FOXBOROUGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' defense couldn't stop the run, couldn't stop the pass and made Tom Brady look like the old Tom Brady who will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer -- not the recent version who struggled at times this season because of how much turnover his support cast endured.
One of the top pass defenses statistically heading into the game allowed three -- three!!! -- 100-yard receivers, and it couldn't have covered Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski even if he had been wearing cinder blocks under his jersey instead of shoulder pads.
If all of that wasn't bad enough, a veteran defense couldn't even keep its assignments straight, which is why free safety Ryan Clark took the blame for the unit's epic collapse in a 55-31 loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
"I was trying to do too much,” said Clark, one of the team's captains who positions players from the back end of the defense. "I'm the hub of communication. I need to make sure everybody's on the same page, everyone knows the calls.”
When a defense that is old and slow starts blowing assignments then the kind of disaster that leveled the Steelers in the second half takes place.
The defense was so helpless against Brady -- he more than tripled the 118 yards he threw in the previous week's win over Miami -- that it was hard to remember the unit had actually gotten the team back into the game in the second half.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense turned the takeaway into a touchdown that cut the Patriots' lead to 24-17. The defense forced a three-and-out and Antonio Brown returned the ensuing punt 24 yards.
Roethlisberger again took advantage of the short field, and he continued to go after the Patriots' cornerbacks who were picked on almost as much as their counterparts on the Steelers.
An 8-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery tied the game midway through the third quarter.
That is when Brady really went to work and when the Steelers' defense really, really got worked.
The Patriots scored the final five times they had the ball. Their four fourth-quarter possessions all ended in the end zone.
That kind of stuff doesn't happen to the Steelers, even if the defense is old and in desperate need of an offseason overhaul.
"Probably as disappointed as I have been,” Coach Mike Tomlin said after the Steelers fell to 2-6, "especially under the circumstances of how we were able to fight back there at the beginning of the second half. I am angry. We are capable and better than that. We've got to be better than that. We weren't so we are going to fix it.”
The Steelers have plenty to fix.
The Patriots' 55 points were the fifth-highest in franchise history. And they have only gained more than the 610 yards they piled up against the Steelers just two other times.
The secondary isn't all that let down the Steelers. They surrendered almost 200 yards on the ground, and Brady had way too much time to throw.
That is on the front seven.
"They were able to run it when they wanted to run it, which is an 11-man job,” Clark said, "and they were also able to pass it when they wanted to pass it, which is an 11-man job so defensively we didn't show from the first snap to the last. We were beat by a much better team.”
They are also in need of some serious soul-searching after arriving at the midway point of the season an utter mess.
"Frustrating, embarrassing, it's all that,” Polamalu said of the loss.
Emmanuel Sanders agreed though he refused to point a finger at the reeling Steelers' defense.
"Tonight's game was embarrassing and that's obvious and that's not the Steelers' way,” the fourth-year wide receiver said. "I've been around here for four years and we've never gotten our butts whupped like that. A lot of guys' pride is hurting, including myself.”