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Patriots vs. Steelers: Fan Notes from the Game

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 27-24 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

New England Patriots v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In case any of you were kept awake last night by an odd and pervasive clicking sound, perhaps unable to enjoy the absolutely wild finish to the Patriots/Steelers game due to a lot of cursing and clack-clack-clacking, I should apologize; I was among the thousands upon thousands of sportswriters scrambling to completely rewrite their articles to reflect the insane results.

Count me among those scrambling to change the ending of this one. What a ridiculous game that was, for all the right and all the wrong reasons, and while the Patriots now have the inside track on the #1 seed in the AFC and beat the Steelers, anybody who doesn’t expect absolute fireworks should these two teams meet up again later in the year just hasn’t been paying attention.

  • Something was very, very off when I walked into Paddy’s for this game. For the first time all season, I had trouble finding a seat. The usual bartender was at a table watching darts with his friends. There were Jets fans everywhere. Nothing made any sense, and it threw off my whole Sunday. Obviously, the ripple effect of this one was palpable, as not much made sense about this game at all.
  • And once again, this was one of those weeks where absolutely nothing around the league went New England’s way. The Jaguars destroyed the Texans. The Ravens beat the Browns. The Bills, of course, beat the Dolphins. And up until the five second mark, it looked like this one wasn’t going to go New England’s way, either. But then...well, a whole, whole lot happened. But we’ll get to that later.
  • If there’s one major theme of this year’s football commercials, I’d argue it’s “our company will make it easier for you to get out and enjoy life,” which apparently means hiking around a bunch of hills and camping on cliffs. It’s interesting to me that the advertising firms are of the opinion that the NFL viewing demographic wants nothing more than go go hiking and stare at sunsets while wearing windbreakers and backpacks. You want a successful ad campaign? Here you go, free of charge:
  • “Let’s face it: you’re lazy. You like to sleep in. Your idea of a perfect weekend involves a couch and a steady nap rotation. With [insert company name here], you can get things taken care of quickly and easily, which will let you get back to doing what you’re best at.” Cut to overweight man asleep in front of the TV. “Because you sleep easier when you know there’s no stress waiting on the other end of that nap.” You’re welcome, advertisers.
  • I hope I didn’t just guarantee an additional 45 minutes of commercials for the 2018 season.
  • As a former student, both high school and college, I’m very very familiar with the concept of the bell curve. The curve is a magical, magical thing that allows all the underachievers such as myself to be dragged along towards a passing grade (D for Degree, I always say) by the more motivated and intelligent among us. The reason I bring this up is because the 2017 Patriots defense seems to resemble exactly what that bell curve looks like. Low, low start, looks great in the middle, and then right back down to the crap zone as the season comes to a close.
  • I don’t know exactly what has been wrong with the defense over the past few weeks, but I’m worried that it is a little more complicated than missing a few key guys. In yesterday’s game, they picked up right where they left off last week in their complete inability to set the edge and decision to play the “the middle of the field is hot lava, stay away from the middle of the field” game, which allowed the Steelers to pick up yards in chunks with toss runs and crossing routes. Now if you want to tell me that the return of Kyle Van Noy is suddenly going to fix that, I’ll listen to your argument...but if that is the case, I better be seeing Van Noy’s name on the Pro Bowl roster.
  • I have to admit, of course, that the Steelers offense is no joke. LeVeon Bell is the best runner in the game and his patience at the line is unmatched. The offensive line does a great job opening up gaps for him, and once he gets to the second level he has this little skip-step he puts on defenders to freeze them enough so that he’s almost always pick up an extra five or six yards. I’ve been known to use a little skip-step myself, but when I do it it’s because it’s summertime, my boxers are getting stuck to my leg, and I’m not in an area where it’s socially acceptable to reach down and start adjusting my crotch area.
  • Given the way the Patriots played through the middle of the season, I’m going to attribute these last two weeks as a combination of road fatigue, divisional game magic, and a potent offense doing what potent offenses do. At least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself over and over in order to get me through these final weeks of the year.
  • How else can you explain Stephon Gilmore’s play yesterday? It didn’t really matter who Gilmore was covering, they got theirs. Just a bad game all around from him, getting beat over the top, across the middle, and falling for the stop/start route like a dog taking off after a tennis ball that, cruelly, is still firmly in the human’s hand. Marta
  • That said...I’d genuinely like to hear an explanation as to what Bryant did on his beautiful one-handed TD grab to ensure that he didn’t get flagged for a push off. I mean that sincerely, this isn’t some kind of whiny “they don’t call that against us!” kind of note - I have one of those coming in just a minute - I just don’t know what’s a push off and what isn’t. Then again, I also don’t know what a catch is. I also don’t know what illegal contact is. I have no clue what constitutes Pass Interference. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what the difference between a clean tackle and unnecessary roughness is. And since nobody else, including the refs, does either, I may never get my answer.
  • When the Patriots opted to start Cam Fleming over LaAdrian Waddle, I thought that it was an injury-related decision and that maybe Waddle’s ankle was worse than we all thought. But Waddle replaced Fleming before too long, and the improvement was palpable. It’s weird, too, because Fleming has actually been very solid in emergency duty this season.
  • New England’s first TD drive and Pittsburgh’s first TD drive was a perfect microcosm of this game. Just two potent offenses putting a clinic on.
  • That said, the refs did pick up a flag on what seemed to me to be a pretty clear ineligible receiver downfield call. There was an offensive lineman at least three yards past the line of scrimmage, and a flag was thrown. Not sure why they picked it up.
  • I really do understand why fans are so quick to go there when something bad happens to their team. It’s cathartic.
  • How great was it to see Ryan Shazier up there at the game? All signs point to him making a full recovery, and I can’t wait to see him back out there next season. He’s a beast.
  • Also in the good news department: Antonio Brown only has a partially torn calf and will be back for the playoffs. As we’re seeing all across the league this year, injuries to this game’s all-stars makes everything worse for everyone. If Brown was able to play all game, this could very well have been a different outcome. Looking forward to him coming back as well.
  • Malcolm Butler always, always always ALWAYS, goes for the strip rather than wrap up the receiver. When it works, it works, as he’s a very good tackler...but when it doesn’t, he gives up a lot of yards.
  • This one pains me to write: I really don’t know what’s going on with Joe Thuney. He has been absolutely lights out until 3 weeks ago, and now all of a sudden he has turned into Clark Griswold checking the lights on his roof.
  • Pittsburgh took a page out of Miami’s playbook on offense, and took advantage of New England’s linebacker depth. Lots of slants, shallow crosses, and under routes that the Patriots aren’t likely to have much of an answer for for the rest of the year.
  • We knew it was going to happen eventually. We knew that one day, the Steelers would play the Patriots with man coverage. And they finally did it, with mixed results. On the plus side, they were able to take a lead against this team for the first time in their last four plus meetings, and they were able to register a pick on Tommy B. On the minus side, man coverage means that Sean Davis was stuck in single coverage on Gronk and got absolutely lit up for the entirety of the second half.
  • Gronk is to the Steelers what Scott Chandler used to be for the Patriots. Hell, I’d roll Gronk into some weird Scott Chandler/Jason Avant/Jeremy Kerley/Charles Clay/Jarvis Landry Voltron against the Steelers.
  • Man...Kenny Britt is a big dude. I saw a very large man wearing 85 catch a pass and had a very depressing flashback to...well, let’s move on.
  • I’d love to know the logic behind putting Trey Flowers in single coverage on LeVeon Bell.
  • New England’s bread and butter used to be giving up yards between the 20s but stiffening up in the red zone and trading field goals for touchdowns. And that’s a fine strategy - except when those long, almost nine minute drives end up with the opponent in the end zone. Holy Tebow what a drive that was. Almost nine minutes long with a ton of third down conversions. You want to keep Brady off the Cap tip.
  • Speaking of third down conversions...come on, fellas. That’s not gonna cut it.
  • To that end, it’s amazing the kind of lasting impact the 2011 Patriots have on my soul. The Steelers, facing a 3rd and 21, finally didn’t convert one, and I was actually relieved/surprised.
  • This is a safe place, everyone, so let’s all just go ahead and admit it: Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point, and as that ball sailed wide we all said to ourselves “the Patriots are going to lose by one and get stuck with the two seed and are going to come back to Pittsburgh and lose and if the game was played at Foxboro they probably would have won and HOW MANY TIMES WILL A SEASON COME DOWN TO TO GHOST MISSED PAT???” It’s OK; you’re allowed to have those feelings.
  • That was actually on Cardona and Ryan Allen, though; not a great snap, and a little bit of a bobble on the hold. Kicking is a very precise sequence, and if something is even a little off, it can impact the whole play.
  • Good news from the Rex Burkhead front - looks like it’s just a sprained knee. He should be back for the playoffs. And hey - maybe this means that Mike Gillislee will finally be able to see the field.
  • I’ve put it off long enough; let’s get to the ending of this game. The defense came up huge when we needed them to, Tommy B and Gronk accounted for 69 (heh) of the 77 yards they needed to take the lead, and why oh why it was Sean Davis completely alone on Gronk for that two point conversion is anybody’s guess. The problem, of course, was that there was about 50 seconds on the clock, which, given the way literally every single Steelers game has ended this year, was seven minutes too many.
  • I knew that the Steelers were going to make it into FG range once they got the ball back. That was a given. The question was whether the absurdity would continue or if Boswell would finally miss one. What I didn’t anticipate was a shallow cross somehow going 69 (heh) yards and the Steelers getting into the end zone on the very next play.
  • But they didn’t get into the end zone, did they? Because the ball moved or hit the ground or something. What most people seem to agree with is that, by the absurd letter of the NFL rule, the refs made the correct call. They followed the rule as it was written and overturned the call. What most people also agree with, however, is that the rule as it currently sits is ridiculous and needs to be changed. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. It goes all the way back to Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant. It actually happened a few times just this past week. Something needs to be done about it.
  • On the plus side, I’m now incredibly confident that the catch rule will be addressed in the offseason and they will alter the wording of the language. There are few certainties in the NFL, but one of them is that if the Patriots end up benefitting from an ambiguously worded rule or take advantage of a loophole due to the way the league uses language, the first order of business in the offseason is to address that language. So I’m sorry that the Steelers happened to be the team that got the butt end of this one
  • And let’s keep in mind that the Steelers still had the ball on the 10 yard line, with time on the clock, and three downs at their disposal. It’s not like the whistle blew to end the game after that play came back. It was a chip shot field goal to tie it and send it to OT, and you had time for two shots at the end zone. Instead the Steelers ran a shallow cross that ended in bounds and then went for some weird fake spike on third down that makes absolutely zero sense; you spike the ball there and it’s 4th down. So who are you fooling? Nobody seemed to know what was going on, and the Patriots made a great play to seal the game.
  • Duron Harmon now has 11 career interceptions. I feel confident saying that nine of them came at the very end of the game to seal the win for the Patriots.
  • If you’re a Steelers fan and you’re livid over the results of this game this morning, you have every right in the world to be. The NFL more or less screwed you out of a win via a bogus technicality. What you don’t have a right to be, however, is accusatory of the Patriots as if this was somehow their fault or if it was a different team it would have been a different call or anything of the sort. This nonsense is on the league and the rulebook, not on the Patriots. To be honest, I don’t like it any more than any of you do; obviously it’s easier to be on the winning end of some crap like this, but you never want a game to end on controversy. That play aside, this was the best contest of the entire year. It was the two best teams in the AFC going head to head in a game that went down to the wire and most likely determined where the AFC Championship Game would be played. But all anybody can talk about this morning is that damn catch and the way the rule is written. That isn’t New England’s fault. It isn’t Pittsburgh’s fault. It’s the league’s fault. But since people are in fact talking about it, and since the clicks and pageviews continue to roll in, I doubt they care all that much.
  • Something we have also seen far too often this year is that the phrase “incontrovertible evidence” carries as much weight with officiating crews as the phrase “integrity and transparency” carries with Roger Goodell. How many times this year was there a play called on the field that could really go either way, all replay angles are completely ambiguous, and yet the refs still overturn it anyway? I thought the whole point of replay was to ensure that the call on the field was correct, and if something obvious clearly took place, then you have grounds to overturn it. The ruling on the field doesn’t seem to carry any weight at all anymore.
  • Courtesy of the New England Patriots, the world is now well-versed in the following vernacular: The Tuck Rule, the Ideal Gas Law, more probable than not, and the latest catchphrase to enter into pop culture, “surviving the ground.” Look for the newest crappy reality show, Surviving the Ground, to air on CBS in late 2019.
  • What’s crazy about it is that everything that I just mentioned took place all across the league multiple times prior to them involving the Patriots. However, for some reason, when New England is involved, the stakes are always incredibly high and the rule almost always ends up being the difference in the game.
  • And finally - this league needs the Patriots. Everyone needs us. We’re the most hated franchise in the league, we’re always right in the middle of all kinds of craziness, and our big games are almost always the most exciting and come right down to the wire. The Patriots make the NFL interesting. Could you imagine this season without this team? It has been boring enough as it is, and the New England storyline is more or less the only thing keeping a lot of people going, either celebrating their continued success or just waiting for them to lose so they can jump all over the end of Tom Brady. The league needs a villain, and the Patriots continue to play the part with aplomb.

If everything goes the way that it’s supposed to, the Patriots won’t have to travel again until February. They’re at home to close out the season, and then...well, I don’t want to get into that now. The Bills are a team desperate to make the postseason this century, and this game is going to mean everything to them. Still a ton of football left to play.