Pats ring in new with flair of old

Brady throws for 3 TDs in 30-14 rout of Steelers

September 10, 2002|By THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL

FOXBORO, Mass. - In their first real game since they shocked the nation in Super Bowl XXXVI, and their first home game since they held it spellbound on a snowy Saturday against Oakland, the New England Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 30-14, in last night's season opener.

If the Patriots needed any validation for what they accomplished last year, they got it with their 10th straight win.

Playing under the newly unveiled championship banner, the Patriots dinked and dunked their way on offense in the first half, scoring on a 4-yard pass from Tom Brady to Christian Fauria and a 45-yard Adam Vinatieri field goal. In the third, they opened it up, scoring on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Donald Hayes, a 22-yard catch and run by rookie Deion Branch and another Vinatieri field goal, this one from 28.

Meanwhile, the Steelers once again took dead aim at their own feet.

Kordell Stewart threw interceptions on consecutive passes in the first quarter, the Steelers took three penalties to help the Patriots along on their first touchdown drive, then - with the score tied at 7-7 and Pittsburgh at the Pats 1, the Steelers misfired on five straight plays and wound up missing a 39-yard field goal.

In the third, Jerome Bettis fumbled for the first time in 760 carries, stripped by Victor Green, and the Patriots turned that into a touchdown as well, a 22-yarder from Brady to Branch.

Eschewing the running game for most of the first three quarters, the Patriots worked efficiently. Through three quarters, Brady completed 26 of 38 passes for 263 yards and thee touchdowns. The Patriots threw on 24 consecutive plays.

And, after going 1-for-5 on third down in the first half, they turned into a conversion machine going 4-for-5 in the third.

After months of grumbling about the Patriots worthiness as AFC champions, the Steelers didn't exactly impress once the curtain went up.

Stewart's first two completions of the year went to Terrell Buckley and Mike Vrabel. Since they both play for the Patriots, Stewart either thought he'd been traded or was off to a very bad start. It was the latter.

The first pick, a horrible underthrow intended for Terrance Mathis on the third play of the game, didn't hurt much as the Patriots went 3-and-out.

The next one did. Starting from his own 20, Stewart threw the ball at Vrabel's feet on first-and-10.

Taking over at the Pittsburgh 26, it took the Pats four plays to get into the end zone, but there were several drive-extenders in there that had the jaw of Steelers coach Bill Cowher at full jut.

First, Steelers corner Chad Scott held Troy Brown on the goal line and got flagged. An incompletion and a loss of 4 by Antowain Smith brought up third-and-goal from the 14. Steelers linebacker Joey Porter jumped offsides.

Now with third-and-goal at the 9, David Patten got held in the end zone when he tried a little inside move on DeWayne Washington. With first-and-goal from the 4, Brady cashed in, hitting Fauria, who was wide open.

Pittsburgh answered. Propped up by a 23-yard pass interference called on Ty Law, Stewart settled in. He hit Hines Ward for 11 on second-and-13 at his own 46, then picked up the first down himself on a designed keeper. He hit Antwaan Randle-El for 10 on third-and-5.

Two more throws to Ward, an 8-yarder and a 13-yard touchdown, tied it. On the touchdown, Ward got a lot of cushion from Law, then shook off the Pats corner and went in standing.

The Steelers weren't getting much from Bettis early. As has often been the case, the Patriots' defense swarmed him, holding him to 10 yards on five carries in the first quarter.

For their part, the Patriots barely bothered running (Smith had four carries for 9 yards, all in the first quarter), choosing instead to spread the field and throw slant after slant, out after out. Brady used everybody in the first half, completing passes to eight receivers. Tight end Cam Cleeland led the way with four grabs, Branch and Brown had three each. The Pats struggled mightily on third down, though, going 0-for-8.

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