PITTSBURGH — In the end, the desperate Steelers made fewer mistakes and converted more big plays than the Patriots.
As a result, the Patriots missed yet another chance to clinch and their playoff positioning in the AFC is very much up in the air.
Tom Brady’s pass on 4th-and-15 from the Steelers 21 intended for Julian Edelman fell incomplete at the goal line, sending Heinz Field into pandemonium.
Jaylen Samuels ran through the Patriots defense for a career high 142 yards on 19 carries and Ben Roethlisberger converted a pair of late third down conversions to help seal a 17-10 win over the Patriots at Heinz Field.
The Steelers (8-5-1) snapped a 3-game losing streak and remain a half-game ahead of second place Baltimore in the AFC North, while the Patriots (9-5) fall to the No. 3 seed in the AFC behind the Chiefs and Texans. The Patriots finish just 3-5 on the road, their first losing year on the road since 2009.
The game opened with Ben Roethlisberger proclaiming, “we’ll take the ball” after the Patriots lost the opening toss.
Facing a crucial third-and-3 at their own 32, Roethlisberger, hit Eli Rogers for four yards. With a bit of momentum, the Steelers and Jaylen Samuels began to gash the Patriots defense much in the same way the Dolphins did a week earlier.
Samuels, who came into the game averaging just over two yards a carry, busted out gains of six and 25 yards on his next two carries to give the Steelers momentum. The Steelers then capped off the drive on third-and-goal from the Patriots 5 when Patrick Chung lost tight end Vance McDonald and Roethlisberger hit the wide open for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
The Patriots then did what they normally do, respond with lightning speed. Just a play after a 12 men on the field penalty gave the Patriots a first down at the Patriots 37, Brady called a double-reverse play action in the backfield, which froze the Steeler defense. Chris Hogan ran a crossing pattern. The result was the most-open touchdown in the last three seasons (per ESPN Stats). The 63-yard Brady-to-Hogan connection tied the game, 7-7.
The teams exchanged punts before the Steelers got the ball back at their 8. The Steelers then marched 92 yards for the go-ahead score but not before the most controversial call of the half. Jonathan Jones was in coverage down the far right sideline with the just-activated Eli Rogers. The pass fell incomplete after what appeared to be solid coverage. But the back judge threw the flag from 25 yards away. The pass interference call on Jones set the Steelers up at the Patriots 17.
On the next play, Antonio Brown slipped by Jason McCourty and Roethlisberger drilled his star receiver for a 14-7 lead.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 16, 2018
The Patriots responded immediately and appeared to be ready to answer after a 25-yard Sony Michel run set them up at the Pittsburgh 31. But a holding call on Patriots left tackle Trent Brown wiped it out. The Patriots punted, setting the stage for one of the best special teams plays of the year. The punt landed inside the 10, it bounced in the air. Jonathan Jones did one somersault into the end zone to keep the ball alive. Then Rex Burkhead flipped the ball back to Ramon Humber, who finally downed it at the Pittsburgh 1.
But the Patriots defense couldn’t keep the Steelers pinned back. The Steelers were picking apart the Patriots again, easily getting across midfield before Roethlisberger overthrew Smith-Schuster. Duron Harmon picked it off.
Josh Gordon dropped a ball from Brady that would’ve been a first down and instead, the Patriots had to punt. The Steelers marched the ball right down the field again, as Jason McCourty was burned badly twice on the drive for 32 and 24 yards. The Steelers got the ball down to the Patriots 4 but after a run play went nowhere, Lawrence Guy got to Ben Roethlisberger for an intention grounding call at the 14. The next pass was incomplete and the embattled Chris Boswell shanked a 32-yard field goal wide right.
The Patriots got the ball back and appeared to be self-destructing, with a pair of Julian Edelman penalties on back-to-back plays followed by a sack of Brady by T.J. Watt setting up third-and-16 at the Patriots 29. Brady fired a pass over the middle for Chris Hogan, who was held by Joe Haden. The 22-yard defensive pass interference pumped new life into the Patriots. They went back to a potent running attack to get the ball down to the Pittsburgh 15. Stephen Gostkowski’s 33-yard field brought the Patriots within four at 14-10.
Duron Harmon’s second interception of the day gave the Patriots the chance to take the lead.
The Patriots drove from their 45 down to the Steelers 4 after a Brady-to-Gronkowski completion, giving them first-and-goal. But the Patriots were called for a hold on Marcus Cannon pushed the Patriots back 10 yards. Then a bad screen pass lost two yards followed by a terrible decision by Brady to heave the ball up in the air. It was picked off by Joe Haden, who landed on Julian Edelman’s right foot, injuring his foot.
The Steelers then converted two key third downs to drive down the field and Chris Boswell redeemed himself with a 48-yard field goal with 2:30 remaining to give the Steelers a 17-10 lead.