The Patriots beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh 27-24 and clinched the AFC East for the ninth year in a row. Improving to 11-3, the team now owns the tie-breaker over the Steelers for the top spot in the AFC.
First things first, I hate the rule where no one knows what a catch is or isn’t, but in this case, there was clear evidence the ball hit the ground, where Jesse James reached for the end zone (what you’re supposed to do). We’ve seen too many of these over the past few years. We’ve seen touchdowns get called back. Does it suck? Yes, absolutely. But it is what it is.
This was a fantastic game between two very good football teams. This had a little bit of everything for everyone. Both teams left it all out on the field and in the end, it took a vintage Tom Brady killer drive taking the Patriots 77 yards in just five plays to take a 27-24 lead. Brady and Rob Gronkowski owned that final drive as if it were a seven-on-seven matchup.
But after a three-yard shallow cross by JuJu Smith-Schuster turned into a 69-yard scamper to the Patriots 10-yard line, it was looking like the Steelers were going to pull another cardiac finish. Malcolm Butler made a huge play tackling Darius Heyward-Bey inbounds keeping the clock running at the seven-yard line. On second down Roethlisberger ran a nifty pick play and James dove for the end zone where the play was overturned. On third down, Roethlisberger faked a spike and tried a quick slant for Eli Rogers. Eric Rowe made a fantastic play diving and deflecting the ball straight up where Duron Harmon intercepted it in the end zone for the win.
Pittsburgh controlled the majority of the game and the tempo with a good running game from Le’Veon Bell, coupled with outstanding play from Roethlisberger, was solid, especially on third down. He was fantastic on third down converting 10-of-16, constantly keeping the Patriots defense on the field and bleeding the clock.
His first touchdown to Eli Rogers was an outstanding throw where he put the ball in perfectly with Rowe in very tight coverage. If that ball is two inches back, it gets knocked away.
But the Steelers failed on their final two third downs, one of their only three-and-outs on the day, which give Brady a chance to pull it out. The Patriots practice situational football more than anyone, and today, when it mattered, they produced.
Other observations include:
It was a great day for Gronk.
On the Patriots final drive on a 2nd and 10, Brady hit him down the seam for 26 yards to the 49-yard line. On the next play, Brady hit him for 26 more down to the Steelers 25. Then Gronk pulled a low Brady pass off the turf and rumbled for 17 more down to the eight-yard line. Dion Lewis powered it in for the touchdown and then Gronk abused Sean Davis on a two-point conversion fade in the corner of the end zone.
For all the talk about the Steelers playing more man coverage, they still haven’t figured out how to contain Gronkowski and he and Brady took over this one.
Both Teams Suffered Key Injuries: One thing you hate to see is a player from either team, never mind a star, go down and be helped off the field. Antonio Brown suffered a partially torn calf muscle in the end zone and had to be helped off.
Later, Rex Burkhead suffered an injury that you knew was serious when three Steelers defenders were motioning for the Patriots sideline to come quickly to his aid.
Brown is said to able to come back for the playoffs. As for Burkhead? His status is unknown, but something tells me this is a long-term injury, which is too bad. He’s been a key contributor on offense and special teams this season.
Brady Comes Off the Mat Again: To the blowhard, “hot take” artists that overpopulate the airwaves (yes, we’re looking at you Wright and Parker) Tom Brady showed once again that it is very premature to “sound the alarm” and he’s still the cool customer he always has been. We also were subjected to members of the Pittsburgh media who polluted the airwaves yet again with talk of cameras and deflated footballs as an excuse for over a decade and a half of being dominated.
Brady finished 22-of-35 for 298 yards with a touchdown and a pick. His interception was his worst decision of the day and it cost the team a score. By the way, it was also his first interception against Pittsburgh in 12 years and 300 pass attempts.
Two-minute drill? Sound the alarm on that nincompoop. Ask Ben Roethlisberger or Mike Tomlin if he’s going over a cliff.
What’s Next Tomlin? Speaking of the Steelers coach, this has to be a shocking turn of events for him. He’s been openly calling for this game since March. He was talking about it weeks ago and you’ve pumped up your team and they’re openly talking about Super Bowls and being a “team of destiny” and we’re still in the regular season. You had the Patriots coming in all beat up physically and had the game at home.
Then Brady pulls his magic and you come out on the short end of the stick again. How do you convince your team that you’re going to flip the script in Foxboro next month, if it comes to that?
Shazier Comes to the Game, Ignites the Crowd: One of the nicer things to see today was Steelers LB Ryan Shazier, who suffered a scary spinal injury two weeks ago, come to the game in a luxury box and cheer on his teammates. The crowd absolutely erupted.
They showed him on the big screen when Tom Brady and the offense came on the field for the first time. It was so loud, Brady turned to look at the big screen to see what was the commotion.
The team returns home after playing five out six on the road to finish out the season against the Bills and Jets. Thankfully, they’re AFC East Champions and in control of their own fate, again.