When Roethlisberger landed awkwardly on his left side after being taken down by Patriots linebacker Don Davis with 2:37 left in the first half, and walked off holding his left arm, it seemed the clear winner of this injury-marred game would be another AFC contender, the Indianapolis Colts. But Roethlisberger didn't miss a snap, and Pittsburgh held a 13-10 lead entering the fourth quarter thanks to big plays by the defense: Outside linebacker Clark Haggans twice pried the ball away from Faulk, and defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen deflected a pass near the line of scrimmage, resulting in Chris Hope's interception at the Steelers' four-yard line with 31 seconds left before halftime.
In the end, however, Big Ben could only watch as Brady laid down another eerie Joe Montana cover. When the fourth quarter began, as Brady's backup, 42-year-old Doug Flutie, would say later, "it was like somebody threw a switch." Brady took over at the New England 14, dropped back to pass and dropped Flutie's jaw with a sweet, 14-yard sideline throw to wideout David Givens. "[Brady] got rushed and had to throw it early and guessed a little bit, and he put it in an incredible spot just shy of the sideline," Flutie said afterward, marveling. "At that point it was time to sit back and enjoy the ride."
Despite enduring what he described as a "blitzathon" by the Pittsburgh defense, Brady completed all 12 of his fourth-quarter passes, for 167 yards, nimbly stepping up in the pocket and gliding away from pressure. Dillon ran for his second touchdown, and Vinatieri added a 35-yard field goal to put the Pats in front 20-13. Give Roethlisberger credit for hanging tough. His fade to wideout Quincy Morgan on fourth-and-11 with 1:25 to go drew a pass interference call on former Steelers cornerback Chad Scott, setting up a four-yard completion to Ward in the back of the end zone. All of Steeltown was thinking overtime.
Well, not everyone. Standing on the Pittsburgh sideline, injured running back Jerome Bettis was thinking, We know what's happening. Brady's got too much time. Eighty-one seconds ... 1:21. And yes, Superman was feeling super. Brady's flashback performance was as devoid of flash as the original three years earlier. Vinatieri's kick was as true as the 48-yarder that vanquished the St. Louis Rams on the last play of Super Bowl XXXVI and the 41-yarder that beat the Panthers with four seconds left in XXXVIII. Game over. No red-white-and-blue confetti this time, just heartfelt hugs between respectful combatants on 2-1 teams who may well meet again in January.
If they do, the number to watch will be 12, as in the one on the back of the jersey worn by New England's man of steel.
"Oh, they hate us here!" Brady exclaimed as he entered the visitors' locker room after Sunday's game. "Wouldn't you hate us? We love it."