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They reigned with iron fist

Steelers' forecast called for pain

QB Ben Roethlisberger (left) celebrates with Hines Ward after the pair connected on an 11-yard touchdown. QB Ben Roethlisberger (left) celebrates with Hines Ward after the pair connected on an 11-yard touchdown. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / December 1, 2008
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FOXBOROUGH - The defense? Everyone knows by now about Pittsburgh's D and how it leads the NFL in rushing, passing, total defense, homeland defense, and just about every other defensive category known to man. OK, maybe that was a bit of an exaggeration, but maybe it wasn't such a far-fetched notion to the Patriots in yesterday's 33-10 loss at Gillette Stadium.

Give the Steelers a blade of grass, as coach Mike Tomlin often says, and they'll defend it.

But Pittsburgh's offense? Give them a blade of grass, and they'll trample it trying to make a first down or a touchdown.

And make no mistake. Yesterday was the kind of day that was made for trampling.

The Steelers rushed for 161 yards, passed for 172, and wound up with 333 yards total offense. They didn't seem to mind the foul weather.

"We kind of embrace the bad weather," Tomlin said after his defense forced five turnovers that sparked an unanswered 20-point scoring spree in the second half. "That's kind of our group. We've got a quarterback from Findlay, Ohio. That's how we play football."

That's how they roll in Foxborough, too. But the soggy and cold weather that prevailed all afternoon prompted Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who grew up accustomed to playing his high school and college football in harsh elements, to call yesterday's conditions, "One of the worst I've played in."

"The rain didn't stop and it was hard to see and you have to give a lot of credit to our guys, they fought through it," said Roethlisberger, who completed 17 of 33 passes to six receivers for 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"It wasn't always pretty," Roethlisberger said. "We felt like we left a lot of opportunities out there."

Jeff Reed's missed 40-yard field goal attempt was one of them. But the Steelers kicker atoned with field goals of 20 and 45 yards in the second half.

"I missed that 40-yarder and those aren't chip shots, but you gotta make them," Reed said. "I don't think I was the only miserable one out there. But there are times when you have to step up and show that you're capable of playing in those conditions. Do I like it? Not really. I'd rather it be sunny and 70 every day."

So, too, did Willie Parker. When he woke up yesterday morning, Parker wasn't thrilled in the least with the forecast. "I don't like weather like that, honestly," he said.

Working his way back from a left knee injury suffered in Week 3 at Philadelphia, Parker split time in the backfield with Mewelde Moore and combined with his running mate to make life miserable for the Patriots by gashing them for chunks of yardage that sustained Steeler scoring drives of 62, 63, and 79 yards.

"As a running back, knowing that you're going into the game [and] running the ball, that's the biggest thrill of your day," Parker said. "We just went in there and took the life out of them."

In the second half, that's precisely what Pittsburgh's defense did to the Patriots, leaving the Steelers offense to capitalize on their red zone opportunities. With an offense ranked 24th in rushing, 18th in passing, and 26th in total offense - it raised the question: Was Pittsburgh's defense its best offense?

"Yes and no," Reed said. "Our offense should be given a lot more credit than we're given.

"I'm not an offensive guru, but I watch them practice and I watch them play and they have just as much heart as our defense. Sometimes it may look like, 'Man, that's a defensive team,' because of the rankings. But we've got a great quarterback, great running backs, great offensive line, great receivers.

"So you can't ask for anything more than that."

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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