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Tuesday November 29 2022
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In Pittsburgh-New England, the latter truly is big brother.

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Since 2001, the fury of Foxboro has dominated the Steelers on the gridiron, allowing just two wins from that time to present day.

“We just made one more play than they did.”

Tom Brady couldn’t have been any clearer with his words after Sunday’s 27-24 win over the Steelers at Heinz Field.

That game was just another cemented decree in a New England dictatorship of the steel city, in which Brady and his disciples seem to always have that "play" which almost always yields a winning fortune against Pittsburgh.

In the Belichick/Brady era, the Patriots have gone 11-2.  In 13 games against the Steelers, the authoritarian signal caller has hung 3,830 yards and a TD/INT ratio of 30/4.

No excuses, no “deflated” sarcasm necessary, and certainly nothing personal.  This is what it simply remains.  Pittsburgh cannot get out of that headlock that has been firmly in place for over a decade now.

“I don’t think it is a big brother, little brother thing,” said Eric Rowe, who made the deflection in the end zone interception on the final play Sunday.  “We just find ways to win against them.  They are a good football team, and they played us to the end, but we found a way to win.”

Eric was being gentle.  Too gentle.

You know the score, Pittsburgh.  Those rebels from Boston are, in fact, the Ralphie to your Randy.  You can run and tell mom, but she can’t fetch your three missing AFC championship rings from big bro.  She can’t help in putting Jesse James’s left hand firmly under the football to make it a catch.  She certainly won’t stop Rob Gronkowski from running freely down the field (Sean Davis couldn’t, either.)

In this foxtrot of artsy losing, Steelers fans have always acted aloof to the idea that there team found a way to lose the game, and always seem to focus on the idea of a corrupt, rigged NFL.  For Sunday, it was a nefarious plan hatched by Tony Corrente and his officiating crew to steal a win and assure New England a safe, tranquil home harbor for the postseason.  Perhaps, “surviving the ground” is just disguised rhetoric, a code phrase for assuring New England the call, no matter what. 

The point spread was -2.5 in favor of the Patriots.  Maybe Las Vegas had a hand in Jesse Jones’s unsure hands?

“We had opportunities to win the game,” a practical James explained.  “It wasn’t all over one play.  That’s football.”

After a huge defensive stand that yielded a Stephen Gostkowski with just four minutes left in the game, Pittsburgh was left with a five-point lead and the ball back.  One Le’Veon Bell 1-yard rush, a Ben Roethlisberger 5-yard scramble and a 3-yard pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster later, the Steelers were forced to punt with not even two minutes killed from the clock.

Simply put, you don’t top off a gas tank in a running car for the bandit if you don’t expect him to drive off.  The fully-fueled Brady-to-Gronkowski show—69 yards in three connections—marched down the field as if the Steelers’ secondary was a lifeless group of tackling dummies.  The two-point conversion from brady to Gronkowski looked like a practice run against a scout team. 

“He made it look easy out there,” said veteran New England defensive back Devin McCourty of Grownkowski.  “Having a guy like that out there for you, you know it’s never over.”

McCourty and friends had their own bit of trouble when Ben hooked up with Smith-Schuster on a 69-yard crossing route that, after a blown tackle, landed the receiver just 10-yards from pay dirt, after being chased down by Duane Harmon.

“I just knew I had to get him down,” said Harmon, who came up with the interception in the end zone to end the game just three plays later.  “Get him down is all I’m saying to myself.  We have a chance still.  Keep them out of the end zone.”

That’s exactly what New England did.  That’s exactly what New England does.  If you’re Pittsburgh, they keep you from the score that matters and abscond with glory.  They always seem to have one more card in the deck against you, like sniffing out a fake spike slant route on the final play of the game.

“That’s why it pays to practice these things and watch game film,” said a confident Harmon of the play that officially handed the Steelers its fifth straight loss to New England.  “We had an idea it was coming.  Being prepared on the field pays off.”

The Steelers had their chances.  “Being prepared” is always a drive short for this team when it comes to the supreme beings of the AFC. 

Sunday’s game shouldn’t have even come down to a replay review of a Jesse James touchdown catch.  That contest was firmly in the grasp of the home team.  Yet, as he’s done 51 times in his career, Brady pieced together a game-winning drive.  Belichick bested Mike Tomlin, again.  A defensive unit bent, yet never broke when the timing was pivotal.

You can call it cheating.  You can dub it unscrupulous.  You can blame it on the NFL if it really makes you feel better.  Whatever you do, don’t ever give New England credit for being the better football team, for they don’t need little brothers voice whispering to them something that they have already known for years.

There’s only one proven formula that will change this autocratic, brotherly narrative: beat them.

That's one hell of a task at this point.

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