With five seconds and seven yards to go on Sunday night, Duron Harmon did something he’d done nine times before.
Intercept a fourth-quarter pass.
Such interceptions make up 76 percent of the New England Patriots safety’s career tally now, when including playoff action. And while not all of those late-game picks have brought along the same weight, the one Harmon came down with in the end zone at Heinz Field might as well have been a mooring keeping the AFC’s No. 1 seed from drifting away.
No timeout would be taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and no missteps would be taken by the Patriots’ defense when it came to getting lined up for the subsequent fake spike. There could have been many, given how JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 69-yard scamper and Jesse James’ called-back touchdown had gone.
But Eric Rowe mirrored Eli Rogers’ ensuing slant pattern and stopped Ben Roethlisberger’s third-down dart into triple coverage from reaching the board.
It reached Harmon instead. And the fifth-year Patriot and first-year captain took the touchback and the 27-24 win.
“I think just practice execution turned into game reality,” Harmon told reporters in the locker room afterwards, via Patriots.com. “We’ve seen it before. Everybody didn’t panic. Nobody was out there acting like they didn’t know what to do. We just played our roles, played good football, and it turned into a big play for us.”
The Patriots are now 13-0 when Harmon turns in an interception. And a staggering 10 of the 13 on his resume have turned up in the final quarter of regulation.
PICKS BY QUARTER
- Nov. 19, 2017: 33-8 win over Raiders – 1:56 in first on third-and-11
- Dec. 14, 2014: 41-13 win over Dolphins – 8:56 in second on third-and-14
- Sept. 20, 2015: 40-32 win over Bills – 0:16 in second on third-and-13
- Oct. 27, 2013: 27-17 win over Dolphins – 0:55 in fourth on fourth-and-24
- Nov. 3, 2013: 55-31 win over Steelers – 3:32 in fourth on first-and-10
- Jan. 10, 2015: 35-31 win over Ravens – 1:46 in fourth on second-and-5
- Sept. 10, 2015: 28-21 win over Steelers – 7:09 in fourth on first-and-10
- Oct. 29, 2015: 36-7 win over Dolphins – 14:31 in fourth on second-and-7
- Sept. 18, 2016: 31-24 win over Dolphins – 0:09 in fourth on fourth-and-5
- Jan. 14, 2017: 34-16 win over Texans – 3:17 in fourth on second-and-5
- Sept. 24, 2017: 36-33 win over Texans – 0:03 in fourth on first-and-10
- Nov. 26, 2017: 35-17 win over Dolphins – 1:54 in fourth on first-and-10
- Dec. 17, 2017: 27-24 win over Steelers – 0:09 in fourth on third-and-7
Five of those fourth-quarter picks have transpired in games decided by a touchdown or less.
Furthermore, a total of six of them have transpired with under two minutes remaining, with three ticking down to fewer than 10 seconds.
It’s a little too lengthy a sample size to be a matter of right place, right time. It’s as much Harmon, who has started only three games yet logged 598 snaps this season, as it is anything. Even if Rowe’s hip-pocket coverage on Rogers set the wheels in motion on Sunday night.
“It looked like Rowe tipped it. It bounced up in the air,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said without the benefit of film review in his postgame press conference. “Duron is around the ball. He reads the quarterback and the ball well. So does Devin [McCourty]. Those guys give us a lot of range and plays back there from their position.”
Harmon has intercepted the Steelers three times since checking into the secondary as a third-round pick from Rutgers in 2013. The only opponent he’s gotten in the way of more frequently is the Miami Dolphins, whom the centerfielder has collected five interceptions against.
Harmon’s picked off both this campaign.
The 26-year-old has a career-best and team-leading four interceptions through this juncture, too.
And three of them have taken place in the fourth.