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Tim Benz: Brady and Gronk are the windshield, Steelers are the bugs

| Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, 8:48 p.m.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady fires up his teammates before a game against the Steelers on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady fires up his teammates before a game against the Steelers on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski leaves the field after defeating the Steelers on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski leaves the field after defeating the Steelers on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, at Heinz Field.

I've been told that I'm being too harsh.

Am I being too harsh?

Because, gosh, I would never want to be accused of being too harsh. Ever!

So, you tell me.

In the aftermath of the Steelers' 27-24 loss to the Patriots on Sunday, I've been critical of the Steelers defense for allowing tight end Rob Gronkowski and quarterback Tom Brady to go wild.

Again.

In case you missed the final numbers, the two Patriots legends connected nine times for 168 yards. Much of that came in crucial fourth-quarter moments.

In fact, it probably took you longer to read this far into this column than it did for Brady and Gronk to march 77 yards for the winning score.

“He's just huge. He's a big body. Big target,” said Steelers safety Sean Davis of the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski. “And Brady was throwing it right in there.

“(Expletive) man, I battled with him the whole game. We came up short the last drive.”

Many Steelers fans and some media coworkers have said to me, “Hey, lighten up. It's Brady and Gronk. They are superstars. They do that to everyone.”

Yeah. They do. But they do it to the Steelers with more frequency and ferocity than anyone else outside of their division.

That endless wish of “next time will be different” versus New England will never happen unless the Steelers figure out a way to minimize the damage that duo can inflict.

“Other guys make good plays, too. But when he's open, he gets it,” Brady said of his All-Pro target. “He played so great (Sunday).”

I'm not saying “stop Brady and Gronk.” That's nearly impossible. I'm just saying slow their roll.

A little.

Before you digest these numbers, understand they are presented with full knowledge that Gronkowski and Brady likely will retire as the best players the sport has seen at their respective positions.

However, you also have to consider how much eating the Steelers for lunch over the years helped them gain that status.

Since Gronkowski has never faced the Steelers in the playoffs, let's just consider regular-season statistics. In six games against the Black and Gold, he has averaged 110 yards. He has eight touchdowns. Only Buffalo has allowed more scores from Gronkowski, and he has played the Bills 12 times.

The WPIAL product has 664 career yards against the Steelers. That's 219 more yards than any team outside of the AFC East has yielded to him. In fact, it's just 24 fewer yards than his total against Miami, a team Gronkowski faces twice a year.

To steal a line from an anonymous colleague in the press box, “The only Pittsburgher to ever slow down Gronkowski was George Novak when he was coaching him at Woodland Hills.”

As for Brady, he's 11-2 versus the Steelers, including 3-0 in the playoffs. His touchdown to interception ratio versus the local club is 30-4.

In nondivisional play, only the Colts have suffered more losses to Brady. The Jaguars (71 percent) are the only AFC team to yield a higher completion percentage against him than the Steelers (68 percent) in regular-season play. And Brady's average of 312 yards per game against the Steelers is tops among AFC foes.

So, I ask again: Am I being too harsh?

Sure, both Brady and Gronkowski are first-ballot Hall of Famers. But the Steelers will appear in their highlight montages on induction day an inordinate amount of times.

With a team of the Steelers' pedigree since Gronkowski's rookie season of 2010, that shouldn't be the case. The Steelers should, in theory, be a more stout challenge. Not more of a pushover on a nearly annual basis

Mike Tomlin preaches: “The standard is the standard.”

In that case, the standard shouldn't dip when the Steelers are playing against the best of the best. A better fight against New England's top players should be expected.

The Steelers have often deemed themselves to be New England's top competition in the AFC during their run of Super Bowl success.

Yet the Steelers have only beaten the Brady-Gronkowski combo once. That was a day Gronk was “held to just 94 yards.”

Normally proud Steelers defenses over the years, including allegedly improving units the last two seasons, have been turned to rubble by these two.

As the saying goes, a bug has no rivalry with a windshield. Well, Brady and Gronkowski drove through Heinz Field at 100 mph.

Unfortunately for Western Pennsylvania football fans, there is no reason to think that won't happen once more in Foxborough if these teams meet again in the playoffs.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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