Steelers have tradition of losing to Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium
Aside from a 10-story lighthouse beyond one of the end zones and adjacent pedestrian overpass modeled after Boston’s iconic Longfellow Bridge, Gillette Stadium has no distinguishing features.
The New England Patriots’ home field ranks 22nd among the 31 NFL venues in seating capacity, and it will be right in the middle in age at 15th by this time next year. According to recently released fan ratings from online ticket broker SeatGeek, Gillette was 13th in “fan atmosphere.”
In its all-encompassing (albeit subjective) NFL stadium rankings, The Sporting News ranked Foxborough, Mass.-based Gillette smack dab in the middle at 16th.
In other words, it’s largely a league-average facility.
The team that plays there, though, is anything but.
“I think it’s just (another) stadium,” Pittsburgh Steelers guard Ramon Foster said, “that a really good team plays at.”
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A stadium where the Steelers have had trouble. A stadium where they have found it impossible to beat a certain Hall of Fame quarterback.
Tom Brady is perhaps the best quarterback of all-time. And while Gillette Stadium was paid for via private funds, make no mistake: it’s Brady’s home.
And that, more than anything, is why this otherwise-unremarkable venue located in an inconspicuous Massachusetts town is such a prominent stop for teams on their annual tour of opposing facilities.
And, likewise, why those teams so often leave with a loss.
“It’s just a stadium. It’s just like anywhere else,” linebacker Bud Dupree said in explaining opponents’ massive struggles over the 18-year history of Gillette. “It’s more that (the Patriots) are really good, moreso than the facility.
“And it’s just Brady. When he’s in there, he runs everything. It’s his home. He controls it. He’s the conductor, the choir director. He’s in control of it all, the whole atmosphere.”
Brady is the probably biggest reason the Patriots are 135-24 at Gillette since they opened it with a 30-14 win against the Steelers in 2002. It was primetime, Week 1 matchup that featured a ceremonial banner-raising marking the Super Bowl the Pats won seven months earlier.
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For the third time since, that scenario repeats itself 8:20 p.m. Sunday when the Steelers open their season at Gillette against the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Since that initial meeting at Gillette almost 17 years ago to the day, the Steelers have gone 1-5, including the postseason, there. It’s far from a coincidence the lone victory did not feature Brady. The Steelers won 33-10 against Matt Cassel-led New England on Nov. 30, 2008, while Brady was out with a torn ACL.
The five Steelers-Patriots games in Foxborough that included Brady have not been pretty for the Steelers. They’ve lost them all by an aggregate score of 183-96 that equates to, on average, a 37-19 defeat.
Only one of the five losses has been by fewer than 19 points, and that one (the 2015 primetime NFL season opener) was 21-3 New England in the second half and included a Steelers touchdown with 2 seconds left to make it seem closer than it was.
“I’ve never thought of Gillette as a (hostile) place to play like Seattle or New Orleans,” Steelers veteran defensive lineman Tyson Alualu said. “But the team itself, you’ve always got to give respect moreso to them and what they’re doing.”
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Perhaps the only man among the 64 (including practice squad) in the Steelers’ locker room who played in a game at Foxborough and won said it best.
“I’ve said it before: Playing them at home is hard enough,” Ben Roethlisberger said. “To go to their place is almost impossible.”
Roethlisberger, statistically, is half right. Yes, beating Brady at Gillette is almost impossible, as his 109-18 regular-season record at the venue indicates.
But Brady’s Patriots are 98-44 everywhere else over his career, meaning they also win about seven out of every 10 games they have played away from Gillette.
This is perhaps best exhibited by an analysis ESPN ran two years ago intended to examine which NFL teams experienced the best and worst home-field advantage.
What it found was, despite the Patriots having a better winning percentage at Gillette (.849 currently) than any other team has at its current home stadium, the true-home field advantage the Patriots enjoyed there (1.9 points per game) ranked 26th among the 32 NFL teams.
How can that be? Put simply: The machine-like Patriots have been elite no matter where they play. The crowd noise, sightlines, comforts of the home locker room or any other possible venue-specific advantages have little effect. The Patriots probably are going to win, anyway.
Especially when Brady is playing, as the Steelers know all too well.
“They’ve just won there a lot,” Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward said. “They’ve won a lot everywhere. I don’t look at any outside (stadium-specific) factors. They’ve got a good crowd, but they just play well at home, just like they
play well everywhere.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .