The Pittsburgh Steelers did not have the first half they were looking for, spoiling good field position on their second possession, and then failing to convert with first and goal from the half-yard line at the end of the half. Coupled with a missed extra point, they trail the New England Patriots 17-9.
The biggest news of the half is that Le’Veon Bell left the game with a left groin injury. He tried to come back once, but left after one play, and, in my opinion, it doesn’t seem likely that he will return. DeAngelo Williams has filled in admirably.
Meanwhile, Tom Brady has spent most of the first half picking apart the Steelers’ secondary, especially when he has a clean pocket. He has also been the beneficiary of some miscommunication, which resulted in their second touchdown, both of which were caught by Chris Hogan.
Sammie Coates was able to get out to the 30-yard line on the kick return after cutting back following making a tackler miss. Bell started on the sideline to open the half. On first down from the 31, Ben Roethlsiberger threw to Coates for three yards. He looked a little gimpy getting up. Williams spun up in the hole for about three, setting up third and four. Roethlisberger was under pressure and could not get the ball to Eli Rogers behind Logan Ryan. Jordan Berry’s third punt of the game was fair caught inside the 20.
Starting from the 16, Brady checked down to Dion Lewis for a five-yard gain. Ryan Shazier was flagged for an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver, giving them 15 to the 36. LeGarrette Blount was able to fight for about eight on a pass over the middle. On second and two, Shazier was able to stop him after one yard. Brady plunged forward for the first down on a keeper. Mike Tomlin threw the challenge flag as his players said the ball was out. I believe it was ruled a fumble, but with no clear recovery.
Right on the next play, Brady hit Hogan again for a big gain to the 29. Edelman dropped a pass on the next play. Lewis was dropped at the line for no gain. On third and 10, Brady hit Malcolm Mitchell, but his right toes were just barely out of bounds. A Patriots field goal made it 20-9.
Starting from the 25, Williams took the first play of the drive up the middle for two. Roethlisberger was wide of James at the sticks on second down, covered by Kyle Van Noy. On third and long, Roethlisberger found Rogers open to the 46.
Williams was hit for a loss of one on the following play, and Marcus Gilbert looked less than 100 percent after the play. On second and 11, Roethlsiberger did find Brown for 13. Across midfield, at the 42, Williams looked to get to the edge, but only picked up three. Roethlisberger off play-action threw too long for Darrius Heyward-Bey in the back of the end zone. On third and seven, James could not snag a tough pass to the sideline. It looked like he landed on the ball. So Berry had to punt once again, with Edelman on the fair catch at the 12. You can’t get inside the 40-yard line and not at least get a field goal.
Lawrence Timmons shot through the gap on first down to hit Blount for a two-yard loss. Shazier just got there to trip up the back for five. On third and seven, however, Edelman beat Timmons for the first down to the 32.
A quick pass to the fullback of all people left him free for another first down to about the 45. Bud Dupree hit the hole and dropped Blount for a loss of three. Hogan once again found the hole in the coverage and used his speed for a big play down to the 19.
On the next play, Blount finally broke through and bulled his way forward for about seven yards. He punched it into the end zone on the next play to put the Steelers down now 18.
From the 25, Roethlisberger threw to Rogers over the middle, but Van Noy stripped the ball out and the Patriots quickly recovered. No doubt the choir of those singing the death knell of the season just got stronger.
From the 28, A quick pass to Edelman turned into another big gain because of a missed tackle by Sean Davis. At the 10, William Gay dragged James White down from behind at the line of scrimmage. Hogan could not hold on to a screen pass on second down. Edelman was left wide open in the shallow half of the end zone for the easy touchdown, and the route is officially on. 33-9.
This is the last 17 minutes of the season, most likely, so you might as well enjoy it.
Roethlisberger looked for Coates for about 30 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive. James was out of bounds before he had control of the ball on the next play, but there was a defensive hold, for five yards and a first down. Brown caught a quick pass for another sizable gain. From the 22, Roethlisberger missed Coates in the end zone on a diving attempt. Brown got eight on second down to end the quarter.
Play-action led to a quick slant catch to Hamilton to set up first and goal. On the ground, Williams was held to one yard. It was Williams again picking up three. Roethlisberger found Hamilton for the touchdown, but he went out of bounds prior to the reception, making him ineligible. On fourth and goal from the two, Roethlisberger threw a fade to Hamilton with Logan Ryan in coverage. He could not bring the ball in, and the Steelers failed to score with goal to go. It’s quickly becoming inconceivable that they can overcome the 24-point deficit now.
From the two, Blount shook a couple of tackles and powered his way for nine yards. A two-yard gain guaranteed a new set of downs. Amendola was wrestled down after one yard. Lewis was limited to two. On third and long, the ball was off Edelman’s hands. Finally the Patriots punt again. Brown was tripped up on the return for about seven yards after a 58-yard punt.
From the 35, Roethlisberger threw a deep pass that was picked off by Eric Rowe. Darrius Heyward-Bey was the target and it’s not clear if they were on the same page.
From the Steelers’ 32, Brady hit Edelman for 13 after he split two defenders on the right sideline. A short pass to Bennett picked up two. Back to Bennett for seven. Blount muscled his way for six, down to the four. The defense swarmed for a loss on first and goal. On second and goal, Brady looked to have his receiver for the score, but Hogan could not secure it. Harrison was penalized for not getting off the field in time. Brady threw the ball out of the end zone on the next play. On third and goal, after a false start, Brady was tackled at the line of scrimmage with nobody open. Gostkowski’s field goal officially made it a four-score game with about seven minutes to play.
A quick pass to James went for six yards. A completion to Williams moved the chains. Roethlisberger is taking what the Patriots are giving to him with short passes. He tried to find Rogers on the run off a pass down the middle off his back foot. Brown snagged a high pass to move the chains again, across midfield. Rogers took a big hit after a short reception. Roethlisberger was flushed out of the pocket but couldn’t hit Coates on the run at the sideline.
A short pass to Williams picked up a first down. He hit Hamilton for the touchdown on the next play, but with just 3:36 to play. On the two-point conversion, Roethlisberger completed to Williams to make it 17-36. On the onside kick attempt, the ball went out of bounds. Blount picked up nine yards on two carries. Then picked up the first down.
At that point, the Patriots were able to run out the clock. The season is over folks, I’m sorry. The Patriots are in the Super Bowl. Again. And the Steelers are officially in offseason mode. The Patriots improve to 4-1 against Pittsburgh in the postseason, the best record against the Steelers among all opponents that they have faced more than once.