BOSTON (CBS) — For the 15th time in 17 years, the Patriots are champions of the AFC East.
This year, it took a little extra time for the Patriots. But it was worth the wait, as they were able to celebrate their “Hat & T-Shirt Game” in enemy territory after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
Pittsburgh threw an interception in the end zone with five seconds left, allowing the Patriots to seal a 27-24.
The Patriots had the chance to win the division last weekend with either a win of their own or a loss by the Bills, but neither happened. The Bills also won on Sunday afternoon against Miami, thus keeping Buffalo’s slim chances of wining the division alive.
But that life lasted just a few extra hours, because the Patriots squeaked out their game in Pittsburgh.
The Patriots earn this year’s division title after a rocky start to the season. They lost at home on opening night, 42-27, to the Kansas City Chiefs. Three weeks later, they lost at home again, this time to the Carolina Panthers, to fall to 2-2 on the season while ranking last in total defense.
But, incrementally, the Patriots improved. They won on the road on a Thursday night in Week 5 in Tampa Bay, beat the Jets in New Jersey, and then hit their bye week at full speed with back-to-back home wins over the Falcons and Chargers. They faced what was deemed a grueling road schedule coming out of their bye, with a trip to Denver and a trip to Mexico City to face the Raiders. But they won the two games by a combined score of 74-24.
The Patriots then beat the Dolphins at home and traveled to Buffalo to beat the Bills, two victories which extended the win streak to eight and further prevented the divisional opponents from staying alive in the AFC East race. They stumbled on Monday night in Miami, but bounced back with a win in Pittsburgh.
The division crown is the Patriots’ ninth straight. Since 2000, when Bill Belichick took over as head coach, the Patriots have won the division 15 out of 18 seasons. They missed out in 2000, 2002, and 2008.