If Steelers fans were looking for revenge following last year’s meeting between these two teams — when the Patriots won at Heinz Field after a Pittsburgh touchdown was controversially overturned — they sure did get it on Sunday.
The final score? Steelers 17, Patriots 10.
Though the score was fairly close, it was pretty evident which team was the better team on Sunday. Once again, New England’s defense was exposed. The Patriots couldn’t run the ball, as the Pittsburgh defense consistently smothered them. Tom Brady was under pressure all game long, and thus he was struggling mightily to make accurate throws. Everybody was dropping passes, including Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon.
Confusingly, Rob Gronkowski was barely used until the tail end of the game, even though he played great in Miami last week — seemingly the first game all season in which the Pats actually used him consistently in their offense.
The Patriots were never out of Sunday’s game at Heinz Field, but they were never really in it either. Any hope the Pats had of pulling out a comeback victory seemed to vanish late in the fourth quarter, when Brady was so heavily pressured in the red zone that he was forced throw the ball away — and right into the waiting arms of Joe Haden.
Typically, we’d be surprised when Brady throws a late interception that essentially ends the game. After all, he’s not Tony Romo, or Jay Cutler. But this season, during this particular stretch of football the Pats are playing? It seemed like a pretty fitting way for this game to end. When I watched it, I barely even flinched.
And now because of it, the Patriots have dropped down to the No. 3 spot in the AFC. If the playoffs started tomorrow, the Pats would be playing in a wild card game, rather than taking a week of rest with their usual first round bye.
How’s that for revenge, Steelers fans?
Ever since Bill Belichick took over as Patriots head coach in 2000, and then Brady became the starting quarterback in 2001, any supposed “rivalry” between New England and Pittsburgh has been mostly one-sided. It all began with that AFC Championship Game in January 2002, when Brady went down with an injury, then Drew Bledsoe came in and led the Patriots to a 24-17 victory in his last big hurrah with the team.
The Pats and Steelers have met many times since then. The results? Eleven wins for New England, and four wins for Pittsburgh. Three of those Patriot wins happened in the AFC title game. One of those Steeler wins came during the 2008 season, when Brady was sidelined for the entire year with a torn ACL.
But the fourth and most recent Pittsburgh win happened on Sunday, and it was undoubtedly the most significant. In addition to possibly knocking the Patriots out of their first round bye, they also handed them their second consecutive loss, which is the first time New England has lost back-to-back games in December since the 2002 season.
Is this a sign that the dominant Patriots dynasty is finally starting to crumble? They are 9-5 right now, the first time they’ve lost at least five games since 2009. They’ve lost back-to-back games in December, they can’t figure out how to win on the road, and they just might be playing football during the first week of January, once again, for the first time since ’09.
Of course, if I had a dime for every time it looked like the Patriots were finished, I’d never have to write another column again in my life, and I’d probably be living in a beach house somewhere in Maui right now. They have always bounced back from these things.
But will they do it this time? It’s hard to tell with this particular team. They’ve looked good at times this year, and sometimes they’ve looked great. But this team just doesn’t give off the same “Super Bowl or bust” vibe that Brady’s teams always have in the past. Whether or not this is a sign of the dynasty’s impending doom is yet to be determined.
But to be completely honest, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me that the 2018 Pats are a Super Bowl team. They might finally be reaching the end of their incredible run of dominance, and even though they’ve owned the Steelers for nearly 18 years, Pittsburgh fans might take a little bit of pride in the fact that their team may have officially jumpstarted the beginning of the end.
However you want to look at it, there is no denying that the Steelers really stuck it to the Patriots on Sunday. And you can bet they enjoyed every second of it.