PITTSBURGH — Some notes and nuggets from the New England Patriots’ incredible 27-24 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field.
— This game’s ending was one for the books.
Tom Brady drove the Patriots down the field with three long completions to tight end Rob Gronkowski, then handed to Dion Lewis for a 8-yard touchdown run. Brady and Gronkowski hooked up again on the ensuing two-point conversion to give New England a 27-24 lead with just 56 seconds remaining.
But then, on the very next snap, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed a short pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the rookie wide receiver took off, weaving his way 69 yards down the field before safety Duron Harmon finally dragged him down at the Patriots’ 10-yard line. The big play put Pittsburgh in position to, at the very least, kick a field goal that would send the game into overtime.
No extra session was needed, though.
On the following play, Roethlisberger hit tight end Jesse James for what appeared to be a game-winning 10-yard touchdown. Officials reviewed the play, however, and ruled that James had not completed the catch, wiping away the touchdown and giving New England’s defense another shot at redemption.
Roethlisberger completed a pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey on the next play, but cornerback Malcolm Butler tackled him in bounds, forcing the Steelers to hurry to the line as time wound down. Roethlisberger took the snap, faked a clock-stopping spike and fired a pass to a triple-covered Eli Rodgers in the end zone.
Cornerback Eric Rowe got his hand on the ball, and it fluttered into the waiting arms of Harmon, sealing the most improbable of wins for New England.
Patriots tight end Dwayne Allen tight end summed up the furious finish nicely.
“It was just excitement, excitement, horror and back to excitement,” Allen said.
— In addition to thrusting the Patriots past the Steelers and into first place in the AFC, the win secured New England’s ninth consecutive AFC East title.
While that might not be a big deal to Brady, Gronkowski or other players who have spent their entire careers in Foxboro, it was huge to someone like cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who failed to reach the playoffs in five seasons with the Buffalo Bills before signing with the Patriots this past spring.
“(The Patriots) have been beating me my whole career, so I’m glad I’m on this side now,” said Gilmore, wearing his AFC East champs hat and T-shirt. “… It feels great. We are AFC (East) divisional champs.”
Rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise had a similar reaction.
“It feels awesome,” Wise said. “It’s a great feeling. … I’m just really excited right now. I’ve got high emotions.”
— Wide receiver Kenny Britt made his Patriots debut Sunday after signing with the team earlier in the week.
Britt didn’t play much, finishing with just one catch for 7 yards, but said he’s relishing the opportunity to contribute to a contending team after being released by the winless Cleveland Browns last week.
“I’m just embracing it all,” he said.
Britt called the Patriots final drive, during which Brady and Gronkowski connected three times for 69 yards, “legendary.”
“That was unbelievable,” the 29-year-old said. “I’ve never seen anything like that between two people. That’s a connection they have built over the years, and hopefully we can keep on seeing it.”
Thumbnail photo via Zack Cox/NESN.com