PITTSBURGH (AP) — Tom Brady is methodical and precise, a master of execution who repeatedly takes advantage of a defense’s mistakes. The model quarterback, always calm under pressure.
With his New England Patriots facing a pivotal game in an NFL stadium where opponents rarely win, he showed off a different side.
Tom Brady, the fist-waving, voice-raising, fiery leader.
The GQ quarterback yelled during huddles, hollered at linemen for mistakes and was visibly animated during sideline meetings, and the Patriots followed their leader during a dominating 39-26 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.
The Patriots were motivated by a 20-point loss at Cleveland the week before and their star’s bravura, and it allowed them to remain tied with the division-rival Jets (7-2) for the AFC’s best record.
Brady maintained his mastery of the Steelers by throwing for three touchdowns and running for another, with no interceptions or sacks. At times, the ultimate team player looked as though he wanted to do it all by himself, and the Steelers went along by allowing him to do almost anything he wanted.
If only for one game, Brady the serene became Brady the screamer.
“That’s always great,” Patriots guard Logan Mankins said. “Football’s a game of emotions, so we want to see him excited when things are going well. … Look, we’re professionals and we don’t need Tom to yell at us, but when he thinks it’s necessary, he’s going to yell at us. We take it for what it’s worth.”
Brady took apart what has been the NFL’s best defense over the last four seasons, going 30 of 43 for 350 yards. He has 14 career TD throws and three interceptions while going 6-1 against the Steelers.
He’s also 4-1 at Heinz Field, where the Steelers (6-3) own the NFL’s best home-field record over the last 40 years.
Brady had something to get excited about from the start, leading New England to touchdown drives to begin each half, finishing both off with throws to tight end Rob Gronkowski. The rookie tight end returned to the city where he played his final season of high school football to make three touchdown catches.
Now, about all that yelling …
“There’s only one way to play the game, and it’s an emotional game,” said Brady, who has averaged 373 yards passing in his last three starts against Pittsburgh. “I think part of being a quarterback is making sure that everyone’s into it and there’s a level of concentration that you need on the road. … We haven’t been this happy in a long time.”
Especially not the week before, when the Browns’ Peyton Hillis ran over and through New England for 184 yards and two touchdowns during one of the worst losses of the Bill Belichick era. But no team is better after losing; the Patriots are 25-2 following a loss since 2003.
“That’s the NFL,” Belichick said. “If you knew what was going to happen in this league (from week to week), you’d make a lot of money.”
The Steelers looked much like they did during their 41-27 loss to New England in the AFC championship game six years ago: dazed and confused. This game followed a similar pattern as that one as the Patriots built a big lead, and the Steelers never could catch up.
“We got off to a fast start and played from ahead the whole game, and that’s a big difference,” Brady said.
New England led 10-0, 23-3, 29-10 and 36-18, and all three of Pittsburgh’s touchdowns came in the fourth quarter. Ben Roethlisberger was 30 of 49 for 387 yards and three touchdowns, but wasn’t nearly as effective as Brady during the NFL’s first matchup of multiple Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks in 25 seasons.
“I don’t think they did anything to confuse us that we didn’t expect,” said Roethlisberger, the two-time Super Bowl winner who was sacked five times. “They flat-out beat us.”
Despite Hillis’ domination the week before, Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall was held to 50 yards. He wasn’t a factor.
Neither was linebacker James Harrison, the master intimidator who doesn’t have to worry about getting fined for any of his hits Sunday night. And star safety Troy Polamalu was neutralized as Brady repeatedly threw underneath Pittsburgh’s two-deep zone defense.
Wes Welker led New England with eight catches for 89 yards, Deion Branch had seven for 71 yards and Gronkowski had five for 72 yards.
The Steelers missed a chance to jump ahead of the Ravens (6-3) in the AFC North race. Baltimore lost in the final minute Thursday night at Atlanta.
It didn’t help that Roethlisberger was missing his blind-side protectors, left tackle Max Starks (neck) and left guard Chris Kemoeatu (ankle), or that wide receiver Hines Ward’s streak of 186 consecutive games with a reception ended. Ward missed the final three quarters with a concussion, the fourth by a Steelers player in a week.
“They executed better, and they were more physical,” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. “They did what they wanted to, basically.”
The offense’s ineffectiveness, at least until the game was out of hand, didn’t explain how Brady worked over a defense that came in allowing a league-low 15.4 points.
“It’s plain and simple,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said, “we just got our butts whooped.”
Nobody in a quiet Pittsburgh locker room would argue.
“We’ve got to get this (fixed),” Harrison said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.