The good news is that the Pittsburgh Steelers take a 14-7 lead into the second half with Ben Roethlisberger touchdowns to Vance McDonald and Antonio Brown. The bad news is that they have squandered opportunities to expand that lead, and the New England Patriots have had a tendency to pull away in the second halves of these games. The defense can only hold them down for so long.
The running game has been effective with strong blocking, breaking off a handful of 10-plus yarders. Jaylen Samuels has 70 yards on seven carries and Stevan Ridley has one 12-yard run.
The Patriots began the half with the ball looking to draw even again. Starting with a touchback, Tom Brady began the first drive of the third quarter with a handoff to Sony Michel, who effortlessly picked up 13. He was chopped down a play later after just a yard. Cameron Heyward buried him after another short gain to set up an early third and six. Brady had his pass dropped by Josh Gordon for what should have been a conversion, the Patriots’ third drop of the game so far.
Roethlisberger and his offense began their first drive of the half with a short gain by Samuels to the 24. James Washington on second and six got a big catch for himself in one-on-one coverage, making an impressive combative share over Jason McCourty for a big gain. Washington finally hit the play they’ve been waiting for. Down to the Patriots’ 43.
Smith-Schuster stiff-armed McCourty into the ground but only picked up a short on a short pass on the following play. He went back to Washington on a pass short of the chains, but he escaped McCourty for a big gain of 24. The rookie looking for his coming out party, close to doubling his career yardage.
At the 18, Samuels reversed field for a chunk inside the five for 14 yards, Brown on a block. On first and goal from the four, Samuels could only get back to the line of scrimmage. Looking four wide with Samuels in the slot, Roethlisberger tossed the ball away to avoid a sack by Lawrence Guy, the second time he did that tonight, but it drew an intentional grounding penalty. Now third and goal from the 14, Roethlisberger looked for McDonald in the deep part of the right side of the end zone, making a great catch but his right foot was out of bounds. Chris Boswell came on for a field goal, but he shanked it right, continuing his awful season with his seventh miss, preserving a one-score game.
Michell was able to pick up a first down on two carries to start the drive, but Edelman was flagged for a false start on the third play. At the 30, Brady hit Edelman for 16, but an illegal formation pushed it back another five yards, the Patriots continuing to deal with penalties. Now first and 20 back at the 25, another pass to Edelman was able to pick up 11. On second and nine, T.J. Watt was able to get to Brady yet again, this time bringing him down for the sack, his 11th on the year and their first of the game. On third and 16, Brady fired incomplete, but Joe Haden was flagged for pass interference, one that was probably unnecessary. Bad mistake by the ninth-year veteran.
At midfield, Michel was able to gain five yards after the 21-yard penalty. He got the other five on the next snap to the 40. Vince Williams and Watt came out. Michel was stuffed a play later inside the 40. Rex Burkhead got a head of steam for 10 inside field goal range, Hilton missing a tackle.
Burkhead again added 11 into the red zone. From the 19, he still managed four to the 15. On second and six, Michel got half that to make it third and three, yet another critical moment in the game. Heyward stayed down on the play. On third and four, the defense was able to make the stop against Edelman a yard shy of the first down. Bud Dupree hit the ball. Stephen Gostkowski’s field goal made it 14-10 for the Patriots from the Steelers’ 16 following a false start.
Samuels picked up six yards to begin their crucial second drive of the half to end the third quarter. On second and four, it was Samuels again, showing a good head of steam, going over 100 yards on his 12th carry. At the 46, he got another four or five on a nice cutback run. At midfield, Roethlisberger looked for the long ball to Washington but his pass was overthrown. Looking at a third and medium now in the middle of the field, he went to Brown in a bunch formation, but Duron Harmon ended up with the ball, ricocheting for the interception. Horrible play and break for the Steelers at the worst time.
Now with the ball at the 41, Brady swung one out to Burkhead for six. Rob Gronkowski got his first catch of the game for 13 across midfield, left open in zone. Morgan Burnett ran into Cameron Sutton, freeing Edelman for a wide open gain to the 15. Pathetic at this point.
Michel was stopped after a short gain, the Steelers being screwed by an early whistle as the ball came out. Sutton ripped the ball out. Now second and 13 though after a false start, Brady went to Hogan going man against Mike Hilton, but the defensive back made the play with the open-field tackle. On third and eight, though, Gronkowski proved to be too much of a load to hold short of the sticks.
Set up with first and goal from the five, Michel got two yards, but a hold took it back, making it first and goal now from the 15. White was stopped in the backfield for a loss of two on a fake reverse screen pass. From the 17, Brady was under intense pressure and just threw up a desperation pass that Joe Haden was able to come down with between Gronkowski and Edelman. They tried to force him out of bounds, but he got his feet down for the red-zone takeaway. The offense starts deep in their own end, but they keep the Patriots off the board in a four-point game with about eight minutes to play.
Back at the four, Ridley got in the game but was held for just one yard. Adding just a couple more, the Steelers were quickly put into a third and long, trying to keep the ball out of New England’s hands. McDonald came up with the big grab for the conversion just ahead of the chains to buy space and eat up time, now under six minutes to play.
Samuels got five yards on a rightside sweep following the big third-down catch. He got six on an inside toss, continuing to show much, much better urgency on the run than he did last week.
That’s five plays and two first downs, about two minutes gone, down to just the 25. Still on the ground, this time Samuels was stopped near the line of scrimmage. Roethlisberger’s second-down pass to Brown down the field was inside, Gilmore with good coverage on the play. Facing third and nine from just the 26, the Steelers went empty before using a timeout with 3:14 to go. On the play, Roethlisberger bought call kinds of time allowing Samuels to get open late for the conversion, a huge, huge play.
The Patriots used their first timeout with 2:58 to play, the Steelers with a new set of downs at the 46. A first-down run by Samuels went for 15 yards, and a five-yard penalty was tacked onto the end of it.
At the 34, Ridley showed some elusiveness on just a three-yard run, the Patriots using timeout number two with 2:46 to play. On second and seven, Samuels was stopped at the line of scrimmage with 2:41 to play and the Patriots using their final timeout, looking at a third and six. Roethlisberger very nearly had a touchdown to Smith-Schuster, but the defensive back had his arm in between to break it up at the last second.
Mike Tomlin gave Boswell the chance to make the long field goal, and he did, giving Pittsburgh a seven-point lead, but the Patriots still have plenty of time.
Starting with 2:30 to play, Brady had time to throw on first down, reeling one off down the field looking for Hogan but incomplete. Now second down, Edelman made a great catch for just nine yards, getting off a first-down run to the 40 just ahead of the two-minute warning.
Two minutes. 60 yards. The game.
A false start after Renegade was played. So 65 yards now. But Brady immediately hit Edelman open in the middle of the field down to the 31. A quick pass to White got eight. Second and two, another short pass to White for the first.
At the 16. Brady rolled out to his right to find White and out of bounds for a short gain of five. 37 seconds. Brady’s second-down pass was low and incomplete, but a hold pushed them back 10 yards, making it second and 15, holding Watt. Now at the 21, with 33 seconds to go, more pressure forced a high pass out of the back of the end zone. 26 seconds. Heyward hit him on the play.
Third and 15 from the 21. Brady’s pass looking for it all to Gronkowski found the wall behind the end zone. Fourth down. The game. 20 seconds.