BOSTON (CBS) — After their thrilling 27-24 win over the Steelers on Sunday, it was clear the Patriots knew what to expect at the end of their high stakes matchup in Pittsburgh.
After a Jesse James touchdown was taken off the board, the Steelers had the ball at the New England 10 and only 28 seconds left on the clock. Now facing second-and-goal, Ben Roethlisberger completed a short pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was wisely taken down before he could get out of bounds by Malcolm Butler.
The clock was still moving and most expected Roethlisberger to spike the ball to keep any more time from ticking off. The Patriots, however, knew the Steelers usually had a fake spike up their sleeves, and were ready for anything (as safety Duron Harmon describes in the Sports Final video above). When Roethlisberger faked the spike and went looking for Eli Rodgers over the middle in the end zone, corner Eric Rowe was in position to deflect the pass. It fell into Harmon’s arms for a game-saving interception, and the Patriots walked off the field with a hard-fought victory and the top seed in the AFC.
It was situational football executed to near perfection, which is what the Patriots needed after giving up a 69-yard connection between Roethlisberger and JuJu Smith-Schuster on the opening play of the drive. Their late-game efforts are not lost on Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who when asked on Monday if he ever thinks back to other unique games he’s been part of, was not shy to compare Sunday’s victory to another famous red zone stand the Patriots defense recently made with the game on the line.
Belichick said Sunday’s game had a similar ending to Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks, when Butler became a household name with a game-saving interception on Russell Wilson’s second down throw from the 1-yard line.
“The difference in that game was [the Seahawks] had to score a touchdown. They were down by four (28-24), so this one, a field goal changed it, which highlights the importance of the two-point play,” Belichick told reporters on a conference call, highlighting Rob Gronkowski’s two-point conversion to give them their 27-24 lead on Sunday. “Had we not hit that two-point play, then they would just kneel on the ball and kick the field goal at the end.”
Belichick added that Harmon’s pick was just one of many big plays the Patriots made down the stretch.
“A change in any one of those plays could have affected the outcome of the game. So, that just to me showed how competitive the game was and how critical every single little thing is – each play, each player, each call, each situation,” said Belichick. “It was a great football game. We were fortunate to make one play more than they did to win it, but it was a very highly competitive game against a good football team, and I think the message for us is just every play’s important and every situation’s important.
“You’ve just got to be prepared for all of them,” added Belichick. “You never know which ones are going to come up, but being able to execute under pressure when they do takes the other 59 minutes and 30 seconds or whatever – not saying it’s meaningless – but it takes all those plays out of the game and now it just comes down to one play or one situation or one short period of time, a few seconds, and that determines the outcome of the game. Situational football is so critical at this time of year, and fortunately we were able to make the plays we needed to make [on Sunday].”
The big difference between Sunday’s win and that win over the Seahawks nearly four years ago is, of course, one was to gain hold of the No. 1 seed in the AFC while the other was for the franchise’s fifth Super Bowl title. But the constant is that both times, his teams were prepared for whatever situation presented itself in the big moment, a signature attribute of a Bill Belichick-coached team.