September 25, 2011
The Week 3 NFL matchup on September 25, 2005 between the host Pittsburgh Steelers and visiting New England Patriots at Heinz Field promised to be a good one. The Steelers, under Head Coach Bill Cowher, were coming off a 15-1 season in ’04 and were 2-0 thus far in ’05, having won by a combined score of 61-14. The big addition to the team in 2004 had been rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger, the 6’5” and 241-pound first draft choice out of Miami of Ohio, who replaced Tommy Maddox as the starting quarterback in the third week and, although the offense had been simplified, had been nothing short of sensational. The club went 13-0 with “Big Ben” as the starting quarterback (he sat out the season finale), although defenses began to catch up to him as the year wore on. And while his regular season winning streak was now up to 15 games, Roethlisberger had suffered a defeat in the postseason – to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
New England, under Head Coach Bill Belichick, went on to win the Super Bowl for the second consecutive year following a 14-2 regular season. The Patriots had won three championships in four years, and among the key players in that period were QB Tom Brady (pictured above), the unknown backup who became a star in 2001, as well as DE Richard Seymour and linebackers Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel, and Tedy Bruschi (sidelined initially in ’05 due to a minor offseason stroke). Other players came and went, yet personnel changes more often than not worked out for the well-coached club that kept on winning.
There were 64,868 fans in attendance on a 70-degree day in Pittsburgh. Following a three-and-out possession by the Steelers to start the game, WR Tim Dwight’s 19-yard return of the resulting punt gave New England good field position at the Pittsburgh 46 yard line. The Patriots proceeded to score on their first drive, starting off with three straight carries for 14 yards by RB Corey Dillon and including two passes by Brady for 25 yards, and capped by Dillon’s four-yard touchdown run. However, on the first play of Pittsburgh’s next possession, Roethlisberger threw to WR Hines Ward for an 85-yard touchdown that made the score 7-7.
On their next series, the Steelers scored again on a 33-yard field goal by Jeff Reed to move ahead by three. That was the situation at the end of the opening period as the Patriots mounted a long drive that started at their 17 and stretched into the second quarter. However, on a third-down play at the Pittsburgh 16, Brady passed to RB Kevin Faulk, who fumbled; LB Larry Foote recovered for the Steelers and returned it 27 yards.
Pittsburgh turned the ball over two plays later when Roethlisberger threw to WR Antwaan Randle El, who then attempted to lateral to Ward, resulting in a fumble that New England safety Eugene Wilson recovered. The teams traded punts at that point, and Reed missed a 52-yard field goal attempt for the Steelers with 2:37 left in the half.
Inside of two minutes, the Patriots again looked poised to score as Brady completed five passes, including one to Faulk for a 23-yard gain to the Pittsburgh three. However, an interception by safety Chris Hope on a tipped pass ended the threat and the score remained 10-7 in favor of the Steelers at halftime.
The Patriots made it to the Pittsburgh 35 in the first possession of the second half, but Adam Vinatieri’s 53-yard field goal attempt was unsuccessful. The Steelers went three-and-out and punted, but then got a break when Faulk again fumbled and DE Travis Kirschke recovered for Pittsburgh at the New England 28. Six plays later, Reed kicked a 24-yard field goal that extended the Steelers lead to 13-7. Near the end of the third quarter, and following a 28-yard punt return by Dwight, Vinatieri kicked a 48-yard field goal to make it a three-point game heading into the final period.
Early in the fourth quarter the Patriots caught fire as Brady completed five straight passes and Dillon ran around right end for a seven-yard touchdown that put New England in the lead at 17-13. Following a Pittsburgh punt, Brady again passed the Patriots down the field as he hit on all five of his throws and Vinatieri added another three points with a 35-yard field goal.
With 3:10 remaining to play, and helped by a 44-yard kickoff return by CB Ricardo Colclough, it was Roethlisberger’s turn to move his team through the air. The Steelers went 51 yards in nine plays as “Big Ben” was successful on five passes and a pass interference call gained 23 yards to the New England four yard line. Roethlisberger completed a four-yard TD pass to Ward and, with the successful extra point, the game was tied at 20-20.
The clock was down to 1:21 as the Patriots took over at their 38 following a 34-yard kickoff return by CB Ellis Hobbs. Brady threw to Faulk for a 17-yard gain and then to FB Patrick Pass for another 14. After a running play gained nothing, Brady completed one last pass to WR David Givens for six yards down to the Pittsburgh 31, and with five seconds Vinatieri, at his best in clutch situations, booted a 43-yard field goal. New England came away with a 23-20 win.
The Patriots significantly outgained the Steelers (426 yards to 269) and had more first downs (24 to 14). However, New England turned the ball over three times, to one suffered by Pittsburgh, and was penalized 10 times, at a loss of 118 yards, to 5 times for 35 yards for the Steelers.
Still, it was a particularly impressive performance on the part of the Patriots defense because of injuries in the secondary that forced them to continually juggle personnel. CB Tyrone Poole missed the game entirely and CB Duane Starks and safety Rodney Harrison both missed at least part of the contest.
Tom Brady completed 31 of 41 passes, including his last 12 of the game, for 372 yards, with no TDs and the one interception. David Givens led the receivers with 9 catches for 130 yards. Kevin Faulk had 7 receptions for 71 yards to go along with his seven rushing attempts for 14 yards. Corey Dillon ran for 61 yards in 22 attempts, including two for touchdowns.
For Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger, a loser for the first time in the regular season as a starting quarterback, was successful on just 12 of 28 throws for 216 yards and two TDs with none intercepted. Hines Ward (pictured above) caught four of those passes for 110 yards and two scores. RB Willie Parker, who had run for over a hundred yards in each of the preceding two games, gained just 55 yards on 17 carries to pace the running attack.
“They showed us today why they're the champs,” Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said of the Patriots afterward.
New England lost two of its next three games, but went on to win the AFC East for the third straight year with a 10-6 record. However, there would be no return to the Super Bowl – after defeating Jacksonville handily in the Wild Card playoff, the Patriots lost to Denver in the Divisional round.
Instead, it was the Steelers going the distance, even though they finished second to Cincinnati in the AFC North (due to a tiebreaker) with an 11-5 tally. They won the Wild Card playoff over the Bengals, Divisional playoff against the Colts, and AFC Championship over the Broncos – all road games – before defeating Seattle in the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady led the NFL in passing yards (4110) and was third in TD passes (26) and sixth in passing (92.3 rating). He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the third time.
Ben Roethlisberger (pictured below) was limited to 12 games due to injury, but still led the league in yards per attempt (8.9), yards per completion (14.2), and percentage of TD passes (6.3, tied with Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer) and ranked third in passing (98.6) as he threw for 2385 yards with 17 touchdowns against 9 interceptions. He ended up becoming the youngest Super Bowl-winning starting quarterback at age 23.