As the late, great Yogi Berra once said, “It was like deja vu all over again.”
In a scene that was reminiscent of the dramatic ending of Super Bowl XLIX, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone with five seconds left, as the New England Patriots rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 on Sunday.
For a few fleeting moments, the Steelers looked poised to snap their four-game losing streak to the Patriots. However, an unbelievable ending produced a familiar result.
One questionable call by the officials and another questionable decision by the Steelers offense sealed their fate.
The Patriots now sit at 11-3. They have also gained the inside track for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. Brady threw for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Gronkowski, fresh off a one-game suspension, finished with nine receptions for 168 yards, including four on the game-winning drive.
As for the Steelers, they bid a bitter ‘adieu’ to their eight-game winning streak. Roethlisberger completed 22 of 30 for 281 yards with two touchdowns and the interception. Running back, Le’Veon Bell, ran for 117 yards and added another 48 receiving. Pittsburgh came within an eyelash of victory, even with Antonio Brown, the NFL’s leading receiver, in a hospital having his left calf injury examined.
An Emotional Lift for Everyone
Pittsburgh received an early emotional jolt when cameras cut to injured linebacker Ryan Shazier sitting in a private box less than two weeks removed from spinal stabilization surgery. The crowd at rainy Heinz Field roared as Shazier, who appeared to be seated, waved a Terrible Towel. The 25-year-old is recovering from spinal stabilization surgery on Dec. 6, two days after leaving a Monday night victory over Cincinnati on a stretcher following a routine hit on Bengals wide receiver Josh Malone.
Tom Brady utilized his first drive of the game by taking the Patriots right down the field. He connected with wide-receiver Brandin Cooks for a 43-yard gain that set up Rex Burkhead’s 1-yard touchdown.
The Steelers answered immediately with an 18-yard lob from Roethlisberger to receiver Eli Rogers. Pittsburgh took its first lead over the Patriots since 2011 early in the second quarter on a Chris Boswell field goal.
Wide-receiver Martavis Bryant suspended all of last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, had a very productive day in Brown’s absence. He made an eye-pleasing, one-handed touchdown catch late in the first half. This put Pittsburgh up 17-10 at the half. Bell, limited to just 11 snaps in Foxboro last January, was a veritable clock killer and yards collector. He also appeared to be a problem for which the Patriots defense had no solution. Rookie wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster caught six passes for 114 yards. After running back Dion Lews (touchdown) and Gronkowski (two-point conversion) gave the Patriots a 27-24 lead, The Steelers faced a near-insurmountable task. Thanks to a 69-yard catch-and-run by Smith-Schuster, the Steelers we improbably in position to at least tie the game.
It appeared that the Steelers had taken the lead when Roethlisberger connected with tight end Jesse James for a 10-yard touchdown with 28 seconds to left. The play was overturned on review, with official Tony Corrente saying the ball did not “survive” the completion of the catch. While many will argue otherwise, the officials enforced the rule correctly. Mike Periera, the former Vice President of Officiating for the NFL, explained the indisputable logic behind the officials’ decision on Twitter at the conclusion of the game.
Roethlisberger hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for a short gain but stayed in bounds. With the clock running and no timeouts left, Roethlisberger hurried to the line. Rather than spike it to set up a short kick that would have sent the game to overtime, Roethlisberger tried to win it.
Instead, he lost it. His pass to Eli Rogers was batted into the air, and New England safety Duron Harmon came down with it. With Brady taking a knee, the Patriots had secured their fifth straight victory over the Steelers.
In opting to go for the win, head coach Mike Tomlin, Roethlisberger and the Steelers will be left to second-guess a decision that could now have ramifications in January.
For the Patriots, the AFC is once again theirs for the taking.
New England will host the Buffalo Bills on 1 pm Christmas Eve at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. The Patriots handled the Bills 23-3 in the first meeting of the season earlier this month in Buffalo.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC