Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH — Tom Brady broke the Pittsburgh Steelers’ hearts again, and he got help from Duron Harmon.
Brady led New England to a touchdown with 56 seconds left that gave the Patriots a 27-24 win over the Steelers on Sunday, ruining Pittsburgh’s chance to clinch a first-round playoff bye and potentially home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
The game was marred by a left calf injury sustained in the first half by Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who was taken to a hospital for further examination and treatment. Multiple media outlets reported that Brown will miss the rest of the regular season but might be able to return for the postseason.
An 8-yard run by Dion Lewis capped New England’s go-ahead, 77-yard drive in 1:10 to complete a rally from a 24-16 deficit.
The Steelers came right back on a 69-yard catch-and-run by rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster. The play moved the ball to the New England 10-yard line with 34 seconds left.
Tight end Jesse James appeared to have scored the go-ahead touchdown, but his 10-yard reception was reviewed and James was ruled to have not completed the catch. The ball came loose when he impacted the ground.
“I thought that he crossed the plane before the ball hit the ground,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “But the rule is you must possess it all the way through.”
Referee Tony Corrente, speaking to a pool reporter, said, “To have a completed pass, a receiver must survive going to the ground. In this case, he had control of the football, but he was going to the ground. As he hit the ground, the ball began to roll and rotate, and the ball hit the ground, and that’s the end of it at that point.”
After the play was overturned, the Steelers faced second down with 28 seconds left. Roethlisberger threw a 3-yard pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was tackled inbounds.
The Steelers, without any timeouts, lined up quickly. Roethlisberger faked a spike — after communicating with slot receiver Eli Rogers — and threw to Rogers on a slant in the end zone. However, cornerback Eric Rowe deflected the ball, and it was intercepted by Harmon with five seconds left.
“The fake spike is something we see all the time,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “I think all great quarterbacks do that. If they can catch you sleeping and get an easy play, they’re going to try to do it.
“You could see us yelling and screaming the coverage, trying to line guys up and get set because we knew there was a chance. If they spike it, they spike it.”
Steelers guard David DeCastro said, “It’s tough, man. It’s hard to put in words. It was a heck of an emotional swing.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of something like that, that big, back and forth like that. We’ll see how we respond, if it makes us hungrier or not. There’s still more football to play, thankfully.”
Vince Williams made the Steelers’ defensive play of the game to help turn a one-point lead into an eight-point advantage late in the third quarter. The linebacker’s interception of Brady’s third-and-2 pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski gave the Steelers the ball at the New England 22.
Le’Veon Bell gave the Steelers a 24-16 lead with a 3-yard touchdown run behind a pulling DeCastro with 1:33 left in the third.
New England’s Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 46-yard field goal with 3:56 remaining to cut into the deficit, and fate did the rest.
“We have a lot of football ahead of us,” Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward said. “We can be dejected, but I like where we are at.”
The Steelers hoped this was the game they could hurdle the Patriots, but New England extinguished Pittsburgh’s hope for a quick start by scoring the game’s first touchdown.
Two play-action fakes by Brady in the backfield allowed Brandin Cooks to get open for a 43-yard completion on the Patriots’ first possession. Two plays later, Rex Burkhead ran through right guard for a 1-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
The Steelers answered with a touchdown, thanks to third-down catch-and-runs by Brown and Smith-Schuster. The catches set up Roethlisberger’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Rogers to tie the score at 7 with 3:28 left in the first quarter.
The Steelers jumped to a 10-7 lead on a 51-yard Chris Boswell field goal early in the second quarter, but at a high cost. Brown injured his left calf in the end zone two plays before the field goal and was helped off the field.
Gostkowski tied the score at 10 with a 32-yard field goal with 9:04 left in the second quarter. The kick was set up by a 31-yard Brady pass to Gronkowski while the Steelers had only 10 men on the field.
The Steelers put together a long 8:39 drive to finish the half with a 17-10 lead. Roethlisberger ended it with a 4-yard pass to Martavis Bryant, who ran under the spot pass and made a one-handed catch in the end zone.
Brady took the Patriots in for a touchdown to open the second half. His third-down pass to Cooks delivered a 4-yard touchdown, but Gostkowski missed the extra point attempt and the Steelers clung to a 17-16 lead with 8:50 left in the third quarter.
The wild fourth quarter followed to put the Patriots in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
NOTES: Pittsburgh LB Ryan Shazier was at the game in a luxury suite. … Steelers rookie CB Cameron Sutton started for the first time in his career as Joe Haden was deactivated. … Cameron Heyward’s first-quarter sack was his 10th of the season, the first Steelers defensive lineman since Keith Willis in (12 in 1986) with double-digit sacks in a season. … With his first catch, WR Antonio Brown became the first player in NFL history with five consecutive 100-reception seasons. … WR Kenny Britt made his first catch with the Patriots in the second quarter, a 7-yarder. New England recently signed Britt after he was released by the Cleveland Browns. … Patriots RB Rex Burkhead was helped from the field after a knee injury on a carry near the goal line early in the third quarter. … Steelers rookie RB James Conner was helped off the field with 9:41 left due to a sprained knee.