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Patriots rally back in thrilling 27-24 win over Pittsburgh

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Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone with five seconds left in the game, sealing the deal for New England in the 27-24 come-from-behind win at Heinz Field.

In football, the pendulum axe swings vigorously with every down.

For the Steelers, the sharpest cut carved the life out of a team carrying momentum, an 8-game winning streak and the hopes of a home-biased postseason experience Sunday.

With 56 seconds left in the game, Pittsburgh (11-3) down 27-24, used a 69-yard crossing route pass play from Ben Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster, putting the home team just yards from AFC supremacy, but instead opened the door to the most gut-wrenching play of the Steelers’ season to date.

A 10-yard pass from Ben to Jesse Jones, who tumbled into the end zone, raised the officials’ arms, signaling the go-ahead score with just 34 seconds on the clock. 

“I thought that he crossed the plane before the ball hit the ground,” explained Roethlisberger of the catch. 

Referee Tony Corrente, and the NFL replay crew, did not see eye-to-eye with the signal-caller, and instead, the catch was overruled, as it appeared Jones dropped the ball with his left hand sliding out after crossing the plane.

"He lost complete control of the football," Corrente would say after the game.  "That was the ruling out of the replay."

Three plays later, a fake spike slant route pass from Ben to Eli Rogers was deflected by Eric Rowe and intercepted by Duane Harmon to end the game, giving New England (11-3,) its fifth straight win over the Steelers, and a smoother pathway to the No. 1 seed in the AFC, while clinching its 14th East divisional title in the last 15 years.

“There was a lot of urgency on that last play,” said Rowe of the fake spike play that sealed the deal.  “Everybody was in panic mode trying to get lined up, and I see Big Ben fake it and I was like, ‘oh, they are running a play.’  I got my eyes on (Rogers) and noticed he was doing a slant.  I didn’t really think he was going to throw it because I was right on his hip.  I mean, he threw it, and I need to break this up.  We came down with it, and I was ecstatic.”

Mike Tomlin had no problem with the fake spike, saying simply about the play, “We play and play to win.  That’s what we do.”

The Patriots put Pittsburgh in that destitute position by piecing together a clutch, Rob Gronkowski-starring 5 play, 77-yard drive with just 2:06 left in the game, capped by a Dion Lewis 8-yard touchdown scamper—after three straight passes from Tom Brady to Gronkowski—followed by a two-point conversion, which gave the Pats its three-point lead.

Gronkowski, who was fresh off of a one-game suspension, pieced together a 168-receiving yard gem of a day, hauling in nine passes.

“He was doing it himself,” said Brady, who finished 22-of-35 with 298 yards, a touchdown and an interception.  “I think they were trying to challenge us and he made a lot of good plays.  Other guys make a lot of good plays too, but when he’s open he gets it.  It was just a great game by him.  He played so, so great.”

“It was a great environment and a great team that we played that played really well,” continued the signal-caller, who now has 51-career game-winning drives (4th quarter/overtime.)  “It was just one of those days where you go back and forth.  You play right to the end and the ball bounces some weird ways.  I’m glad it bounced our way today.”

Roethlisberger proved a worthy adversary for Brady, posting a 22-of-30 passing day for 281 yards with two touchdowns and a pick.  Smith-Schuster led the way, tallying 114 yards on six catches.

Ben connected with Martavis Bryant on a 4-yard, one-handed catch that capped a stoic 15 play, 78-yard drive that chewed up 8:39 of the second quarter, sending the Steelers into the locker room up 17-10.

“It was a tough, hard-fought game.  We came up short,” Tomlin said.  “I appreciate the efforts of the guys.  You know, we’ve got to be better in an effort to finish it, but a lot of good effort [and] things there.”

Le’Veon Bell, who led all rushers with 117 yards on 24 carries, punched it in from 3-yards out with just 1:33 left in the third quarter, which gave the Steelers a strong 24-16 advantage that they would carry until a 46-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal with 3:56 left in the game, which trimmed that lead to a 5-point difference.

“Those guys are well-coached.  They have a lot of great players. They are very talented, and they play hard,” said coach Bill Belichick.  “It’s good to come in here and win, but it was a hard-fought game, and they’re a good football team.”

Cam Heyward had a bounce-back feel to things when discussing the game.

I definitely think there are a lot of positives to take from that game with the negatives,” said the defensive leader, who had an 8-yard sack on Brady in the first quarter.  “It’s one game.  We can sit over here and say it was a big game, but it is not the Super Bowl.  We have a lot of games left.  I’m looking forward to it.”

The Steelers outgained New England 413-360, while converting 10-of-16 on third down and carrying a final possession time of 35:07.

Explaining the catch reversal

Referee Tony Corrente spoke in a pool report after the game about reversing Jesse Jones’ 10-yard touchdown catch at the end of the game.

“We were inside of two minutes and in order to have a completed pass, a receiver must survive going to the ground,” explained the head official.  “In this case, he had control of the football but he was going to the ground.  As he hit the ground, the ball began to roll and rotate and the ball hit the ground and that’s the end of it at that point.”

Corrente went on to explain the term “surviving the ground.”

“I said that he just didn’t survive the ground,” he said.  “That’s the terminology that we use in officiating.  You have to survive the ground, which means you have to maintain control of the ball.”

Cam Heyward talked about the ups and downs of the play.

“It was a heck of a rollercoaster,” he said.  “You go from a complete high, thinking that you scored.  That was tough.”

Injury update

Antonio Brown suffered a calf injury, and could be out for the foreseeable future.  The star wideout suffered the damage early in the second quarter when going for a pass that was broken up in the end zone.

“A.B. is getting his lower leg injury evaluated,” explained Tomlin.  “I don’t have a lot of information there.”

James Conner suffered the biggest blow when in the fourth quarter, the running back was tackled awkwardly, injuring his left knee.  The rookie was then carted off from the sidelines.  Tomlin announced that Conner, in fact had an “MCL knee injury,” and would not further elaborate.

After the spread

New England pulled the miracle cover, giving 2.5 points to the home dog Steelers, who have now lost 5 of their last 6 against the spread.  Pittsburgh has not covered against the Pats in four straight games.

The total, which was set at 53 points, remained under with 51 combined on the board, breaking a three-game over streak for the Steelers.  The O/U is 4-9-2, while Pittsburgh is 6-8-1 ATS.

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