No treat for the Pats

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:08 PM ET

Had the dejected New England Patriots bothered to peer up at the stands before disappearing into the bowels of Heinz Stadium, they would have seen a banner that told the story of their humbling afternoon.

"Twenty-one and done!" proclaimed the large black-and-gold sign.

Of course, it's hard to notice such things when you are staring at your feet in frustration.

And the embittered Patriots had plenty of reason to hang their heads as they left the field, impervious to the mocking chants of the record Pittsburgh crowd of 64,737 who serenaded the visitors off the field.

Bad enough their NFL-record run of 21 consecutive victories had just come to an end.

But it was the humiliating fashion in which it unfolded that hurt the most.

"We got killed," New England coach Bill Belichik said, the perfect summation of the 34-20 thrashing his defending Super Bowl champions had just absorbed at the hands of the upstart Pittsburgh Steelers.

"It was pretty clear they were the better team. They outcoaches us, they outplayed us, we were not very good in any phase of the game."

It had been 399 days since the Patriots tasted defeat, a winning streak constructed on the foundation of mistake-free football. Since dropping a 20-17 decision to Steve Spurrier's Washington Redskins back on Sept. 28, 2003, the Pats simply had not shot themselves in the foot enough to give away games.

But when all-pro cornerback Ty Law limped off the field with a foot injury late in the first quarter, the Pats screwed up more in the next five minutes than they had all season.

First Plaxico Burress torched backup corner Randall Gay for a 47-yard touchdown strike.

Next linebacker Joey Porter caused Pats quarterback Tom Brady to fumble, leading to another Burress major.

Then came the final dagger, an errant Brady toss that was taken the other way by the Steelers' Deshea Townsend.

Three Steeler touchdowns within the span of 3:24. A 21-3 Pittsburgh lead.

Game over.

Streak over.

"They said we hadn't beat anyone," said Porter, who forced a pair of fumbles and sacked Brady three times.

"They said we had problems with a rookie quarterback. Well, what are they saying now?"

If Porter was referring to the critics, they should be saying today that rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his 6-1 Steelers are for real.

With the franchise honouring the team's 1979 Super Bowl champions next weekend, the 2004 edition of the black-and-gold certainly resembled that dominating team of Jack Lambert and Jack Ham on this night.

It was Roethlisberger lofting Terry Bradshaw-like spirals into the waiting arms of John Stallworth wannabe Burress for a pair of touchdowns strikes.

It was running back Duce Staley, slicing his way through the heart of the Patriots defence for 125 yards with the blue-collar efficiency that would have made Franco Harris proud.

And it was a smothering Steel Curtain-like defence that forced four Patriot turnovers and sacked Brady four times.

"It was a big win for us," said Roethlisberger, who becomes only the second rookie quarterback in NFL history to win his first five starts.

"I give New England a lot of credit. They are a great team."

Keep this up, Big Ben, and people soon will be describing your Steelers in the same way.

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THE PITTS

The New England Patriots had their NFL-record 21-game winning streak snapped at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field yesterday.

Here is a look at where that amazing run ranks:

WINS TEAM SEASONS

21 New England Patriots 2003-04

18 Denver Broncos 1997-98

18 San Francisco 49ers 1989-90

18 Miami Dolphins 1972-73

18 Cleveland Browns 1947-48*

18 Chicago Bears 1941-42

18 Chicago Bears 1933-34

17 Oakland Raiders 1976-77

(INCLUDES POST-SEASON)

*ALL-AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

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BEN WON'T FOLD

Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger is only the second rookie quarterback in NFL history to win his first five starts.

Here's a look:

Mike Kruczek 1976 Steelers 6

Roethlisberger 2004 Steelers 5

Phil Simms 1979 Giants 4

Ed Rubbert 1987 Redskins 3

Jim Everett 1986 Rams 3

Mike Boryla 1974 Eagles 3


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