Ryan L. Fox
This past Sunday, there was a battle for AFC supremacy. On one side you had the Pittsburgh Steelers, the top team in the entire conference and the AFC North Divisional champs. On the other side you had the New England Patriots, the second best team in the conference, defending Super Bowl champs, and the top dog in the AFC East Division. Both teams slugged it out for 60 minutes in a hard-pounding, hair-raising, spectacular Week 15 game of football that both enthralled today's generation of football fans as well as past generations of football fans. But in the end, only one team would walk away a winner.
The Pats won the toss and elected to defer to receive the ball to begin the second half. After forcing the Steelers to punt after their opening possession, QB Tom Brady led the offense down the field. The offense got down to the Pittsburgh 1. There, RB Rex Burkhead bowled his way over to give his team the early 7-0 lead.
Not to be outdone, Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger responded back with his own offensive drive. After gashing the Pats secondary, Roethlisberger found WR Eli Rogers for an 18-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
After forcing New England to punt, Pittsburgh drove down the field again. However they were forced to settle for a 51-yard field goal by K Chris Boswell to get an early 10-7 lead with 12:20 left in the 2nd quarter. But bad luck hit Pittsburgh. On a 2nd and 18 at the New England 25, Roethlisberger tried to find All-Pro WR Antonio Brown in the end zone. The pass was dropped but on the play, Brown got injured and had to be taken out of the game.
New England responded the Boswell field goal with a 32-yard field goal by K Stephen Gostkowski to tie things up at 10-10 with a little over 9 minutes left in the quarter.
Then for the rest of the quarter, it was all Pittsburgh Steelers. It wasn’t that the Steelers had run away with the game. Rather, they embarked on a 15-play, 78-yard drive that took 8 minutes and 39 seconds off the clock. That was capped off with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to WR Martavius Bryant to give the Steelers a 17-10 going into halftime.
New England got the ball to begin the second half at their 25. They proceeded to drive down the field as the Pittsburgh defense couldn’t get a stop. The drive was also kept alive by a 10-yard pass from Brady to TE Rob Gronkowski on 4th and 1 on the Pittsburgh 16. Then on 3rd and 4 from the Pittsburgh 4, Brady found WR Brandin Cooks for the score. However Gostkowski missed the extra point as Pittsburgh still lead 17-16.
After forcing a Pittsburgh punt, New England got the ball back at their 11 and were looking for the go-ahead score. However on 3rd and 2 on the New England 33, Brady was pressured and ended up throwing a poor pass. The ball was intercepted by Pittsburgh LB Vince Williams and returned to the New England 22. Five plays later, RB La’Veon Bell rushed it in from 3 yards out to help give his team a 24-16 lead with 1:38 left in the third quarter.
After an exchange of punts, New England got the ball back on their 28 with 7:38 left in the 4th quarter. They were able to drive down to all the Pittsburgh 21 but could not advance any further on 1st and 2nd down. Then on 3rd down, Brady was sacked for a 7-yard loss by Pittsburgh LB Bud Dupree. Gostkowski kicked a 46-yard field goal to help New England pull closer as the score was 24-19.
New England got the ball back on their 23-yard line with 2:03 left in the game. Then it became the Gronk show. Brady kept throwing to the All-Pro tight end’s way for nearly the entire drive, accumulating 69 yards on the drive. Then on 1st and goal from the Pittsburgh 8, RB Dion Lewis sprinted ahead for the go-ahead touchdown. New England went for the two-point conversion, getting it to go up 27-24 with 56 seconds left in the game.
Pittsburgh had one more chance to get within distance for a chance to tie the game. On 1st and 10 from their 21, Roethlisberger threw what seemed to be a 10-yard pass to WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. However Smith-Schuster slipped away from a tackle and then sprinted all the way down deep into New England territory. He was finally brought down to the New England 10 as Pittsburgh called time out. Then on 1st and 10 on the, Roethlisberger seemingly hooked up with TE Jessie James for the go ahead touchdown. But after further review, the referees deemed that James had bobbled the catch and ruled it incomplete.
Two plays later, Roethlisberger tried to do a fake spike pass but it was batted away by CB Eric Rowe and Duron Harmon caught the ball, thus ripping the heart out of the entire Pittsburgh organization. Brady knelt the football and New England escaped the Steel City with a much needed victory.
Top Patriot Performers
QB Tom Brady: 22-for-35 for 298 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT for QB rating of 87.6
RB Dion Lewis: 13 carries for 67 yards and 1 TD, 1 catch for 13 yards
TE Rob Gronkowski: 9 catches for 168 yards
WR Brandin Cooks: 4 catches for 60 yards and 1 TD
DE Lawrence Guy: 7 tackles (4 solo, 3 assists), 1.0 sacks
FS Devin McCourty: 7 tackles (7 solo, 0 assist), 1.0 sack
SS Patrick Chung: 7 tackles (6 solo, 1 assist), 1 Pass Defended
AFC East Champs
The thrilling comeback victory over the Steelers had a lot of implications for the New England Patriots. Aside from claiming the #1 playoff seeding in the AFC, the Patriots captured their 9th consecutive AFC East Divisional title dating back all the way to 2009. It was also the 15th time that has happened since Belichick took over as head coach of the New England Patriots back in 2000.
With their two remaining games being against divisional opponents (Buffalo Bills in Week 16 and New York Jets in Week 17 with both games at home), you can guarantee 2 victories to pad their overall dominance of the AFC East Division.
If there was a Patriots player who needed this victory more than anybody, it was TE Rob Gronkowski.
After making headlines for getting suspended for his malicious head-hunting hit on Buffalo Bills CB Tra’Daveous White in Week 13 and then the Patriots’ abysmal offensive performance in a Week 14 loss against the Miami Dolphins, all eyes were on the All-Pro tight end going into this game.
And he delivered.
Gronk reasserted himself as Brady’s go-to-guy throughout the entire game. He finished the game with 9 catches for a career-high 168 yards receiving. However his biggest contribution came on the final game-winning drive where Gronk hauled in 3 catches for 69 yards that set up teammate RB Dion Lewis’ game winning touchdown. He also got the crucial 2-point conversion.
It seems that the suspension humbled him and reminded the big guy that you have to follow the rules and keep calm in situations. It also seemed like he came back with a little extra in his step, more motivation and focus in him. That’s good for the Patriots and bad for the rest of the NFL.
Fox Fist Bump
Gronk hands down. That’s what I want to see more of out of him. Way to go big guy!
Turd in the Punch Bowl
No turds this time.
Play of the Game
Should Have Spiked It
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