Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski Pull Off Miracle 27-24 Win Over Steelers

Duron Harmon interception in end zone seals win, Patriots survive scare at end to capture 9th straight AFC East title


It was the fierce, thrilling battle everyone expected.

There were hard-hitting tackles, star players leaving the field injured and dramatic plays.

And, in the end, there was a miraculous finish that gave the Patriots a 27-24 win over the Steelers at Heinz Field to give the Patriots their ninth straight AFC East title. The Patriots are now 11-3, tied with the Steelers atop the AFC. The Patriots finish the regular season with two home games, vs. Buffalo on Christmas Eve next Sunday and against the Jets on Dec. 31. If the Patriots win out, they will have home field throughout the playoffs.

“We’ve got to take care of a lot of business ourselves,” Tom Brady said when asked if he thinks the Patriots and Steelers will meet again in the playoffs. “That’s a long time down the road. We’ll keep fighting, keeping battling. Proud of our team. I know we can do better than we did today. It wasn’t perfect out there. That’s NFL football.”

The Jacksonville Jaguars are right on the heels of the Patriots and Steelers with a 10-4 record, and clinched their first playoff berth since 2007 Sunday with a win over the Texans.

Eric Rowe deflected a potential game-winning Ben Roethlisberger pass in the end zone and Duron Harmon made the interception with five seconds remaining to seal the incredible win.

“Execution turned into game reality,” Harmon said after the game, referring to how much the Patriots practice defending the fake spike.

“Saw him fake spike it and thought, ‘Oh my God.’ Get back to my position,” Rowe added. “I didn’t really think he’d throw it because I was right on his hip. I saw it tip and thought they caught it and thought, ‘Oh my God’ but we came down with it and I was just ecstatic.”

Dion Lewis ran it for the go-ahead score with 56 seconds left then Rob Gronkowski caught the 2-point conversion to help erase a 24-16 hole.

The Steelers had a golden chance to win after a 69-yard completion to JuJu Smith-Schuster to the Patriots’ 10 with 30 seconds remaining. Jesse James appeared to catch the go-ahead touchdown with 26 seconds left but the touchdown was overruled. Two plays later, Roethlisberger decided to try and win it instead of settling for the game-tying field goal. He forced it into coverage for Eli Rogers. It was picked the Patriots went into wild celebration.

Gronkowski finished with nine catches and 168 yards. On the game-winning drive, Gronk was simply unstoppable as the Steelers let him run free. Gronk had catches of 26, 25 and 17 yards.

“The emotions were up and down on that last defensive drive, I can tell you that, that big catch-and-run,” Gronkowski said. “It was like a rollercoaster that last drive. You’re down, you’re up, you’re down (but) ride ended very well.”

“Even when Rob’s covered, he’s open because he’s so long and he has such range and reach,” Bill Belichick said. “If you can put the ball away from the player that’s covering him, even though he’s close, Rob can get it and the other guy can’t.”

For a full statistical box score, click here.

Tom Brady, who engineered his 51st fourth quarter comeback, started the game completing his first eight passes for 113 yards. He finished 22-of-35 for 298 yards. After his two point completion to Gronkowski, he reminded Gronkowski that “it ain’t over.”

Brady was right. But after the game, Brady said he couldn’t have done it Sunday without him.

“He just kept getting free,” Brady said. “I thought he did a great job separating. Gave him some chances on 1-on-1 throws. He’s a tough matchup. I have so much trust in him. Might look like 50-50 but it’s more like 95-5 (to me). That guy fights his ass off every day.”

Emotions in Heinz Field were running wild from the start as injured linebacker Ryan Shazier was welcomed to a thunderous ovation by the sellout crowd.

Brady came out looking to make amends quickly for his struggles on Monday night in Miami. He directed a six-play, 77-yard drive right down the field, with the key play coming via a play-action fake 43-yard pass from Brady to Brandin Cooks to the Steelers 7. The drive was capped when Rex Burkhead ran it in off the right side from one yard for a 7-0 lead. Burkhead would leave in the third quarter with a knee injury and not return.

On the next drive, Antonio Brown became the first receiver in NFL history with five consecutive seasons of at least 100 catches. Ben Roethlisberger was much sharper on the next drive, as the rain intensified. Roethlisberger completed big passes to Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster before completing a pass over the middle to Eli Rogers, who broke away from Eric Rowe for the 18-yard touchdown.

Brady took a massive hit from Cameron Heyward on a sack on the next drive. On second down, Brady completed a pass to James White on the right sideline. White injured his left leg coming to the ground.

The Steelers drove down the field but lost one of their best players when Brown ran a route in the middle of the end zone in front of the goal post. A Roethlisberger pass caromed off his shoulder pads but on the play, his lower left leg collided with Eric Rowe. He limped off the field, unable to put any pressure on the leg. After a visit to the medical tent, he was taken to the locker room and diagnosed with a calf injury and ruled questionable to return.

Chris Boswell connected on a 51-yard field goal to give the Steelers their first lead against the Patriots in five games, dating to a 25-17 win on Oct. 30, 2011.

After a 32-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, the Steelers proceeded to post the longest drive of the season against the Patriots defense, consuming eight minutes, 39 seconds of the second quarter. Roethlisberger injured his throwing hand when he was hit by Trey Flowers on a follow-through of a pass. The Steelers went to the locker room with a 17-10 lead when Martavis Bryant shed Stephon Gilmore for a one-handed touchdown grab.

The Steelers had 35 plays in the first half while the Patriots ran just 20. The Steelers were 7-for-9 on third down in the first half.

It was a different story coming out of the half. The Patriots took the opening drive, and thanks to two huge plays from Rob Gronkowski, drove inside the Steelers 5. The first play was a 22-yard over-the-shoulder grab to the Pittsburgh 25. The second came on a 4th-and-1 when Brady hit Gronk on a slant for 10 yards to the Steelers 6.

With Brady scrambling, he began to run forward on third down before spotting Brandin Cooks and firing a strike for the touchdown. The score capped a 75-yard, 12-play drive consuming 6 minutes, 10 seconds. But Stephen Gostkowski hooked the extra point just inches to the left of the left upright and the Steelers held on to a 17-16 lead. It was the first miss after 35 consecutive makes for the Patriots’ kicker.

After forcing the Steelers to punt, the Patriots got the ball back and Brady again targeted Gronkowski with some success. But on third-and-2 at the Patriots 33, Brady got hit by tackle Javon Hargrave and threw over the middle to Gronkowski. The pass was picked by Vince Williams, for the first Brady interception against Pittsburgh in 301 attempts, covering seven and a half games, dating back to 2005.

The Steelers didn’t waste time taking advantage, going 22 yards in five plays, with Bell carrying the ball four times, including the 3-yard score to make it 24-16.

With 3:56 left in the fourth, Gostkowski redeemed himself a bit with a 46-yard field goal to make it 24-19.

The Patriots played the game without Kyle Van Noy and Chris Hogan.

Flowers, who covered Bell at times out of the backfield in pass coverage, returned from a rib injury for the first time in three weeks.