It was an action packed game filled with back and fourth action and needed almost every second to determine a winner and the New England Patriots were the ones on top defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24.
The Patriots started off the game with a much faster approach contrary to last week’s matchup with the Miami Dolphins.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady started off the game completing eight straight passes and moving it down the field mirroring last season’s AFC Championship matchup.
It didn’t take long for the Steelers to tighten up on defense allowing Cameron Heyward to pick up his 10th sack of the season.
After the Patriots scored another three points to tie the game, the Steelers milked the clock on the longest drive against the Patriots defense this season lasting over eight minutes. Converting on every third down, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger capped the drive with a pass to receiver Martavis Bryant.
The Patriots differing at the start of the game, got the ball to start the second half driving down the field and converting on a fourth down gamble to Gronkowski. The drive was capped off with Brady breaking free of the rush and finding Brandin Cooks for his sixth touchdown catch of the season.
The Patriots would however need to do more work as kicker Steven Gostkowski after making his previous 35, missed the extra point to keep the score at 17-16.
The Patriots got the ball back after a three and out but on short third down play, Brady made yet another careless interception to inside linebacker Vince Williams which set up a Le’Veon Bell rushing touchdown that put the Steelers up 24-16.
The Patriots could not answer and were forced to punt as the third quarter wound down.
The Patriots finally were able to get off the field on third down with seven minutes to play in the game.
The offense took over and was able to get it down to the 21 where they surrendered and kicked a field goal to bring them within five.
The Patriots got the ball back after a big three and out, the first three and out given by either team.
The comeback was on, as Brady escaped an interception off a tipped pass throwing it down field to his big tight end Gronkowski who had a redemption game after serving his suspension.
“Missed the boys, they are always grinding every single week,” Gronkowski said. “These guys are my teammates, they’re awesome to be around so definitely miss them and it was great to be back.
The final two minutes began at midfield and Brady went to Gronkowski two straight times capping the drive with an eight yard Dion Lewis touchdown run and a successful two point conversion.
But it only took the Steelers two plays to get down the field and take the lead but wait a minute. Tight end Jesse James juggled the ball on the extension and it was ruled an incomplete pass.
Roethlisberger threw the ball to Darrius Heyward-Bey in the slot and when you thought the Steelers would spike it and send the game to overtime, the Steelers quarterback tried to channel his inner Dan Marino with a fake spike which bounced of of cornerback Eric Rowe into the hands of safety Duron Harmon. Game, set, and match.
The Patriots now control their own destiny for home-field advantage
The James reversed catch is going to be one of the most talked about aspects of the game so let’s go over it.
According to official website of the NFL rules, the rules for a catch are as follows.
ARTICLE 3. COMPLETED OR INTERCEPTED PASS
A player who makes a catch may advance the ball. A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds:
- secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and
- touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and
- maintains control of the ball after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, until he has the ball long enough to clearly become a runner. A player has the ball long enough to become a runner when, after his second foot is on the ground, he is capable of avoiding or warding off impending contact of an opponent, tucking the ball away, turning up field, or taking additional steps
– Description of rule courtesy of operations.nfl.com.
Whether you believe it was a catch or not, the rulebook says it was indeed not a catch.
Note: If a player has control of the ball, a slight movement of the ball will not be considered a loss of possession. He must lose control of the ball in order to rule that there has been a loss of possession.
If the player loses the ball while simultaneously touching both feet or any part of his body to the ground, it is not a catch.
Rex Burkhead: Burkhead went down in the third quarter with an apparent knee injury. While he walked off under his own power, it does not look good for a player who’s undoubtedly having the best season of his career.
Here’s the recount of the injury according to boston.com
Burkhead was injured on a collision and stayed on the ground for some time while he received attention from trainers. He walked off the field slowly, but without a noticeable limp, and was immediately taken to the blue, pop-up medical tent on the sideline.
Recent reports came out that Burkhead did not tear his ACL and should be back in time for the playoffs.
Top Performers: Offense – 2 Defense – 2
Rob Gronkowski: The Arizona alum, was the game’s “Most Valuable Player” today. With nine receptions for 168 yards which included a two point conversion catch, it was a great welcome back performance in his 100th game.
Brandin Cooks: Cooks had a rebound game this week going over 1,000 yards for the third time in his career. Cooks wants to be a Patriot for the rest of his career and with season totals like this, it’s very much possible.
Ricky Jean-Francois: Francois was re-signed to the team just days earlier and was given a big role on the defensive line with five tackles on the line in place of Alan Branch.
Duron Harmon: In yet another example of his “right place, right time” style of play, Harmon made yet another last second interception that sealed the game for the Patriots.
“Duron’s around the ball, he reads the quarterback and the ball well,” Belichick said about the strong safety and his prowess for grabbing the football.
Harmon has become a leader on this defense and is a player to watch going forward.