PITTSBURGH, PA — New England found out on Sunday just how nice it really is to have two Pro Bowl quarterbacks on their roster.
After starter Tom Brady was sidelined with a leg injury following a hit by Steelers safety Lee Flowers, back-up Drew Bledsoe entered the game and threw three passes on his first drive, the last of which was an 11-yard touchdown pass to David Patten. Brady didn’t return, and Bledsoe remained in the game and helped lead the Patriots back to their first Superbowl since 1997 with a 24-17 victory over Pittsburgh for the AFC title.
Brady limped off the field after starting out 12-of-18 for 115-yards. He was sacked twice, but the injury occurred after Brady had released the ball on a 28-yard pass play to wide receiver Troy Brown. Flowers rolled up on Brady’s legs and wrenched him backwards in what could end up being looked at by the league and likely resulting in a hefty fine for Flowers.
Belichick said after the game that having a couple good quarterbacks certainly doesn’t hurt.
“Drew’s been working hard every week, and you know you need a couple good quarterbacks in this league,” said Belichick. “I think we’re fortunate that we have three guys and sooner or later you might need them, and I’m glad we had him today.”
“[Brady] could have gone back in and played. But I just felt like with the way things were going at that particular point in time we were better with a healthy Drew Bledsoe rather than not knowing exactly where Tom was with his injury.”
Brady’s status for the Superbowl remains up in the air, although if he is able to play Belichick will likely start him for the championship game.
The Steelers, who were 9 1/2-point favorites heading into Sunday’s game, were unable to get anything going offensively for most of the afternoon and relied heavily on Kordell Stewart to keep them in the football game. Despite the return of runningback Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh managed only 58-yards total rushing, with Bettis accounting for only 8 of them on 9 carries.
As for Stewart he finished 24-of-42 for 255-yards passing but threw three interceptions, two of which came in the fourth quarter and sealed the victory for the Patriots.
New England had lead by as much as 21-3, but the Steelers rallied, scoring 14-points in the third quarter following touchdown runs of 1yd by Jerome Bettis and an 11-yard run by Amos Zereoue which came in a span of under four minutes. But in the fourth quarter Bledsoe put together an 11-play 45-yard drive that gave the defense a much-needed rest and set up a 44-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri to cap the Patriots scoring.
The story of the game was New England’s defense which did a remarkable job in shutting down Pittsburgh’s offense. Coming into Sunday’s game the Steelers were known for their ability to run the football (1st in the NFL, averaging 173.4-yards per game) as well as their big play ability in the passing game.
Neither ever materialized.
Their running game was a non-factor, and of Stewart’s 24 completions the Steelers got only five pass plays of over 13-yards (16, 15, 24, 19, 15), three of which came in their third quarter scoring run. Their biggest play came on a 34-yard scamper by Stewart that helped set up Kris Brown’s 30-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
The other story of the game was another amazing performance by wide receiver Troy Brown who had a huge day. Brown finished with 8-catches for 121-yards, and in one way or another accounted for tall of New England’s three touchdowns. He returned a punt return 55-yards for a score, and also recovered a blocked field goal in which after returning it 11-yards, he lateraled to Antwan Harris who continued on 49-yards to the endzone for another touchdown. He also caught a 28-yard pass from Brady during the Patriots only offensive scoring drive which helped set up Patten’s touchdown pass from Bledsoe.
The Patriots first score of the game came with just under four minutes remaining in the first quarter on Brown’s 55-yard punt return. It came following a 64-yard punt out of bounds by Josh Miller that was called back because of an illegal procedure penalty that caused the Steelers to have to re-kick. Brown capitalized and New England took a 7-0 lead.
After Kris Brown’s field goal on Pittsburgh’s ensuing possession, New England later added a touchdown on Bledsoe’s touchdown strike to Patten following Brady’s injury. Bledsoe threw passes of 15 and 21-yards which helped set up the 11-yard pass to Patten in the endzone.
On Pittsburgh’s second possession of the third quarter the Steelers got a pass interference penalty on Otis Smith to help set up a 34-yard field goal attempt for Brown. But Brandon Mitchell blocked the field goal and Troy Brown scooped it up at the Patriots 40-yard line and took off. After he made it 11-yards down the field, he looked over and saw Antwan Harris right before he was about to get tackled. He lateraled, and Harris scampered 49-yards for the touchdown.
New England lead 21-3 and the crowd became very quiet.
But the Steelers wouldn’t go down quietly.
On their next possession Kordell Stewart threw passes of 11, 24, 19, and 9-yards to help set up a 1-yard touchdown run by runningback Jerome Bettis.
They forced a 3-and-out on New England’s next possession, and Troy Edwards returned the punt 28-yards to the Patriots 32-yard line. Five plays later the Steelers reached the endzone again on an 11-yard touchdown run by Amos Zereoue, and with the score now 21-17 they were suddenly back in the game.
But New England put together an 11-play 45-yard drive that took them to the Steelers 26-yard line where kicker Adam Vinatieri converted a 44-yard field goal attempt for New England’s final points of the game.
On Pittsburgh’s final two possessions of the game, Stewart fell apart. He was picked off twice, once by Tebucky Jones, and the final one came at the hands of Lawyer Milloy who showed frustration all week with how his team had received so little respect.
Now hopefully they’ve gained some.
As for Belichick, he’s turned a 5-11 team into a contender for a world championship, and he’s happy to have the opportunity to play the St. Louis Rams next weekend.
“We’re thrilled with the win, and we’re proud to represent the AFC in the Superbowl,” said Belichick.
As well he should be.