It seems rare these days that a sporting event turns out to be everything it was hyped up to be. Today, this was not the case, the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers Week 15 matchup surpassed all expectations.
The first half of the game was a back and forth affair, but Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point and the momentum seemed to swing in Pittsburgh’s favor early in the second half. The Steelers went on to score following a bad Tom Brady interception, and then force a punt on the next Patriots possession. The game felt like it was slipping away from the Pats.
The Steelers then had one of the most bizarre drives I’ve ever seen – 11 plays in nearly seven and a half minutes, but for only 31 yards. The Pittsburgh punt left just seven and a half minutes on the clock, and the Patriots were still down just eight. Brady led the Pats down the field, but the drive stalled just outside the red zone. A Gostkowski field goal narrowed the lead to five. Matt Patricia’s defense forced a timely three and out, and Brady was on the clock for the two-minute drill.
Pittsburgh had no answers for Rob Gronkowski, and it took Brady just over a minute to orchestrate a score. Four of the five plays were completions to Gronkowski, who totaled 69 yards on the drive. A Dion Lewis touchdown run and a Brady-to-Gronkowski two-point conversion put the Pats up three with under a minute to go. The ensuing drive left fans of both teams feeling like they had just rid the rockiest emotional roller coaster of their lives.
New England’s defense forgot how to tackle and JuJu Smith-Schuster sliced the defense for a 70-yard gain on the first play of the drive. On the next play, Ben Roethlisberger completed what looked to be the game-winning touchdown with 28 seconds left to Jesse James. But the play was overturned as it was ruled he did not maintain possession to the ground as he reached across the goal line. A short completion to Darrius Heyward-Bey left about 15 seconds on the clock. Instead of spiking the ball to set up a game-tying chip shot, or throw a fade to the back of the end zone, Roethlisberger rushed to the line and forced a slant route over the middle. The ball was tipped by Eric Rowe and intercepted by Duron Harmon.
Whew. After all that, New England won a game they probably had no business winning. The win was huge for the Patriots, who would have fallen to the three seed with a loss. The loss was a double-whammy for Pittsburgh. A tough loss knocked them out of home-field advantage in the AFC Championship game and star receiver Antonio Brown left the game with a partially torn calf (he is expected to return for the playoffs).
Even after that crazy game, I, for one, am hoping for a rematch in the postseason. Would avoiding the Steelers be preferable? Absolutely. But I’m not looking for the easy way out. As good as the Jacksonville Jaguars have looked at times, Pittsburgh is still the clear second-best team in the AFC to me. The Jags are young and not battle-tested. There is a real possibility, if slim, that Jacksonville struggles under the bright lights of the playoffs. I’m not really trying to watch another 2011 Tim Tebow-Broncos playoff game.
I’m also a big proponent of to be the best, you have to beat the best. I want to see my favorite teams play the best teams, not the easiest ones. Take a look at the other potential playoff teams in the AFC right now. The Kansas City Chiefs started out hot (they actually beat the Pats earlier this season), but have been up and down of late. They sit at 8-6. The Tennessee Titans also are 8-6 and have lost to the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers in back-to-back weeks. Hardly top-tier competition. The 8-6 Buffalo Bills benched their starting quarterback a couple weeks ago. They have three losses of 20 or more points and just one win by more than 10 points this season. The Baltimore Ravens also sit at 8-6, but their only “quality” win is against the Detroit Lions. The Los Angeles Chargers and Oakland Raiders need to win out and get help to even make the postseason.
As you can see, there really isn’t all that much formidable competition in the AFC this season. So after an instant classic this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’m hoping the New England Patriots get to see Mike Tomlin’s boys once more this season.
If you would like to receive an email each time a new New England Patriots article is published, fill out our email notification form.