For the first time in a long time, the Patriots were able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat following a ‘controversial’ call at the tail end of the fourth quarter. With a final score of 27-24 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England was able to walk away with the division title and a guaranteed top 3 seed in the playoffs. However, the Patriots by no means deserved to win this game.
Only a few players on the team should feel satisfied with how they played on Sunday.
The award for comeback game of the year goes to none other than The Gronk. Following a single game suspension after a dirty hit on Tre’Davious White two weeks ago, Rob Gronkowski learned to put the past behind him and keep moving forward. The tight end came prepared to make up for his mistake, and he sure did. Gronkowski wrapped up with 9 catches for 168 yards and a stellar performance. Nearly all of his catches were converted for first downs and extra yardage. The Patriots would have lost the game without a doubt had Gronk not marched them all the way downfield for a miraculously late score in the fourth quarter. On multiple occasions, the tight end was double guarded, and even then it took anywhere from 2 to 4 players to take him down. Gronkowski learned from his unacceptable mistake and proved that it is possible to use errors as motivation to do better and play stronger.
Safety Duron Harmon took his turn in the spotlight with a great showing against the Steelers. Harmon ended the game with 1 tackle, 1 pass break, and 1 interception. While the statistics appear unimpressive, here are the circumstances surrounding each one: his tackle stopped a run by Pittsburgh towards the end of the fourth quarter, forcing a fourth down and the first three and out of the game for either side. The safety’s pass break came early in the second quarter. Steelers’ quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, threw long into the end zone for a potential touchdown, but it was broken up by Harmon. Little did either team know that that prospective touchdown would’ve changed the momentum of the game, as well as the outcome. Finally, Harmon’s interception in the Pittsburgh end zone sealed a win for New England. As the end of the season approaches, hopefully, the safety’s play will continue to improve.
Running back Dion Lewis continued to propel the Patriots to victory with another impressive game. Lewis finished up with 13 carries for 67 yards, 1 catch for 13 yards, and 1 touchdown. Slowly but surely, the running back would chip away at the Steelers’ defensive line and earn the team a handful of first downs. With a minute left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots needed a touchdown to propel them ahead in order to win the game. All eyes were set on Gronkowski, who had just carried them across the field. This left Brady the perfect opportunity to hand the ball to the team’s best runner, Lewis. He slipped through Pittsburgh’s defensive line with ease and New England took the lead with 56 seconds left in the game. When the game comes down to the wire like that, players like Lewis are crucial to have handy.
New England’s defense played worse on Sunday than they had in any previous game (and that’s saying something). The Steelers ran the ball the majority of the game for a reason. Pittsburgh rushed the ball for 143 total yards and compared to the Patriots who ran for 77 total yards, that is just pathetic. Matt Patricia’s defense allowed for 21 first down conversions; 7 by rushing and 14 by passing. The defensive line was pitiful; I can’t even begin to count the number of times it was torn apart and split down the middle. Overall, Pittsburgh controlled the ball for ~35 minutes compared to New England’s ~25 minutes. However, Patricia’s most frustrating moment happened during halftime. Simply put, he decided to make absolutely no changes to the defense. How could the defensive coordinator be so ignorant of the fact that his defense was failing miserably? That question still remains unanswered.
Even though Matt Patricia covers the entire defense’s horrid play, Eric Rowe’s performance was terrible enough to single out. Rowe had 5 tackles throughout the game and 1 pass breakup. The cornerback also got beaten on back to back plays early in the first quarter, resulting in Pittsburgh’s first touchdown of the game. He was also beaten for 2 critical first downs throughout the game. At the very least, Rowe redeemed himself by knocking the ball up and out of the hands of a Steelers player so Harmon could secure the interception as well as the game. Had the Steelers caught that ball, the Patriots would’ve lost the game.
Joe Cardona and Ryan Allen
Snapper Joe Cardona and holder Ryan Allen almost cost New England the game with a single extra point kick mishap. The two were out of sync and kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point following a Patriots touchdown early in the third quarter. As the game got closer and time wound down, that single point could have decided the game. Gronkowski was able to change the pace of the game and drove the team to score what would be the game-winning touchdown. The kicker is an underrated but essential part of the team. He simply cannot do his job if his rhythm is thrown off by the snapper or holder.
As the season winds down, flaws that were thought to have been fixed appear to have only gotten worse. Matt Patricia needs to do his job and figure out how to make the defense start working again. Otherwise, New England’s playoff run will be a short one.
–Caitlyn Allen is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. She covers the New England Patriots. Follow her on Twitter @caitlyyyn_allen