By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
Final, 27-24 Patriots: The Patriots win. Oh my goodness. That was insane.
The drive started with an absolutely disastrous defensive performance from the Patriots. Absolutely disastrous.
Roethlisberger completed a short pass over the middle to Smith-Schuster, and no Patriot even came close to tackling him. Jordan Richards came close, sort of, but didn’t get a hand on him, and he scampered for 69 yards.
The Steelers were in field-goal range with 34 seconds left. They threw to Jesse James over the middle on first down, and he made the catch while twisting into the end zone. He bobbled the football a bit as it hit the ground, which led to a lengthy review. After that review, the officials rightly ruled that it was an incompletion. This game is crazy.
On second-and-goal from the 10-yard line, Darrius Heyward-Bey made a catch and was tackled in bounds by Malcolm Butler. HUGE PLAY.
Instead of spiking the ball, the Steelers went with a fake spike, it was well-covered, Roehtlisberger threw to a mess of people, Rowe tipped it and Harmon intercepted it to win the game.
Football is insane.
Fourth quarter, :56, 27-24 Patriots: Rob. Gronkowski.
The man was a monster on that drive. He picked up 26 yards before the two-minute warning, picked up another 26 yards on the play out of the two-minute warning, then picked up 17 yards on the next play. Three catches for 69 yards.
Dion Lewis plunged in from the 8-yard line, and Brady completed the two-point conversion to (who else?) Gronkowski.
Unbelievable performance from Gronkowski.
Fourth quarter, 1:55, 24-19 Steelers: Brady nearly was picked off after a pass was deflected at the line, but Sean Davis whiffed on an easy pick. On the next snap, the final one before the two-minute warning, Brady carefully stepped up in the pocket and delivered a rocket to Gronkowski over the middle for a gain of 26 yards. The Patriots have 51 yards to go if they want to win this game.
Fourth quarter, 2:06, 24-19 Steelers: The Patriots got their stop.
Roethlisberger escaped an Eric Lee sack on second down to rush for five yards, bringing up a third-and-4. He completed a pass to Smith-Schuster over the middle, but Harmon and Rowe clobbered him well shy of the sticks.
Amendola caught a punt inside the 10 and returned it out to the 22-yard line. Here we go.
Fourth quarter, 3:56, 24-19 Steelers: The Patriots appeared to be in business, after Gronkowski drew a 22-yard pass interference penalty that put New England within striking distance of the end zone. But Brady overthrew Amendola, who had a step on his man while streaking toward the end zone, on first down. Burns broke up a pass to Cooks on second down, and Brady got enveloped by the entire defensive line for a third-down sack.
Gostkowksi hit his 45-yard field goal, cutting the Steelers’ lead to five points. But the New England defense needs a stop — and fast. They’ve been unable to do that all night long.
Fourth quarter, 7:38, 24-16 Steelers: The Steelers converted another pair of third downs, but ended up in a third-and-21 and had to punt. So that’s … a good step for the Patriots’ defense? I guess. Technically.
Patriots take over at their own 28-yard line, needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie. There’s technically enough time left in the game for the Patriots to score twice, but considering the Steelers only have seven-minute drives, it feels like the Patriots might have to make this drive count.
End of third quarter, 24-16 Steelers:Rob Gronkowski came up with yet another huge play, this one a 17-yard catch-and-run over the middle.
But Develin dropped a pass off his hands on second down, and Brady threw incomplete while getting leveled by Tuitt on third down.
On the plus side, Ryan Allen demolished his punt, and it was downed on the 3-yard line. That’s a 54-yard punt. Massive.
The Steelers ran one play before the end of the quarter, though, and Bell ran for eight yards through the left side. Likewise, massive.
It’ll be second-and-2 when the fourth quarter begins.
Third quarter, 1:33, 24-16 Steelers: The Steelers make that turnover count, with Le’Veon Bell crossing the goal line for a Pittsburgh touchdown.
They got that opportunity after Xavier Grimble crept out of a play-action snap for an 8-yard reception on third-and-1. Two plays later, Bell plunged in from the 3-yard line, and the lead is now eight.
Third quarter, 4:31, 17-16 Steelers: There’s the turnover. Tom Brady with an ill-advised back foot pass to nobody, over the middle, and the Steelers are in business in Patriots territory.
It came on a third-and-2. Vince Williams made the easy pick and returned it to the New England 22-yard line.
Third quarter, 6:39, 17-16 Steelers: Stop the presses.
The Patriots have come up with a third-down stop.
On third-and-10, Roethlisberger threw over the middle to Bell, who dropped it. Jordan Richards was there anyway to make the tackle well short of the sticks if Bell had hauled it in. After the punt, Patriots take over at their own 10.
Bell was running wild to start that drive, picking up chunks of 18 yards and then 15 yards on consecutive plays to start that drive. So at the very least, the Steelers flipped the field and have forced the Patriots to go 90 yards if they want to get into the end zone.
One important matter: Tony Romo said it, and it’s true. One turnover may lose this game. Patriots have to be especially careful so deep in their own territory.
Third quarter, 8:50, 17-16 Steelers: The Patriots’ drive ends with Brady taking an extra second to let Cooks find an inch in the end zone. Brady threw a bullet while running toward the end zone and connected for a touchdown.
It would have been a tying score … but Ryan Allen mishandled the snap, and Gostkowski missed his kick wide left. Ouch.
In any event, there will be many more points scored in this game — though not if the teams keep exchanging these extremely long drives.
Brady is up to 16-for-20 for 190 yards and a touchdown. Gronkowski was huge on that drive, making a 22-yard catch early, and then making the 10-yard gain on fourth-and-1. He did drop a pass that would have been a touchdown, but Cooks made up for it on the next play.
Rex Burkhead update: He is OUT with a knee injury.
Third quarter, 9:23, 17-10 Steelers: The Patritos came up short in the red zone again, but Bill bBelichick decided to roll the dice and go for it on fourth-and-1. Gronkowski ran a quick slant in man coverage and hauled in 10-yard gain over the middle to set up a first-and-goal. Huge moment.
However, on the next play, Rex Burkhead remained down on the field, injured after a two-yard gain. He’s been a huge member of the offense, so that’s some fairly large news.
It’ll be second-and-goal from the 4-yard line after the injury timeout.
Third quarter, 15:00, 17-10 Steelers: Antonio Brown’s night is officially done. He’s heading to the hospital to have his leg examined further. That’s obviously a huge factor in this game, but potentially beyond. Brown has been the MVP of the Steelers and arguably of the whole league, so if he’s injured seriously, the Steelers’ season outlook changes drastically.
Second half is underway. Patriots start at their own 25.
Halftime, 17-10 Steelers: The Steelers will be heading into the locker room with momentum on their side, after their fourth third-down conversion ends with a 4-yard touchdown pass off the back foot from Roethlisberger to Bryant. Gilmore was in coverage but couldn’t make a play.
The Patriots’ defense just couldn’t get off the field on that drive. On a third-and-3, Roethlisberger threw to Smith-Schuster for six yards (Eric Rowe was in coverage). On a third-and-2, Roethlisberger threw to Bell for 13 yards. On a third-and-7, Bryant got away from Gilmore for a 10-yard gain. And on third-and-goal from the 4, the Steelers scored the TD.
The drive chewed up 8:39, and it sends the Steelers to halftime with a seven-point lead.
The Steelers are 7-for-9 on third downs. That’s the story of the game thus far.
Mike Tomlin said the Steelers don’t expect Brown to return to the game today, which clearly changes things for the second half. But Bryant has been more than enough for Pittsburgh, with 53 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. Bell also has 44 receiving yards on four catches.
Second quarter, 9:07, 10-10: The Patriots’ red zone execution remains a problem, as Brady threw consecutive incompletions on second and third down once the Patriots got inside the 20-yard line.
Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 32-yard field goal, and the game is tied.
The Patriots got there thanks to a 31-yard completion up the right seam by Rob Gronkowski. He is bigger than most other men.
Amendola also had an 11-yard reception to start the drive and then a 12-yard reception on a third down to move the chains. Kenny Britt also picked up his first reception as a Patriot, a seven-yard gain on a comeback route up the right sideline.
Second quarter, 12:15, 10-7 Steelers: The Steelers have taken the lead, but they are in some trouble. Antonio Brown is hurt. He took an inadvertent Eric Rowe kick to the left leg and had to be helped off the field after an end-zone collision. We’ll obviously keep an eye on this, but Brown was taken to the locker room after being evaluated in the tent. Not looking good for him at the moment.
Trey Flowers came up with a sack on the next play (a third-and-18), which forced Pittsburgh into a 51-yard field goal attempt. Chris Boswell, who’s hotter than hot, drilled it. The Steelers lead 10-7.
The big play of that drive involved Martavis Bryant beating Gilmore up the right sideline for 39 yards on a third-and-8 near midfield.
Also of note: Roethlisberger was clutching at his left hamstring after taking a hit (I believe from Flowers), which might limit him — especially in this rain.
First quarter, 2:12, 7-7: Dion Lewis picked up a nine-yard gain to move the chains, but the drive didn’t go anywhere from there, thanks to a Cam Heyward sack on first-and-10 for a loss of eight. Brady connected to White for 4-yard gain on the next play, and White came up limping.
Brady went to Burkhead on third down for gain of five, but on third-and-14 it was well short.
The defense seemed to confuse Brady there. He held the ball in the pocket for a long time on both the Heyward sack and the 4-yard short pass to White, so whatever it was the Steelers did in the defensive backfield, it worked to make Brady a bit hesitant. He’s still 6-for-6 for 71 yards, but the three completions for 11 yards on that drive weren’t exactly impactful.
Steelers take over at their own 24-yard line.
First quarter, 5:32, 7-7: The Steelers have tied it up.
The Patriots needed to make a stop on a third-and-10 at their 31-yard line, but JuJu Smith-Schuster found space on a crossing route, sneaking in front of the linebackers and emerging in the open field with some space to run. Roethlisberger got him the ball and Smith-Schuster picked up 13 yards.
On the next play, the Steelers ran some impressive play-action to spring Eli Rogers free up the seam past Eric Rowe for an 18-yard touchdown reception.
Earlier on the drive on a third-and-4, Roethlisberger had too much time in the pocket, allowing Antonio Brown to gain separation over the middle from Malcolm Butler, for a gain of 19.
The rain is starting to come down heavily.
Roethlisberger is 6-for-9 for 85 yards and a TD.
First quarter, 9:00, 7-0 Patriots: Tom Brady looks sharp. He lofted a beautiful deep ball to Brandin Cooks on a corner route for a 43-yard pickup to get the Patriots inside the Pittsburgh 10-yard line.
Dion Lewis ran for six yards (with a nasty spin move) to get the ball to the 1-yard line, and Burkhead did the honors from there, following a Gronkowski block and falling over the goal line. Pats are up early.
Brady is 3-for-3 for 60 yards. Lewis has 11 yards on two carries, and a 13-yard reception.
First period, 12:11, 0-0: Le’Veon Bell picked up a big gain on the first play from scrimmage — a 17-yard catch-and-run on which David Harris couldn’t handle the talented back in the open field. But the Steelers couldn’t get much more than that. DeCastro took a holding penalty that pushed Pittsburgh into a second-and-15, and Bell stumbled through a hole to force a third-and-7.
Roethlisberger went deep to Jesse James, but Patrick Chung was in coverage step for step and made a leaping swat at the football as it was coming down.
Pittsburgh punted out of bounds, so Brady and the offense will take over at their own 23-yard line.
First quarter, 14:53, 0-0: Stephen Gostkowski’s kick was returned out to the 13-yard line, and this one is underway.
4:10 p.m.: Here’s a picture of Tom Brady urging the Pittsburgh fans to boo him louder:
3:46 p.m.: Tom Brady lost on Monday night. Tom Brady doesn’t like to lose.
And so the quarterback is in a special sort of place as he enters this game. He was posting poems on Instagram earlier in the week, and now he’s asking the fans in Pittsburgh to boo him louder.
Here’s a look at Tom as he walked the field in Pittsburgh earlier today:
And here’s Tom and Brian Hoyer walking out to the field for warmups:
3:40 p.m.: The Kenny Britt era is officially upon us.
That’s a slight overstatement, because the Patriots’ newest receiver must only know about a handful of plays. But in any event, he’s active today, because Chris Hogan is not. So you’ll likely catch at least a glimpse of the talented wideout making his Patriots debut today.
Also of note, David Harris is active, and Mike Gillislee is not. For Pittsburgh, cornerback Joe Haden is out, which is fairly significant.
Here are the inactives for both teams:
RB Mike Gillislee
DT Alan Branch
LB Kyle Van Noy
WR Chris Hogan
S Brandon King
OL Cole Croston
DL Geneo Grissom
QB Joshua Dobbs
WR Justin Hunter
CB Joe Haden
S J.J. Wilcox
T Matt Feiler
TE Vance McDonald
DT Daniel McCullers
9 a.m.: OK, it’s only the regular season, but as far as regular-season Sundays go, this one is pretty special.
The 10-3 Patriots are in Pittsburgh to take on the 11-2 Steelers. The winner will be in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The loser will very likely have to travel to the other team’s house in January for the AFC Championship Game.
The stakes are pretty high.
It promises to be an excellent game, and if you haven’t quite gotten enough of the hype yet, here are some links to hold you over this morning:
We’ll have updates right here from pregame through the final whistle, so check back early and often as the Pats and Steelers battle it out for AFC supremacy!