By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers, once again, begin a second half with a significant deficit, this time down 24-10 to the New England Patriots, with the latter receiving the second-half kick.
The Patriots were penalized for holding on the opening kickoff, resulting in them starting the opening drive from the 10. Stevan Ridley was good for 11 on first down, however, quickly taking care of that poor field position. Julian Edelman then dropped his first target of the game. On second down, Ridley gained four to set up third and long. Danny Amendola converted.
Ridley caught a pass from Tom Brady a play later, but Troy Polamalu stripped the ball out, and LaMarr Woodley recovered the fumble.
On first down, Ben Roethlisberger faked a wide receiver screen and threw it to Le’Veon Bell, who with a block from Fernando Velasco secured a nine-yard gain down to the 26. Bell was good for about seven to crack the red zone. Roethlisberger then took a sack for a one-yard loss.
On second down, Roethlisberger’s pass to Bell was off the shoulder of the linebacker in coverage. On third down, Roethlisberger stepped up into pocket to find Jerricho Cotchery making an adjustment to secure his third touchdown of the season to match the Patriots’ late touchdown at the conclusion of the first half. The Steelers now trail by a touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, the ball went short, but the coverage stopped the runner at the 15. Ridley gained three yards on first down. On second down, Brady just barely escaped pressure from Brady to get a pass off to his receiver, who made a nice catch to set up third and two. on third down, Aaron Dobson was unable to adjust to a back shoulder throw that came up short to force a three-and-out. Antonio Brown was able to return the punt 24 yards to the New England 46.
On first down, the Steelers faked an end-around to Brown to take a short pass to Bell, but Velasco this time was flagged for an illegal block in the back. On first and 20, Bell got free for the first down on a draw to the 31. Off play-action, Roethlisberger found Heath Miller over the middle for another first down into the red zone.
On first down, Roethlisberger again looked for Bell down the field with Donte Hightower in coverage for an incompletion. In an empty set on second down, Roethlisberger completed to Brown for eight yards to set up third and short. On third down, Roethlisberger floated a beautiful ball over the defensive back into the arms of Cotchery for the second time in the third quarter to tie the game at 24. The pass marked the first time this season Roethlisberger has thrown three or more touchdown passes in a game.
On the Patriots’ first play, Rob Gronkowski caught a pass over the middle, but a hit by Ryan Clark sent him to the sidelines. The offensive line was flagged for a false start a play later, but New England picked up a new set of downs after a Ridley run. Gronkowski was able to return after another first down, but it was Amendola going up for the pass down the field into the red zone.
Ridley was able to gain seven yards on first and second down, but on third and three, Brady was sacked by Cameron Heyward and Jason Worilds to force the Patriots to settle for a field goal to retake the lead.
After the field goal, Felix Jones was taken down at the 11 after a high, floating kickoff. Bell snuck through a hole on a draw on first down for eight yards to get in front of the chains. On second down, Roethlisberger found Cotchery down to the 31. A busted play on the ensuing play resulted in no gain, and on second down, Emmanuel Sanders could not bring in a deep pass. Miller was overthrown downfield on third down to force a punt.
After an excellent return out to the Steelers’ 34, Dobson was able to get open on third down to the 20. Two plays later, Brady found Dobson over Gay in the corner of the end zone to extend their lead to 10. The play was reviewed, and the ruling stood, though it appeared that the ball moved slightly when the receiver made contact with the ground.
Roethlisberger’s first pass on the second comeback attempt was batted down at the line. The second down pass intended for Brown was broken up. On third down, he was sacked for a loss of 12. But, on the positive end, he did not fumble. Additionally, Mat McBriar’s 51-yard punt was met with an immediate tackle by Antwon Blake.
Ridley carried for 11 to midfield on the first play of the drive, but the line held on the stretch play for no gain on the subsequent play. Gay was flagged for pass interference down to the 29. On third and seven, Thomas was unable to prevent Gronkowski from converting the first down.
Two carries later, the Patriots found themselves in first and goal from the six, and he crossed the goal line for his second score of the game on the next play to make it a three-possession differential. The Steelers now trail 41-24.
Sanders caught a diving pass in the middle of the field for 24 yards, but Marcus Gilbert got rolled up on on the play. He was replaced by Mike Adams after an injury timeout. Roethlisberger went deep downfield to Brown after the pause, but it was broken up. Cotchery came up incomplete on the second-down pass, but was good on the third-down pass.
Sanders and Brown were good for back-to-back receptions to get out of bounds at the 20. Bell dropped a good pass from Roethlisberger that would have made it first and goal, but Cotchery again converted down to the six-yard line. With a collapsing pocket, Roethlisberger kept his composure and found Cotchery running by Hightower for the six-yard score, the veteran receiver’s first three-touchdown game of his career.
With the Patriots prepared for an onside kick, the Steelers kicked it over the returner’s head, who caught it over his shoulder and returned it, being tackled by Blake at the seven, but a first-down run on the first play gave Brady some breathing room. The last nail in the coffin came on the next play with an 81-yard strike to Dobson as the Steelers sold out on the run.
Roethlisberger was brought down again for a five-yard loss on a sack on the Steelers’ next play. On second down, he escaped two sacks to find Dwyer for a first down, though he elected to lower the boom on a defensive back rather than try to get out of bounds. Sanders converted another first down well inbounds. Roethlisberger’s next pass was intercepted with nobody in the vicinity. There was clearly a miscommunication.
LeGarrette Blount burst through a hole for 23 yards down to the five. Ike Taylor was injured on the play. On first and goal, Blount eventually muscled his way into the end zone after initially being stopped, giving the Patriots a 55-31 lead. The Patriots have 611 total yards. The 55 points are the most the Steelers have ever given up in the history of the franchise, which dates to 1933.
After taking a hit on first down, Roethlisberger found Bell past midfield. The completion also gave him 400 yards on the day. After two incompletions and a four-yard run, the fourth down play was tipped and incomplete, putting an end to one of the most miserable days in the history of the franchise.