For the ninth-straight season, the New England Patriots are the AFC East Division Champions after a nail-biting 27-24 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers after safety Duron Harmon intercepted Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone with seconds left in the game.
Running back Dion Lewis scored what would prove to be the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter with just 56 seconds left on the clock to give New England the lead – but Pittsburgh wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster completed a 69-yard catch-and-run to put the Steelers in field goal range.
On the next play, Roethlisberger found tight end Jesse James and connected for what looked like the go-ahead touchdown. Officials reviewed the play and determined James did not have complete control of the football.
Big Ben attempted to dupe New England with a fake spike, but Harmon intercepted the pass to secure the win for the Patriots.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, fresh off his one-game suspension, had himself quite a game but really came to life in the fourth quarter when he caught three passes for 69 yards on the drive that New England took the lead for the final time.
How it started:
The Pats struck first after needing just 2:11 to score the first touchdown of the game after quarterback Tom Brady connected with Lewis to begin the drive with a 13-yard completion before finding Brandin Cooks for a 43-yard catch.
New England ended the drive with running back Rex Burkhead finding the end zone for the sixth time in four games.
Pittsburgh came back to score a touchdown of their own before kicking a field goal to take a 10-7 lead. The Patriots tied the game at 10 in the second quarter but the Steelers effectively closed out the first half of the game by scoring another touchdown on a drive that lasted over eight minutes.
Gronkowski came up clutch in the third quarter with two big catches and it looked as if the Pats were going to tie the game at 17 – but kicker Stephen Gostowski missed the point-after-try to keep Pittsburgh in the lead.
Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell opened up the lead after linebacker Elandon Roberts couldn’t bring the running back down before he rushed into the end zone for the 24-16 lead.Gostowski kicked a field goal after his team converted two third downs but had to settle for three points.
Then came the game-winning drive.
Down by five points with under three minutes left to play, Brady led his team down Heinz Field for 77 yards to give the Patriots the lead that they would never surrender after finding Lewis in the end zone and capping it off with a two-point conversion to Gronkowski.
Despite Smith-Schuster running for 69 yards, James’ catch was overturned with 28 seconds remaining in the game before Roethlisberger was intercepted by Harmon.
With that interception, the Patriots secured their ninth-straight AFC East division title.
Injury update: Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown left the game with a left leg injury. He was transported to a nearby hospital where he was diagnosed with a calf strain.
He is expected to miss the rest of the regular season – but the team expects him to be ready for the postseason.
Burkhead also left the game with a knee injury and did not return. He was immediately ruled out after limping off the field. There was no immediate update on the severity of his injury.
Game MVP: Rob Gronkowski: He finished the game with 168 total yards and nine catches, including his two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. He had receptions of 17 and 26 yards in the fourth.
Fun fact: The Patriots have won the division title for nine-straight seasons. It is the longest streak in NFL history.
This is also the 53 time Brady has led the Patriots to a victory after being down or tied in the fourth quarter.
The Patriots (11-3) return home to take on the Buffalo Bills (8-6) on Christmas Eve at Gillette Stadium.
Kickoff is slated for 1 p.m.