This is not to say New England didn’t look impressive and deserving of its unofficial title of “best team in football.”
But while Tom Brady looked mostly like Tom Brady, as he completed 19 of 26 passes for 222 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and zero sacks, the fact is, the Steelers had their chances to win. Even though LeGarrette Blount annoyingly rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns against his old team, the fact is, the Steelers had their chances to win. While Rob Gronkowski looked like a man among boys as he was being “covered” by people named Robert Golden, the fact is, Pittsburgh had many chances to win Sunday’s game.
They say momentum is crucial in all sports, but especially in football. If that is the case, Sunday’s game couldn’t have started better for Pittsburgh, when Jarvis Jones forced a fumble by receiver Chris Hogan and recovered it himself on the Patriots’ first offensive play of the game.
Gifted with a first and 10 at the New England 45, Landry Jones, making just his third NFL start at quarterback, quickly parlayed this good fortune into a first and 10 at the 20, by finding Antonio Brown over the middle for a 25-yard gain. Unfortunately, three plays later, Jones’ re-gifted Hogan’s fumble by being grossly off-the-mark on a pass to Brown in the end zone; Malcolm Butler picked it off, and Pittsburgh walked away empty-handed.
Like really good teams usually do, the Patriots took advantage of this shift in momentum with back-to-back touchdown-drives to take a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.
But momentum is a funny thing, and even backup quarterbacks can find ways to shift it in their team’s favor every now and then; that’s exactly what Jones did with a 51-yard pass to Brown, followed by an exceptionally wonderful 14-yard pass to receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who made an equally exceptional reception and feet plant in the back corner of the end zone to make it 14-7.
After a quick three-and-out by the Patriots on their next series, followed by a 25-yard punt from Ryan Allen, Pittsburgh had possession at its own 47. Jones and Co. continued with their onslaught of jabs and body shots and appeared to tie the game with another 14-yard touchdown catch by Heyward-Bey. Sadly, third-string right tackle Chris Hubbard was called for holding on the play, and the score was wiped out. Moments later, Chris Boswell’s 42-yard field goal attempt went wide-right, and the Steelers once again re-gifted a momentum-shifting present by walking away with nothing.
Early in the fourth quarter, with the Patriots ahead, 27-16, Julian Edelman fumbled on a punt return, and Greg Warren recovered it at the New England 43-yard line.
With over 10 minutes left in the game, a touchdown there would have made things very interesting. Unfortunately, there’s nothing very interesting about advancing the football just seven yards on the next three plays and then missing a 54-yard field goal.
So, in case you’re not counting at home, that’s two takeaways on your opponent’s side of the field, plus a shanked punt that gives you the football at your own 47, and you net zero points out of those three opportunities.
Obviously, had Ben Roethlisberger been the quarterback on all three of those series, Pittsburgh may have walked away with as many as 21 points. Or, at the very least, had Marcus Gilbert been the right tackle and not Hubbard during Heyward-Bey’s short-lived second touchdown reception, the Steelers may have tied the game at 14 and, with momentum being what it is in sports (especially football), who knows?
Yes, things may have been different with key personnel in the lineup, but when you’re up against it with regards to injuries, you need breaks in-order to win the game.
The Steelers got those breaks on Sunday, but they could do nothing with them.
It’s a real shame, too, because the Patriots, despite their overall awesomeness (and the Steelers’ injuries), were ripe for the picking.