PITTSBURGH -- After New England's 23-20 win over the Steelers yesterday at Heinz Field, Richard Seymour trudged into the Patriots' locker room, a gash over his left eye staining the white bandage pasted to his forehead.
Seymour, like most of his teammates, was banged up after the win. But at least Seymour, unlike Rodney Harrison, could walk, and as long as he could put one leg in front of the other and keep them whirring, the defensive end didn't plan on failing.
''When the tough get going, we get tougher," Seymour said. ''It doesn't come from guys quitting."
When first-quarter injuries to Harrison and cornerback Duane Starks further riddled an already depleted secondary, the demands on Seymour and his defensive line compatriots became even greater. And despite facing a rush-happy offense that had pounded its earlier opponents, the New England defensive line didn't bend.
Instead, it shone.
''Playing behind those guys -- [Vince] Wilfork, Seymour, Ty Warren, and you bring in Jarvis [Green] as well -- they're impressive," said linebacker Monty Beisel, who often banged helmets against a lone blocker, usually fullback Dan Kreider, because his mates up front cleaned out the beef of the Pittsburgh offensive line. ''I've never played behind a group of four guys like that. It's fun to go back and play off those guys. They make it a lot easier for me than it should be."
Yesterday, the Patriots' primary focus was to shut down Pittsburgh's running game. The Steelers entered the match with the top-ranked running offense in the league (170.5 rushing yards per game). Willie Parker, using his speed to slash both inside and outside colossal bookends Marvel Smith (321 pounds) and Max Starks (337), had rushed for 272 yards, second best in the league.
''Their running game is their bread and butter," said Green. ''We did a good job against that today and put the ball in Ben [Roethlisberger's] hands. We made him have to win the game."
The Patriots threw different looks at the Steelers, kicking off the game with heavy doses of the 4-3 defense. They switched to the 3-4, mixing in stunts and shuffling their positions to confuse the Pittsburgh offensive line.
Although the Patriots gave up a fourth-quarter, game-tying drive, they did enough to prevent the high-powered Pittsburgh running game from getting kick-started.
''They did some things to disguise some things to get us where everybody wasn't on the same page," Smith said. ''We just didn't execute."
At times, Seymour lined up on the left, battling the double-team of Starks and guard Kendall Simmons. Then he switched to the right, only to smash into Smith and guard Alan Faneca.
It didn't matter. Seymour (a team-high four solo tackles) and crew regularly charged into the Pittsburgh backfield, limiting the Steelers to 79 yards on 23 attempts (3.4 yards per rush). Parker, who was gunning for his third straight 100-yard game, had 55 yards on 17 carries, the longest an 11-yarder.
As a result, the Steelers often faced long yardage after second downs, leading to a 23 percent (3 of 13) third-down conversion efficiency.
''They've been running the hell out of the ball the last couple weeks," said Beisel (five total tackles). ''They've been blowing people out. It was about stopping the run and making them go into third-and-long situations. We did a good job of getting third-and-long."
And when Roethlisberger dropped back to pass, Seymour and his mates were getting enough pressure that the Patriots didn't have to blitz very often, especially after Harrison, who sometimes pressures from his safety position, left the game. The battered secondary got help from the linebackers, who had to keep an eye on the scrambling Roethlisberger as well.
While Roethlisberger's mobility troubled the Patriots on occasion (17 rushing yards), they kept the second-year quarterback from busting significant runs. Seymour, who almost picked off a fourth-quarter pass on one of the few times he dropped back in coverage, brought down Roethlisberger twice. He dropped Roethlisberger for a 9-yard loss in the second quarter, although he pulled him down by the face mask and drew a 15-yard penalty. In the fourth quarter, with New England holding on to a 17-13 lead, Seymour, regularly shuffling his position to throw off the Pittsburgh offense, exploded through the line and tackled Roethlisberger for an 8-yard loss.
''If we line up in the same spot all the time, they always know where we're going to be," Seymour said. ''Any time we can move around, try to be disruptive, that makes the offensive line have to make checks and calls. We go in and out of things to keep them off balance and not knowing what we're going to do."
Seymour even played offense in the second quarter, clearing enough space for Kevin Faulk to gain 2 yards for a first down in the Pittsburgh red zone (Faulk fumbled on the following play).
But Seymour's presence, especially after Harrison's injury, was required on defense.
''We've got a lot of bumps and bruises," Seymour said. ''We're banged up. But this is what football's all about."