So…there is a pretty big game on tonight. Either the Pittsburgh Steelers or the New England Patriots will be heading to their NFL-record ninth Super Bowl, set to face the Atlanta Falcons–presumably, who are currently having their way with the Green Bay Packers.
Much has been said over the course of the week–I should know, as I’ve said much of it myself–about this or that statistic. Ben Roethlisberger has not played too well too often on the road, for example. Yet the Steelers have won their past five road games. But neither of those statistics will matter once the game is being played.
Ladarius Green is the only notable injury scratch for the game, though that is not surprising. It is worth noting that Demarcus Ayers is down, which could mean something about Sammie Coates‘ readiness to contribute on offense; or it could just be because Anthony Chickillo and Ricardo Mathews are back from injury.
For the Patriots, there are no surprises on their inactive list, except perhaps for wide receiver Michael Floyd. Expect to see plenty of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Chris Hogan. Also of note is that tight end Martellus Bennett is playing through some injuries.
The Steelers lost the coin toss and the Patriots chose to take the ball first. Chris Boswell kicked the ball through the end zone for a touchback. Tom Brady had time to throw on first down and found Bennett for 12 yards. A short pass to Edelman and a couple of missed tackles put them on the Steelers’ 22.
A short pass to Malcolm Mitchell gained five. Amendola was hold shy of the first by James Harrison. On third and one, Brady’s pass was dropped by the rookie, forcing the Patriots to settle for a field goal on the opening drive. The Chiefs scored a touchdown on their opening drive last week, the first time the Steelers gave up an opening-drive touchdown all season.
Sammie Coates and Marcus Gilbert were back to receive the opening kickoff. Gilbert fielded the kickoff inside the five and returned it to the 22. The first play went to Le’Veon Bell off right guard for three yards. An inside draw to Bell picked up another six, setting up a third and one. In the short-yardage opportunity, Ben Roethlisberger threw deep to Coates, who had a chance to make the catch, but did not get his arms extended. So Jordan Berry punted just 36 yards to New England’s 33, out of bounds.
LeGarrette Blount got his first carry of the game and was stopped in the backfield. On second and 11, early pressure seemed to throw off Brady’s rhythm on a short pass incomplete. Now third and long, Javon Hargrave broke through and sacked Brady for a loss of 10, forcing a punt. Brown called for a fair catch at the 39-yard line after a 39-yard punt.
On first down, Bell got the handoff up the middle for six yards. Roethlisberger’s screen pass attempt to Brown was off the mark. On third and four, however, he managed to escape pressure and found his tight end, Jesse James, for the first down.
Across midfield, a short pass to David Johnson picked up one. Bell had nowhere to go up the middle initially, but managed to get three after waiting for a hole. On third and six, Roethlisberger looked like he threw an erratic pass looking for Brown, with Malcolm Butler nearly able to undercut the route and intercept the pass, but Brown broke it up. Berry’s second punt of the game went for a touchback. Two poor punts so far.
Taking over from the 20, a screen for Dion Lewis up the middle went for three. A quick snap to Edelman added six to set up third and one. Lewis was able to punch through for the needed yard and a new set of downs. He added another eight with the Patriots out of the hurry-up, but was limited to no gain on second down. On the next third and one, the quick screen to Hogan got three.
From the 43, following an audible, Brady got Hogan up the seam for a 26-yarder, and then another for 11 into the red zone. From the 20, Blount fought his way forward for four. Ryan Shazier punched through the line to bring him down for a short gain on the next play. On third and five, the double A gap blitz didn’t get home, and that gave Brady all the time he needed to pick apart the coverage, findin Hogan wide open all on his own in the back of the end zone for the touchdown, and a 10-0 lead with 2:47 left in the first quarter.
Coates got blown up on the return at the 16-yard line. Roethlisberger looked for Roosevelt Nix on a rollout on first down, incomplete, leading the fullback too far. On second down, Bell was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Bell came off the field for DeAngelo Williams on third down and Roethlisberger found Eli Rogers on a pick for 16.
From the 32, Williams stayed in the game and got one yard. Rogers converted on the next play on a corner route. From the 42, a short pass to Williams picked up four or five on the final play of the first quarter. Bell is on the sidelines talking to the team doctor for a currently unknown reason. It looks to be a lower body issue.
Bell remained on the sideline to start the second quarter, but had his helmet on. On second and four, Williams managed to rip off a 15-yard run to the 37 of the Patriots. Brown’s first reception ended up going for 11 or so. From the 26, Rogers caught a diving stab for eight yards. Williams gave the Steelers a first down inside the red zone.
Williams was the recipient of a check-down pass, who made a couple of players miss for just three yards. From the 11, Roethlisberger bought time and found James on the right side, picking up six yards. Williams punched it in from there to put the Steelers on the board, 10-6, stopping the bleeding. Boswell missed the extra point.
Bell is ruled as questionable to return with a left groin injury.
Lewis was tackled at the 18 on the return. A quick pass to Bennett picked up nine, with Ross Cockrell missing a tackle opportunity. Blount was able to get two yards on the following play. From the 30, a double play-action fake got Hogan open down the field, but the pass was behind and he could not catch the pass. Pressure forced Brady to ground the ball at his running back’s feet. On third and 10, however, Edelman was able to get 12.
A quick bubble screen to Hogan picked up four with Artie Burns on the tackle. Stephon Tuitt cut Blount down behind the line of scrimmage for a loss of two. On third and eight, a no-call on a hold on Harrison around the edge allowed Hogan to get open on the left sideline for a big gain. From the Steelers’ 34, Brady hit Hogan on the flea-flicker for the touchdown, as the Patriots regain a two-possession lead, extending it now to 17-6.
Following a touchback, Bell checked back in for the first time and was held to a short gain. But he checked right back out on the following play. Roethlisberger connected with Williams for nine on second down.
From the 36, a quick pass to Brown on a crosser was stopped for three or four. Williams converted another first down through the air with Roethlisberger stepping up in the pocket to get him open. Approaching midfield, Roethlisberger hit Rogers on a quick slant for seven. Williams got the carry and picked up one or two, depending on the spot. On third and short, Roethlisberger found Brown wide open down the field for 12. From the 32, he made an easy connection with James for 11 down to the 21.
Roethlisberger went for the end zone to Cobi Hamilton, but he was unable to secure it in his chest. On second down, Williams got about a yard on the ground. Now suddenly set up with third and long after two unsuccessful plays, Roethlisberger found James beating the safety for a big gain, which was nearly a touchdown. Down at the half-yard line. Williams was stopped for a short loss on first down, and the Patriots used their first timeout. On second and goal, from the two, Williams was dropped in the backfield for a loss of three. On third and goal from the five, after the Patriots’ third timeout, Roethlisberger led Rogers too far for an incompletion. Boswell at least salvaged a field goal to make it 17-9. But the Patriots still have more than 90 seconds before halftime.
From the 25, the Steelers did a good job of cutting the back down inbounds for two yards. Another short pass went for just one yard to set up a third and seven. But Amendola was able to get the ball at the sticks. After a spike with 22 seconds remaining, a short pass to Bennett was stopped by Lawrence Timmons inbounds, and the Patriots let the clock run out. The Steelers get the ball to start the third quarter.