Brady & Gronk, Timely Defense Seal Comeback Win
For almost 58 minutes the New England Patriots looked to be outmatched by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday. Over the final two minutes, however, stellar play out of a couple usual suspects on offense and a bit of luck changed the course of the game and helped them take control of the AFC with a 27-24 win in Pittsburgh.
Let's break down some of the big moments and big stars of the game:
2 Minute Drill- Following the only three-and-out of the game, forced by the Patriot defense, New England took over possession of the ball on their own 23-yard line with just 2:06 remaining on the clock and down by five points. New England's first play almost ended the game, as Tom Brady's pass was tipped at the line and nearly picked by a linebacker sitting about six yards off the line. Having narrowly escaped the loss, Brady did what he had done 50 times already in his illustrious career, with a little help from Rob Gronkowski. Brady shook off the near pick and zeroed in on his All-Pro tight end, hitting him three consecutive times for 26, 26, and 17 yards respectively, to get the team down to the Pittsburgh 8-yard line. From there, Brady handed the ball off to running back Dion Lewis, who powered through the line and into the end zone to give the Pats a 1-point lead with 56 seconds left. Up by a point and awaiting the point after, the Pats went for two in an attempt to push their lead to three points. Brady went right back to Gronkowski for the crucial conversion and the big man didn't let him down, snagging a floater over the head of the defender to push the lead to 27-24.
A Lucky Juggle- After the score, the Patriot defense was tasked with stopping Pittsburgh, something that seemed likely. A wild, 69-yard catch-and-run by JuJu Smith-Schuster, coupled with some awful attempts at tackling the speedy wide out, seemed to flip the whole game on it's head. With Pittsburgh just 10 yards off the goal line and 34 ticks remaining on the clock, it appeared that the Steelers would now come away victorious. On the ensuing play, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appeared to connect with tight end Jesse James on a 10-yard touchdown that would give Pittsburgh the lead with 28 seconds left. After review, however, it was ruled that James, who caught the ball at the 1-yard line then turned up field and stretched his arms over the goal line, didn't complete the catch into the ground. On replay, it was clear that the ball was dis-logged from James' grasp as his hands hit the field turf. It was a juggle that proved to be extremely lucky for the Pats.
Final Second Meltdown- Following the overturned touchdown, Pittsburgh still had the ball on the 10-yard line with 28 seconds and three downs to get at least a field goal and push the game to OT. On the ensuing play, Roethlisberger dumped the ball underneath to receiver Darrius Heyward-Bay, who gained just three yards and was kept in bounds. With no timeouts remaining, the Steelers forced a third-and-goal with time expiring. Roethlisberger and his offensive mates seemed a bit flustered by the moment and, after initially calling to spike the ball, decided to run a play. With about eight seconds remaining, Roethlisberger received the snap, double clutched and inexplicably zipped the ball into a nearly-closed window over the middle. Patriots corner Eric Rowe, who was in coverage on the receiver, got his hand up, tipped the ball into the air and saw it float into the waiting arms of safety Duron Harmon, to put the win on ice for New England. It was a major meltdown in the final seconds, by the Steelers.
Making Up For Lost Time- After missing last week's game, due to a suspension, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski did more than just make up for lost time. Following a relatively quiet first half, Gronkowski took over in the second half, making play after play to keep the team's hopes alive. No player was more key than the All-Pro tight end, on the team's final drive. On the 5-play, 77-yard drive, which took the team just 70 seconds, Gronkowski was targeted four times, catching three balls for 69 yards. After setting up Dion Lewis' 8-yard touchdown run, with his three consecutive catches, Gronk capped off the drive with a reception on the team's 2-point conversion. It was a dominant stretch for the tough-to-cover tight end, who finished the day with a game high nine catches for 168 yards.
TB12 Special- For the 51st time in his Hall-of-Fame career, Tom Brady took the ball, late in the fourth quarter with his team trailing, and led them to a win with an impressive final drive. Brady was solid throughout the game, completing 22 of 35 passes for 298 yards and a touchdown. he did have one, bad interception on a poor decision of a pass, as he faced pressure. When the game was on the line he found his top target and picked apart the Pittsburgh defense.
The game was anything but pretty for the Pats and they were really outplayed for most of the action. The injuries they have suffered were noticeable and the team is, in many ways lucky to have won the game. With that said, however, their fight and failure to quit in a hostile environment, on the road, was quite impressive. When the moment presented itself, they rose up to the challenge and did what they needed to do to win. Now, they are AFC East division champs for the ninth straight season and are in the driver's seat for the top seed in the conference. With guys, presumably, getting healthy and the road to the Super Bowl likely going through New England, the Pats are in a very good spot.