What a game!
The Patriots absolutely shocked the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday, coming back from an 8 point deficit in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, winning the game 27-24. The final minutes of the Week 15 contest featured several jaw-dropping plays, such as Rob Gronkowski’s remarkable catch in the red zone, or JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 69-yard catch and run. However, the most controversial play of the game came with 28 seconds left, when Ben Roethlisberger appeared to have thrown the game winning touchdown to his tight end, Jesse James. The play was overturned when the referees determined that James lost control of the ball while reaching across to the end zone. The referee’s interpretation of the NFL’s puzzling catch rule was deemed to be correct by CBS’ Tony Romo, and even ESPN, but still wasn’t enough to dispel the beliefs of fans who feel that the NFL is rigged in favor of the Patriots.
Here are a few takeaways from yesterday’s wild game.
1. Never count out Tom Brady!
Stop me if you’ve heard this before… Tom Brady and his Patriot offense had no business winning this game, but still found a way to get it done when it truly mattered. This sounds familiar right? TB12 was not very good in the first 3 quarters of the game, resembling his uneven performances from the last 2 weeks. For a change, it appeared as if Pittsburgh’s defense had his number, as they constantly got after him, and made him very uncomfortable in the pocket. Brady even threw an interception in the third quarter, when he forced an ugly throw into coverage, which resulted in a defensive lineman picking him off. As NFL teams have learnt over the last 16 years, nothing is impossible for the Patriots when Tom Brady is under center. They may be down 25 in the second half, or be outplayed for the first 55 minutes of the game, but to beat the Patriots you have to play for 60 minutes, and keep #12 off the field. For over three and a half quarters it appeared as if Pittsburgh was going to succeed in doing those two things, but they unfortunately gave Brady enough time to take the lead in the waning moments of the game. Brady was surgical on New England’s final drive, connecting with Gronk on several key plays, which allowed the Patriots to drive 77 yards in just over 70 seconds. Brady’s clutch performance helped move the Patriots to the #1 seed in the AFC, and he will need to continue to play at this level for the Patriots to secure home-field advantage for the playoffs.
2. You just got Gronked!
Rob Gronkowski returned from his one-game suspension and continued his dominance over Pittsburgh’s secondary. Gronk recorded 9 catches for 168 yards (a new career high), and his impact was felt throughout the second half, with 135 yards in the last 30 minutes of the game. Gronk’s main contribution to the game came during the last drive, where he corralled 3 catches for 69 yards, including a breathtaking catch in the red zone. Gronk constantly beat Sean Davis on the drive, and helped extend the Pats’ lead to 3 with a clutch catch on a fade route for a two-point conversion. With #87 in the lineup, the Patriots can flip the switch at any given moment.
3. The Patriots’ defense struggled, but managed to seal the game
If you tuned into the early stages of this game, you never would have thought that the Patriots’ defense would be able to stop Pittsburgh’s high-flying offense, as the Pats could not stop the Steelers on third down. Pittsburgh went 10-for-16 on third down in the game, allowing them to extend drives and tire out the Patriots. Le’veon Bell also had his way with the Patriots, as his patient running style got him 117 yards off 24 carries. New England was clearly on the ropes, but Pittsburgh simply could not knock them out. The Patriots were able to get two stops in the fourth quarter, enabling TB12 & Co. to score twice and take a 3 point lead. When JuJu Smith-Schuster was able to take a simple crossing route 69 yards to the 10 yard line, it seemed as if the Patriots’ luck had simply run out. This belief was exemplified when Jesse James appeared to score the game-winning touchdown. Even though the Patriots were aided by the reversed call, they did not become complacent, as they had key stops on both second and third down. On second down, they were able to tackle Darrius Heyward-Bey inbounds, and their stop on third down was even more remarkable. After the Heyward-Bey catch, it appeared as if Big Ben would simply spike the ball to allow for either a last ditch effort at the end zone, or a field goal to tie the game. Instead, he did a fake spike, and tried to force a ball to Eli Rogers in the end zone, which was deflected by Eric Rowe, and intercepted by the Patriots’ closer, Duron Harmon. The Patriots were able to win yesterday, but need to work on stopping the run, and getting off the field on third down, as it will make it much easier for them to win games in the future.