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Ex-Patriots Scout Explains How They Beat Steelers in 2001 AFC Championship Game



Steelers QB Kordell Stewart

Longtime close friend of Bill Belichick and former Patriots football researcher Ernie Adams recently discussed the game plan for the Patriots’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2001 AFC Championship Game on the Games with Names podcast with Julian Edelman.

“We had gone in to play the Steelers. That was Jerome Bettis, Kordell Stewart, a totally different game-planned team,” Adams said in reference to the pass-heavy Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams. “We go in and play the Steelers. It’s Cover 3, we’re going to bring the strong safety, we’re going to stop their running game. Make them beat us throwing.”

That plan certainly was well-executed as Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart threw three interceptions, including two in the game’s final minutes.

The Steelers were 10-point favorites against the Patriots, but four turnovers and two special teams touchdowns were enough for New England to upset Pittsburgh.

“Tom got hurt and Drew (Bledsoe), being a team guy, threw a big touchdown pass and we won the game,” Adams said. “If Drew doesn’t come in and play well against the Steelers, Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl.”

Drew Bledsoe threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Dave Patten right before halftime to give the Patriots a 14-3 lead. Tom Brady was knocked out of the game after taking a hit to the knee from safety Lee Flowers.

It was later unearthed with the Spygate scandal that the Patriots had two tapes of Pittsburgh from their 2002 meeting in the AFC Championship Game. The 2004 AFC Championship has never been confirmed through investigations as information was tampered with.

“For some reason, they knew every single thing we were doing,” Stewart told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2017. “They had the perfect defense from a blitz standpoint, everything we were trying to do.”

This past September, former Steelers greats Ben Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis stated that they both believe the Patriots cheated in the 2004 AFC Championship. Bettis explained how he knew some keys were off from the Patriots.

“Who normally goes to the sideline on timeouts? The defensive captains, right? They told the nose guard, I mean they pulled him to the sideline,” Bettis said on Roethlisberger’s Footbahlin Podcast. “Big 400-pound guy, he don’t want to go to the sideline and come all the way back,” Betts said. “What he want to go to the sideline for? They yelling, made him go to the sideline and I always thought ‘What he going…’ He went all the way to the sideline and back.”

Bettis ended his statement that there is “no question” to him that the Patriots cheated. Multiple Patriots on that team caught wind of the statements and responded. Barrett Brooks, a tackle for the Steelers in 2004, noted earlier this offseason he thought the Patriots cheated, too.

But one player responded in video format, and that would be former Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel. Samuel joined the Patriots in 2003 after being drafted by the team. In a video, Samuel slammed Roethlisberger and Bettis, simply stating they were sore losers.

“Steeler Nation, what’s going on with your legends and Hall of Famers Ben Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis? 19 years later, you guys decide to be sore losers and say we cheated the 2004 AFC Championship,” Samuel said.

For reference, Brooks in July said that he could hear the Patriots calling out the Steelers’ cues and plays right away. He accused Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi, specifically, of having inside intel that made their job much easier.

“But I remember in that game, they knew the plays before we did,” Brooks said. ”I could hear all of those guys, Rodney Harrison, would yell ‘draw, draw, draw’, and Ben comes to the line and calls a draw play….Tedy Bruschi knowing the play, ‘they’re gonna sprint to the right’ and then shift the whole defense over. Because they knew our plays before it happened.”