FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For the Steelers’ defense, it was the Darkest Day.
The worst day of defense in the franchise’s 81-season history — worse than any day the awful teams of the World War II era experienced, worse than any day the 1-13 team of 1969 went through. It was stunningly bad, dreadfully bad, almost inexplicably bad.
Embarrassing was a word that was commonly used in a funereal Steelers locker room Sunday, but even that didn’t explain the record 55 points and record 610 yards piled up by a Tom Brady-led offense that ran off 23 plays of 10 yards or more in the Patriots’ 55-31 rout of the Steelers on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
It was one more point and 51 more yards than ever allowed by the Steelers, and 92 more yards than ever allowed by a Dick LeBeau-coached Steelers defense.
“He’s taking it very hard,” safety Troy Polamalu said of LeBeau, whose defenses have been ranked No. 1 in three of the last four seasons. “He’s very prideful. That’s why he’s the best ever.”
But it was the worst day ever for a Steelers defense, which had not allowed more than 54 points (Chargers, 1985) or 559 yards (Bengals, 1988).
“We didn’t stop them. That’s the bottom line,” an angry Mike Tomlin said after the worst loss of his coaching career. “We couldn’t stop them. We didn’t stop the run. We didn’t stop the pass.”
And most of all, they couldn’t stop Tom Brady, whose supposedly injured right arm looked golden again as he threw for 432 yards, four touchdowns (two to rookie Aaron Dobson) and had an off-the-charts passer rating of 151.8. Three players — Rob Gronkowski (143 yards), Dobson (130) and Danny Amendola (122) — had more than 120 yards receiving. Stevan Ridley found time to run for 115 yards and two more touchdowns.
Danny Amendola 34 yards from Tom Brady, 7-0 Patriots
It was the day the best defense of its generation was exposed and embarrassed by a supposedly ailing Patriots offense that generated all of 25 yards passing in the first half against Miami the week before.
“We played horrible,” Polamalu said.
Rob Gronkowski 19 yards from Tom Brady, 14-0 Patriots
How it could it happen, even during a season in which the Steelers are 2-6? Much of the season’s failures to date fell on an underachieving offense, but on this day, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns, three to a single-covered Jerricho Cotchery, and Le’Veon Bell ran for 74 yards. The offense wasn’t the problem on a day it accumulated 479 yards yet was outgained by 131 yards.
“It’s a great defense and you typically don’t see that, so it is a little shocking,” Roethlisberger said.
The 55 points were nearly one-fourth of the 223 points the Super Bowl-winning Steelers allowed during the 2008 season.
“We will look at every aspect of what we are doing and who we are doing it with,” Tomlin said.
He said nearly the same thing following the 34-27 loss to the Vikings. The Steelers have lost two of four since then.
Ridley 1-yard run, 24-10 Patriots
Was it a poorly designed scheme by LeBeau that allowed Gronkowski, who was held to two catches by Miami, to run free all day against a secondary that acted as if he wasn’t on the field? That allowed Brady to play like a peak-era Brady? That permitted the Patriots, only 19th in offense coming into the game, to look like an unstoppable machine?
“Tom Brady is one of the greatest,” said rookie safety Shamarko Thomas, who, like every member of the secondary, was beaten repeatedly and badly in solo or zone coverage. “He’s smart, so it’s probably execution and scheme. He can read coverages and make plays.”
And did he make them.
Dobson 17 yards from Brady, 34-24 Patriots
The Steelers surged back from a 24-10 halftime deficit — yes, another big one in the first half — to tie it at 24-24 on a pair of Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery touchdown passes. But in a defensive collapse unlike that ever seen from a LeBeau-coached Steelers defense, the Patriots outscored them 31-7 over the final quarter and a half.
“Nothing like that in my 12 years here has happened like that,” Brett Keisel said. “I wish I could say what happened or what was the problem.”
Ridley 5-yard run, 41-24 Patriots
“It is time to get rid of some of these dudes,” NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders said. “It is over.”
But there are eight more games remaining.
“We have to find a away to turn it around because they’re not going to stop playing games for us,” safety Ryan Clark said. “We’re going to have to show up on game days and put this fire out. People are going to keep coming, they’re glad we have this issues and they’re going to try to exploit them.”
Dobson 81 yards from Brady, 48-31 Patriots
“We’ve been tough for a long time around here because we’ve played great defense,” Keisel said. “We need to get back to that.”
The Steelers must win seven of their eight just to finish .500, and they’ve shown zero signs of having the talent or wherewithal to do that.
LaGarrette Blount 5 yard-run, 55-31 Patriots
“We didn’t show from first snap to the last,” safety Ryan Clark said. “When you allow a team to do all those things better, you give up 50-something points. It’s embarrassing, for ourselves but more so for the organization. We’re not an organization that gives up points like that.”
It’s why they’re 2-6. And falling to depths never before seen by a defense that will never earn a nickname like the Steel Curtain or Blitzburgh.
But it might earn a reputation that will take a long time to shed.
“We gave up some many big plays, I can’t remember them all,” Clark said.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.