The Steelers went into Sunday’s game with their backs against the wall and never blinked, knocking the wall right over with a 17-10 win over the New England Patriots at Heinz Field.
All three phases came together in the win, one that has the Steelers still in first place in the AFC North.
“Good team effort. It was going to be required,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “I like the no blink and supportive approach of the team in all three phases. We all had moments where we didn’t get it done. But we all had moments where we uplifted the other phases. That is what team is. We did what we had to do. Guys made plays. We are appreciative of the efforts, thankful to get the win, assess it and get ready to move on to the next challenge this journey possesses.”
That no blink attitude is just what the doctor ordered, something much needed coming off three straight losses.
“That is the nature of this thing,” said Tomlin. “It’s easy to display faith and talk that camaraderie stuff when things are going well. Sometimes you have to cut your eyelids off when you want to blink, when it gets thick. We try to display it and live it. You only get to do it in these types of moments.”
And there were some moments on Sunday.
Joe Haden had the play of the night when he intercepted Tom Brady late in the game, as the Patriots were driving in an attempt to tie the game. Haden managed to keep his feet in bounds, a tactic he said he learned from Antonio Brown.
“I learned that from AB,” said Haden, who led the team with 12 tackles. “He said let your legs go numb, so soon as I caught it, I felt like I let my legs go numb. I learned it from AB.”
While Haden’s legs might have been numb, the rest of Heinz Field exploded at that moment.
“Joe is a special guy. He has special talents,” said Tomlin. “His approach to it day in and day out. He is a steadying influence for a young secondary. We ask him to do a lot of things beyond A, B, and C. He does it all with a smile. We are glad he is a Pittsburgh Steeler.”
Some other moments came from two rookies, Jaylen Samuels and James Washington. Samuels had 19 carries for 142 yards and two receptions for 30 yards. Washington had three receptions for 65 yards, including an amazing 32-yard catch.
“I think about the young guys that had positive contributions,” said Tomlin. “Guys like Jaylen, James Washington. Can’t say enough about their contributions.”
Defensively the Steelers were in control. They gave up one touchdown early but forced the Patriots to punt on five straight possessions and held them to a dismal three-of-10 on third downs. T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt were monsters, bringing relentless pressure all night. Watt had the only sack of the night, three tackles and three quarterback hurries. Heyward had four tackles and two quarterback hurries, while Tuitt had three tackles and two quarterback hurries.
“We realize we might not be able to sack him five, six times,” said Tomlin. “He is good. They are good. We talked about pressure and winning those moments. The sack total wouldn’t reflect effectiveness of the group. But we had those moments and those moments were big. They allowed Joe to make that interception.”
The Steelers won the toss and elected to receive, methodically moving the ball down the field on the opening drive. Roethlisberger completed six of seven passes, to five different receivers, for 31 yards on the drive, which culminated in a five-yard touchdown pass to Vance McDonald to give the Steelers an early 7-0 lead. Samuels carried the ball four times for 39 yards, including rattling off a 25-yard run, while he added one reception for 10 yards. Eli Rogers, playing in his first game after being activated on Saturday, had two catches for eight yards on the drive.
The lead quickly evaporated. Tom Brady hit a wide-open Chris Hogan for a 63-yard touchdown, capping a quick three-play drive that tied the game, 7-7. Hogan was left all alone on one side, while three defenders were covering Josh Gordon on the opposite side of the field.
Roethlisberger, working out of the shotgun and an empty backfield, completed seven of eight passes – including seven straight – to put the Steelers back on top. Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster for 22 yards and followed that with a nine-yarder to him. Rogers caught two passes for six yards, while Washington pulled in a nine-yard catch. A pass interference call, which cost the Patriots 26 yards, gave the Steelers a first down at the 17-yard line. Roethlisberger hit pay dirt with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown, regaining the lead, 14-7.
After the Steelers defense stopped the Patriots, with Watt bringing pressure on Brady, it would be New England’s defense who would make the next big play. Duron Hurman intercepted a pass intended for Smith-Schuster, giving New England the ball at their own 24-yard line. The Patriots wouldn’t be able to capitalize on it, with the defense forcing a three-and-out after Watt brought the pressure again.
The Patriots got the ball to start the second half, and the defense once again stepped up, forcing them to punt for the fifth straight time.
Washington caught fire on the Steelers first drive of the second half, with an amazing grab for a 32-yard gain, followed by a 24-yard catch-and-run. Samuels rattled off 14 yards to the four-yard line, but an intentional grounding call pushed them back to the 14-yard line. On third down Roethlisberger couldn’t connect with McDonald, who was out of bounds in the end zone. Chris Boswell, who Tomlin said won the opportunity to kick this week with his performance during the week, missed a 32-yard field goal, sailing wide right.
It would be the Patriots who would put it through the uprights. Brady led them on a 13-play, 63-yard drive, that ate up 8:15 and was capped by a Stephen Gostkowski 33-yard field goal, cutting the lead to, 14-10.
Things took a turn in the Patriots favor when Harmon intercepted Roethlisberger for the second time, picking off a pass in a crowd that was intended for Brown. Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski for his first catch of the day, a 13-yarder, and hit an open Julian Edelman for 25 yards. Sony Michel was ruled forward progress stopped on a two-yard gain, that appeared to be a fumble, a play the Steelers couldn’t challenge. It was originally announced ruled down by contact and changed to forward progress stopped by the officials. On third down Brady hit Gronkowski for eight yards to the five-yard line.
That is as far as they would get. A holding call backed New England up 10 yards to the 15. Brady dumped it off to James White, who lost a yard. Brady, under crazy pressure, threw it up for Edelman and Haden picked him off at the four-yard line, giving the Steelers the ball back with 7:43 to play in the game.
GAME PHOTOS: Week 15 vs. New England Patriots
Game action photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 15 game against the New England Patriots at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger went to work. After two short runs by Samuels, he hit McDonald for eight yards to move the chains. Samuels went around right end for five yards and got the first down on another five yard run. On third-and-nine Roethlisberger hit Samuels for 20 yards, and Samuels followed that with a 15-yard run. The Patriots slowed the Steelers, forcing a 48-yard field goal attempt by Boswell, who nailed it to extend the lead to 17-10.
New England got the ball back with 2:30 to play in the game. Brady hit White on third-and-one for a first down and went deep to Edelman for 34 yards. The defense wasn’t giving in. Watt and Heyward brought constant pressure, forcing three incomplete passes and causing the Patriots turning the ball over on downs and the Steelers went into victory formation.
A look at how they scored:
First Quarter: Steelers 7, Patriots 0
Scoring Play: Ben Roethlisberger five-yard touchdown pass to Vance McDonald.
Scoring Summary: 11-75-6:10
First Quarter: Steelers 7, Patriots 7
Scoring Play: Tom Brady 63-yard touchdown pass to Chris Hogan.
Scoring Summary: 3-77-1:52
Second Quarter: Steelers 14, Patriots 7
Scoring Play: Ben Roethlisberger 17-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown.
Scoring Summary: 8-92-4:17
Third Quarter: Steelers 14, Patriots 10
Scoring Play: Stephen Gostkowski 33-yard field goal.
Scoring Summary: 13-63-8:15
Fourth Quarter: Steelers 17, Patriots 10
Scoring Play: Chris Boswell 48-yard field goal.
Scoring Summary: 13-66-5:13