The ending was chaotic, confounding and oh-so-tough to swallow.
To guard David DeCastro, it doesn't get any tougher than Patriots 27, Steelers 24.
"Toughest one since I've been playing football, man," DeCastro allowed Sunday evening at Heinz Field. "That was, that's tough man, when you lose and it's not how do I say this the right way? not in your control. It's tough, but we had our chances so what are you going to do?"
New England survived what had initially been ruled on the field as a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to tight end Jesse James on a first-and-goal snap from the Patriots' 10-yard line with 34 seconds left in regulation.
The call was overturned by replay review and the pass was ultimately deemed incomplete.
Roethlisberger threw an interception in the end zone off a fake spike on a pass intended for wide receiver Eli Rogers two snaps later.
That secured the Patriots' escape and their fifth consecutive victory over the Steelers.
"That makes it way worse," DeCastro added. "They're the team to beat, we had 'em, had 'em again, but didn't.''
Wonder what these two teams might do for an encore?
"It was a heck of an emotional roller coaster," defensive end Cam Heyward assessed. "At the end of the day, we have a lot of football ahead of us, two games (in the regular season) and a guaranteed football game (in the postseason).
"We can be dejected about this, but I like where we are at."
The Steelers and Patriots emerged tied for the best record in the AFC at 11-3.
New England finishes its regular season against Buffalo and the New York Jets (both at home).
The Steelers have regular-season games at Houston and against Cleveland remaining.
"We're looking forward to playing those guys in the playoffs," cornerback Artie Burns said.
THE NON-CATCH:** James thought he'd scored a touchdown.
The apparent TD was even reflected on the scoreboard momentarily, until it wasn't.
"Obviously, we thought it was in," James said. "Disappointed in the outcome but that's what it is. I don't work in that department, I just play football. We thought it was a catch, that's just the way they ruled it. I can't do much about that.
Referee Tony Corrente explained the replay reversal in a poll report:
"In order to have a completed pass, a receiver must survive going to the ground. 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."
Roethlisberger said he saw the end of the play "just from the jumbotron.
"Obviously, no one touched him," Roethlisberger continued. "I thought that he crossed the plane (of the goal line) before the ball hit the ground but the rule is you have to possess it all the way through."
THE NON-SPIKE:** Roethlisberger completed a 3-yard pass to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey on second-and-goal after the incompletion to James, but Heyward-Bey was tackled in bounds and the clock continued to run.
Rather than spike the ball and stop the clock on third down and then attempt to tie the game with a short field goal on fourth down, the Steelers went for a touchdown.
Roethlisberger's pass for Rogers was deflected by cornerback Eric Rowe and intercepted by safety Duron Harmon.
"I was yelling 'clock it,'" Roethlisberger said. "I felt like that was the thing to do, was clock it and get yourself one play. It came from the sideline 'don't clock it, don't clock it.' Everyone thinks it's 'clock' so you don't have time to try and get everyone lined up. Eli, he kind of ran a quick slant in there. At that time you just have to try and make a play.
"Probably didn't make a good enough throw."
Said head coach Mike Tomlin: "We played to win. We came up short. We accept responsibility for that."
Game action photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 15 game against the New England Patriots.
GRONKED AGAIN:** Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski came in averaging six receptions, 99.2 receiving yards and 1.6 receiving touchdowns in five career games against the Steelers.
The Steelers prevented him from scoring a touchdown this time, but Gronkowski finished with nine catches for 168 yards. He also caught a pass for a two-point conversion following New England's final touchdown, an 8-yard scamper by running back Dion Lewis with 56 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Gronkowski, 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, caught consecutive passes for 26, 26 and 17 yards on the five-play, 77-yard march that ultimately wiped out a 24-19 Steelers lead.
"Man, he's just huge, big body, big target," said safety Sean Davis, who spent much of the game trying to cover Gronkowski. "(Patriots quarterback Tom) Brady was throwing it right in there, man. He just made more plays than us. They made more plays than us.
"I battled the whole game with him. We came up short that last drive. That's pretty much it, man."
SHAZIER VISIT INSPIRING:** Among those in the Heinz Field-record crowd of 68,574 was injured linebacker Ryan Shazier, who was shown repeatedly on the jumbotron cheering on his teammates.
"That meant a lot to us for him to get out of his bed and come down to watch us play, to be here with us," Burns said. "He didn't make it about himself, he made it about the team. He knew he had to be here for this moment and support us and that's what he did.
"We appreciate him for that."
THEY SAID IT: "I'm not into moral victories. We just lost a game and it doesn't sit well but the season's not over." _ Roethlisberger.
"We'll see them again and the outcome will be different." _ Rogers.