, decided edge Patriots. If Belichick did indeed find the right formula to defeat Roethlisberger in January, chances are it will work again on Sunday (cross-reference: Manning, Peyton; Bledsoe, Drew; Pennington, Chad).

If nothing else, the Patriots can use motivation from last week to overcome any onslaught the Steelers can lay on them. Sometimes it takes stinkers to help the Patriots stand up to "A” games teams in general and good teams in particular can throw at them. For instance, the putrid exhibition loss at Cincinnati helped send the Patriots off to a 6-0 start. The Halloween loss at Pittsburgh begat another six-game win streak. And the shocking loss at Miami probably catapulted the Patriots to the championship.

Rather than emphasizing matchups and schemes for this one, assuming that the Patriots don't have any major matchup deficits against the Steelers, the emotion factor should in the end be the main factor in who wins this game. And given the projected anger of the Patriots in wanting to make good for last week, that should be enough to overcome the emotion of the home field for the Steelers, as well as any revenge the Pittsburghers might have on their minds.

What often times works well for the Patriots is to cast them as the underdog for games which they believe they should win. Take away last week and the Patriots are probably three-point favorites instead of three-point dogs. By casting the Patriots as the dogs for this weekend, they will turn that into more fire and fury, which will be badly needed when they venture into mega-hostile territory at the Confluence on Sunday.

If there is one on-field matchup the Patriots really need to win, it is their defensive line must effectively deal with the massive Steeler offensive line. If Parker is allowed to have another huge game like he has had in the previous two weeks (161 rushing yards versus Tennessee, 111 versus Houston), the Patriots will have a hard time winning the game. But if Parker gets the Jerome Bettis treatment, the Patriots should be okay.

Going further, if Roethlisberger is either forced to win the game on his own or facing stiff pressure from the defense, major edge Patriots. Roethlisberger showed in January that he is not ready to win games on his own, and was duped into three picks, one of which was run back all the way by Rodney Harrison. While Roethlisberger might not be susceptible to rookie mistakes like last year, it is not out of the question to predict at least one forced error by Big Ben.

Whatever happens, the Patriots will need to play with more intensity than they did last Sunday in Charlotte. Hopefully, this will be more like someone who knows to take aspirin (or similar) when they have a headache. The Patriots know what they have to do, and if past history is any indication, they should be able to go out and do it.

The Patriots have not played two straight bad games since the 2002 season. This was when the Patriots were exposed as slow and not able to stop the run. Some folks are privately wondering if the Patriots are no longer able to deal with blitzing defenses. Should this game turn out to be another stinker, then Belichick has a whole different set of problems to deal with.

But nobody wants to think of such things. They want to think of things like Roethlisberger's only career loss is to the Patriots. Things like Tom Brady will simply know exactly what to do at all times. Things like the Patriots coming in to Pittsburgh and setting everything Patriot back to normal.

And when all things are said and done, it could very well be said that, when the reviews on the 2005 season are written, the loss to Carolina was something that simply was a key ingredient rather than a bitter humiliation.