The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense’s claim to the NFL’s longest active takeaway streak has come to an end – maybe controversially tonight in Foxborough. Coming into the AFC Championship game, the Steelers defense had recorded a turnover in 12-straight games, dating all the way back to their matchup with none other than the New England Patriots.
Now while the questions remain on a fumble by Tom Brady on a quarterback sneak, we can only work with what we know and what we know is that the play was not ruled a fumble even after review. Another fact we know is that it is more likely that the Steelers’ turnover streak is over not due to a potentially missed call but due to a lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback.
What has gone hand in hand for the Steelers being able to record 22 turnovers in a 12-game span was absent tonight. The Steelers’ ability to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks was hindered for most of tonight’s game. It does not take many credentials to determine that opposing offenses become more mistake prone when pressure is being applied to the quarterback. Tomlin alluded to this in his post-game press conference.
“We didn’t play the type of ball we normally play” the Steelers coach said after a disappointing performance at rattling Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
It was not the type of ball that we have seen from the Steelers defense, in fact it really was not even close. After an early sack by nose tackle Javon Hargrave on the Patriots second possession, the Steelers failed to record another sack until Sean Davis notched one late in the fourth quarter, the game already out of reach by then. In company with those two sacks, the Steelers also only managed three quarterback hits on Brady. For comparison sake, the Houston Texans racked up eight quarterback hits last week against Brady.
It is little to no surprise that with enough time to say the alphabet forwards and backwards, Brady and the Patriots offense did not commit an offensive turnover. With a zone defense in Brady’s vision, the ability to get home and disrupt his timing and comfortability could have been the difference maker. Instead, Brady was able to wait with no fear that a target would eventually find the soft spot in the zone, and just like Brady hoped, his targets rather easily found spots in the Steelers’ zone.
With no fear in Brady’s eyes, the Steelers were faced with their own fears as a result of the consequences. The fears of Brady throwing a perfect game, leaving the Steelers defense without a shot at the Super Bowl or a takeaway became an all too familiar reality for the Keith Butler led crew.