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Halftime analysis: Patriots 10, Steelers 3

11.14.10 at 10:06 pm ET
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PITTSBURGH ‘€” The Patriots and Steelers are done with two quarters of action from Heinz Field, and New England holds a 10-3 halftime lead. Here are a few quick notes:

The Patriots have been in control of this one pretty much from the jump in all three phases of the game, and appear determined to put the ugliness of last week’€™s defeat to the Browns in Cleveland behind them. Quarterback Tom Brady doesn’€™t appear to be hindered by a foot injury that had him limited in practice all week ‘€” he’€™s 17-for-25 for 180 yards and a touchdown through two quarters, while rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski has three catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. Wes Welker also has five catches for 63 yards. On the other side of the ball, Ben Roethlisberger is 7-for-19 for 79 yards while Rashard Mendenhall, after picking up just three yards in the first quarter, has 43 rushing yards at halftime.

The Patriots got on the board first when they were able to put together a striking eight-play, 70-yard drive that consumed 4:07 and was highlighted by a 17-yard run from BenJarvus Green-Ellis and culminated with a 19-yard pass from Brady to Gronkowski. The Patriots appear to have made an effort to get Gronkowski involved in things early ‘€” he accounted for 38 of the 70 yards on that drive ‘€” as they took a 7-0 lead with 9:48 left in the first quarter. New England built on that with its next scoring drive on its next possession, a 10-play, 46-yard series that ended with a 31-yard field goal from Shayne Graham to make it 10-0 with 1:03 left in the first quarter.

(For what it’€™s worth, the half wasn’€™t all super-awesome for Gronkowski ‘€” he picked up a pass interference penalty at the end of the first half that may have taken the Patriots out of field goal range.)

Defensively, the Patriots have shut down the Pittsburgh running game ‘€” Mendenhall had three yards on the ground in the first quarter, while the Steelers were unable to cross into New England territory until there were just under 14 minutes left in the first half. On Pittsburgh’€™s first 18 plays from scrimmage, they accounted for 18 total yards.

Inside linebacker Gary Guyton was dominant in the early going ‘€” Guyton, who turned 25 on Sunday, batted down a Roehlisberger pass in the early going, and added a 10-yard sack in the first quarter. The Patriots have been exploiting the fact that the Steelers’€™ two starting tackles are out. They have three sacks early on, with one going to Guyton, one to Tully Banta-Cain and one split between Shawn Crable and Mike Wright.

Pittsburgh’€™s only sustained offensive series of the first half came in large part because of Roethlisberger’€™s ability to keep a play alive once things have broken down. The quarterback picked up 12 yards on a keeper, and added an 18-yard pass to Heath Miller that came on what appeared to be a broken play. (There was also a massive 34-yard pickup from Mendenhall in between.) On that sequence, the Steelers got down to the New England four, but as has been the case through much of the season, Pittsburgh wasn’€™t able to punch it in for a touchdown. (The Steelers entered the game last in the AFC at touchdown conversions inside their opponents’€™ 20-yard line at just 41 percent.) The 10-play, 76-yard drive stalled and Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed booted a 22-yard field goal to make it 10-3 with 5:08 left in the half.

The trio of Graham, long snapper Matt Katula and punter/holder Zoltan Mesko ‘€” thrown together for the first time this week ‘€” have had a clean first half. They handled one extra point, three punts and one field goal, with Graham connecting on a 31-yarder with 1:07 left in the first quarter.

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Transcript from Tom Brady’s Q&A with Bob Costas from Sunday night

11.14.10 at 8:06 pm ET
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Here’s the transcript from the interview Bob Costas did with Tom Brady that aired before Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers game:

Costas: Only one of your six wins is against a team with a winning record. How good are the Patriots?
Brady: I didn’€™t know that. (Costas: Just the win over the Ravens). The Ravens are a good team. I think we’€™ve played some pretty good teams this year. I think what’€™s it’€™s shown this season is that anything happens on these Sundays. If you don’€™t bring your best, you’€™re going to get beat. We’€™re rolling going into Cleveland last weekend and didn’€™t play very well, and you lose.

Costas: The next two games: the Steelers on Sunday night and then back home against the Colts. There’€™s a gut check right there.
Brady: We’€™ve got a long history with both these teams. It’€™s going to be exciting this week in Pittsburgh. It gets no tougher than going into there. We’€™ve played some big games at Pittsburgh over the years. I think this one will be no different.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Pittsburgh’s James Harrison cleared to play

11.14.10 at 7:18 pm ET
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PITTSBURGH ‘€” Steelers linebacker James Harrison wasn’t among the announced inactives for Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers game, which means one of the most fearsome hitters in the NFL has been cleared to face New England. Pittsburgh said Saturday that Harrison was questionable with back spasms ‘€” the linebacker, who has plated in all eight games thus far, apparently felt something Saturday morning. Harrison leads the Steelers with seven sacks this season, four of which came in his last four games.

The rest of the Pittsburgh inactives are as follows: safety Will Allen, running back Jonathan Dwyer, offensive tackle Chris Scott, offensive guard Chris Kemoeatu, wide receiver Antonio Brown and defensive end Brett Keisel, while Charlie Batch is listed as the third quarterback.

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Pats-Steelers: James Harrison plays, Darius Butler sits

11.14.10 at 7:17 pm ET
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Cornerback Darius Butler is inactive for the first time this season as the Patriots take the field against the Steelers at Heinz Field. Other inactives include OL Mark LeVoir, OL Stephen Neal, OL Rich Ohrnberger, S Jarrad Page, WR Taylor Price, DL Myron Pryor and RB Fred Taylor.

For Steelers, star linebacker James Harrison will play after being listed as questionable on Saturday with back spasms. But defensive ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are both sidelined with injuries while Charlie Batch is the third quarterback. Safety Will Allen, RB Jonathan Dwyer, Chris Scott, LG Chris Kemoeatu and WR Antonio Brown.

Read More: Darius Butler, James Harrison, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers

Analysis of Patriots Inactives: Darius Butler is out while Pat Chung is active

11.14.10 at 7:06 pm ET
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PITTSBURGH ‘€” The following players were ruled inactive for Sunday’s game against the Steelers: running back Fred Taylor; offensive linemen Stephen Neal, Rich Ohrnberger and Mark LeVoir; defensive lineman Myron Pryor; wide receiver Taylor Price; safety Jarrad Page; and defensive back Darius Butler.

While the first seven were relatively easy to pinpoint, the inclusion of Butler on the inactive list is another sign that the second-year defensive back out of Connecticut continues to slide down the depth chart. Without Butler, the Patriots will have just three cornerbacks available for the game ‘€” Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and Jonathan Wilhite.

The list of who is not on the inactive list is also interesting: For the first time since Pat Chung injured his knee against the Chargers last month, it appears the safety out of Oregon is ready to go, which should provide a big boost to the New England secondary.

In addition, defensive lineman Mike Wright, who was dogged by a groin injury late in the week, is also available. Wide receiver Deion Branch, who has also had hamstring issues the last few weeks (but was not on the injury report as of Friday) also appears to be healthy enough to go. And the injury to Neal (and the fact that Ohrnberger and LeVoir aren’t active) figures to open the door for the versatile Quinn Ojinnaka to get some playing time along the offensive line.

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Why the Steelers are good year in, year out

11.14.10 at 6:49 pm ET
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There’s an adage in sports for truly great teams: They don’t rebuild, they just reload.

It’s a principle that requires consistency in ownership and management. The Patriots certainly have that in owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady.

The Steelers have had it for roughly 30 years longer. The Rooney family has built a football dynasty in Western Pennsylvania and it all started when the patriarch, Art Rooney Sr., hired Chuck Noll and they drafted Joe Greene with their first-round pick in 1969.

Some 41 years and six Super Bowl titles later, the Steelers are still the model that most in the NFL try to imitate.

The Super Bowl dynasty of the ’70s had no fewer than 10 players, one coach and one owner make it to Canton as Hall of Famers.

Four decades later, the late Art Rooney has been replaced by sons Dan and Art, Jr. but the belief in a strong, deep scouting department combined with an organizational philosophy on how to play the game remains in place to people like personnel chief Kevin Colbert has kept them on top.

“Well I think consistency is a big part of it,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “I think if I were looking at the Steelers and I was their personnel coordinator, I think I have a pretty good idea of the type of players they would want at each position for their system. And they’€™ve maintained that system over a significant period of time so you can look at players – whether they’€™re pro players or college players ‘€“ and say, ‘€˜Okay, this is where this guy would play in their defense or I don’€™t really see what his role would be on defense.’€™ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Art Rooney, Bill Belichick, Dan Rooney, Mike Tomlin

Setting the scene from Heinz Field

11.14.10 at 6:14 pm ET
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PITTSBURGH ‘€” Welcome to Heinz Field for the Sunday night game between the Patriots and the Steelers. New England will be looking to rebound from last week’s ugly loss against the Browns in Cleveland, while Pittsburgh, which has won three of its last four, will look to seize command of the AFC North and put some distance between themselves and Baltimore.

There’s a steady mist coming down, one that’s expected to continue for much of the evening. It’ll be interesting to see if it affects play on the field ‘€” some Patriots’ players are on the field right now testing their footing, a group that includes new kicker Shayne Graham.

A few things to remember ‘€” the Patriots have ruled running back Fred Taylor, offensive lineman Stephen Neal and defensive lineman Myron Pryor out for the game. With no Neal, expect the Patriots to go with Dan Connolly at right guard, and Ryan Wendell as the primary backup for the interior linemen. In his first game back last week, Logan Mankins saw extensive time, and that should be the case again this week.

In addition, several players are question marks for the Patriots, including defensive lineman Mike Wright and safety Pat Chung, both of whom are questionable to play this evening. Quarterback Tom Brady, who was limited this week in practice with a foot injury, is listed as probable.

The Steelers will also be affected by injury, as defensive end Aaron Smith is out with a triceps injury and defensive end Brett Keisel is doubtful. The Steelers announced Saturday morning that linebacker James Harrison is now questionable with back spasms.

We will have updates here throughout the evening, including halftime analysis, postgame quotes, notes and opinion. Check back for updates all night.

Read More: Heinz Field, Patriots, Steelers,
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