The game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New England Patriots was billed as the game of the year and it did not fail to live up to the hype. In the end the Steelers lost 27-24 on a wild finish and a drive that featured a controversial ruling on a touchdown catch. The Steelers lost the game but they also lost one of their best players in MVP candidate Antonio Brown to a calf injury in the second quarter. Hopefully he can come back for the playoffs.
My fear before the game was that the injuries in the defense would cause Patriots offense to score at will and maybe the Steelers would win in a shootout. That didn’t happen; the defense wasn’t great but it was effective at times . There is no such thing as a moral victory but losing in the last 2 minutes to the top team in the AFC and defending champions is nothing to be a ashamed of. Who did well and who didn’t? Let’s look at the winners and losers:
Big Ben went from fear that he was ‘washed up’ in the first half of the season to a MVP candidate in the 2nd half of the season. Today he was 22 of 30 for 281 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 very untimely interception at the end of the game. He made great throws, scrambled well and even ran for first downs.
Bell had another huge game with 24 rushes for 117 yards and a touchdown, and also 5 receptions for 48 yards. It appears Antonio Brown will be unable to return for the rest of the regular season, and that means Bell will be the focal point of the offense. It doesn’t hurt to have one of the best running backs in the game to rely on.
Losing Antonio Brown is a huge loss, but the Steelers are deep at wide receiver so this won’t be as large as a loss as losing Ryan Shazier. Brown’s absence means the other receivers will have to step up, and Bryant had his best game of the year. He had 4 catches for 59 yards and 1 touchdown on 6 targets. One of those catches was a spectacular diving grab on a third down and another was a one-handed grab for a touchdown (while he was being held and nothing was called). Of course when I give up on Bryant making a significant contribution this year, he has a big game.
JuJu is another player that stepped up this game with 6 receptions for 114 yards on 6 targets. On the Steelers final drive, he made a 69 yard reception and almost scored a touchdown. It’s rare for a rookie wide receiver to have a big role and impact, but JuJu certainly has done that.
One of the keys to stopping Tom Brady is for the defensive line to put pressure on him so he doesn’t have time to make his perfect throws. The line did that at times, forcing Brady to make bad throws and even forced him to throw an interception. If they play the Patriots again, they’ll need to keep up that pressure.
Davis’s job was to cover Rob Gronkowski. Remember those Southwest Airline commercials where someone is having a really bad day and the slogan was ‘wanna get away?’ Davis might want to book a flight to the Bahamas. Gronk had 9 receptions for 168 yards and it seemed like he was wide open all game.
So if Sean Davis was clearly getting beat and they were throwing to Gronk at will, why not change the scheme? Why not double team? On the Patriots’ game winning drive, all they did was throw to Gronk and he was wide open every time.
With the Steelers up 24-16, the play calling became really conservative. It was as if they decided they scored enough points and didn’t need anymore. On the final play where Ben threw an interception, there was confusion as to whether to run a play or not. They tried to fool the Patriots with a fake spike but it didn’t work.
The biggest play of the game was Ben throwing to Jesse James for what seemed to be the go ahead touchdown in the last minute. But the play was overturned on review because the ball shifted on his way into the end zone and didn’t “survive the ground”, whatever that means.
Instead of talking about how the two best teams in the AFC just had a great game, the main topic was interpretation of a rule as to what is a catch. It’s not just this game – the question of ‘what is a catch’ is so confusing and always leads to controversy. They need to simplify the rule so we can talk about the game and not the rule book.
It wasn’t just that play that was controversial – the refs decided to not call almost any penalties, even when it was obvious that a penalty occurred. Martavis Bryant had to make a great one-handed catch in the end zone because his other hand was being held. On the final play that resulted in the interception, Eli Rogers was interfered with and nothing was called. The officiating in the NFL is terrible. The NFL bring in over $13 billion every year – and the best they can come up with are these officials? It damages the integrity of the game.