Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers Outlast Tom Brady, Patriots in Dramatic Victory

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 17, 2018

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 16: Jaylen Samuels #38 of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball against the New England Patriots in the third quarter during the game at Heinz Field on December 16, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers remain in first place in the AFC North after beating the New England Patriots 17-10 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

Brady threw an incompletion on 4th-and-15 from the Steelers' 21-yard line with 14 seconds remaining that sealed the result.

After the Baltimore Ravens won earlier in the day, the Steelers would've slipped to second if they had lost to New England. The Patriots, meanwhile, would've clinched an AFC East title if they had beaten Pittsburgh. Instead, their 10th straight division crown will have to wait at least another week.

Ben Roethlisberger finished with 235 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 22-of-34 passing for Pittsburgh. The Steelers were without James Conner for the second straight game as Jaylen Samuels went for 142 yards on the ground.

Tom Brady threw for 279 yards, one touchdown and an interception for New England. Sony Michel ran for 59 yards on 13 carries.

      

Patriots' Reliance on Gordon, Gronk Will Sink New England in Playoffs

Rob Gronkowski and Josh Gordon combined to catch three passes for 40 yards. Those numbers are collectively one of the biggest reasons the Patriots offense failed to move the ball Sunday night.

It's not exactly a revelation to say a team has a great chance of beating the Patriots if it takes away two of New England's best playmakers. Previous Patriots teams seemingly had a stronger offensive balance, though.

Just last year, New England could rely on Brandin Cooks and Dion Lewis. Sony Michel shows promise, but he isn't at the level Lewis set in 2017 when he ran for 896 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry. Gordon, meanwhile, has the same big-play potential as Cooks without the same week-to-week consistency.

According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots ranked first in offensive efficiency in 2017. They had fallen to sixth entering Week 15.

The end of Sunday's game encapsulated the game for New England. After getting a fresh set of downs at Pittsburgh's 16-yard line, Brady targeted Gronkowski three times in a row. Each of the three passes fell incomplete as the Steelers blanketed Gronk around the goal line.

Plenty of unsung heroes have shined for the Patriots in the postseason over the years. If you're taking on New England, though, you have to feel relatively comfortable with the idea of isolating Gronkowski and Gordon and making somebody else lead the way in the Patriots passing game. 

      

Jaylen Samuels Playing Himself into Meaningful Role for Steelers as Playoffs Approach

Through his first 12 games, Samuels had 59 rushing yards, including 28 yards while filling in for Conner in last week's 24-21 defeat to the Oakland Raiders. If anybody says they saw Sunday's performance coming, they're lying.

At the same time, some improvement was to be expected as Samuels grew more comfortable in Pittsburgh's backfield.

Assuming he's back to 100 percent in Week 16, Conner will almost certainly reclaim his role as the Steelers' starting running back.

Samuels made the most of the opportunity presented to him Sunday, though. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin might want to ride the hot hand a bit as well.

Conner's last 100-yard rushing game was back in Week 9. In his four appearance before the ankle injury, he averaged 4.1 yards per carry and 50.8 yards per game. Compare that to the 4.7 yards per carry and 88.3 yards he averaged through Pittsburgh's first eight games.

Conner seemed to be slowing down as the year wore on. Entering Week 15, he sat sixth in total touches (253) after getting just 32 touches as a rookie in 2017.

Finding a balance between Conner and Samuels not only would alleviate some of the burden on Conner but also ensure Pittsburgh's running game remains effective during the most important stretch of the season.

      

Chris Boswell's Career With Steelers Must End Monday

Chris Boswell redeemed himself with a 48-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to put the Steelers ahead 17-10. Granted, New England wouldn't have been in a position to tie the game if Boswell had connected on a 32-yard attempt with 8:32 remaining in the third quarter.

Boswell is now 11-of-18 on field goals after Sunday. According to Pro Football Reference, his 61.1 percent conversion rate ranks last over a single season among kickers with at least 15 attempts.

After the game, Tomlin offered a vague response when asked about Boswell.

"You're going to be tested. We're going to be tested," he said, per the Associated Press' Will Graves. "Sometimes you're going to fail. You better pass enough of them."

Cutting Boswell with only two weeks left in the regular season would be less ideal, but it's arguably better than sticking with a struggling kicker who has a handful of costly mistakes to his name already.

By making the switch now, the Steelers would leave enough time to get a replacement settled in before the start of the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Rams had to scramble last year after Greg Zuerlein got injured. With two games to go, the Rams signed Sam Ficken. Ficken missed his first attempt but made his final four field goals to end the year, including two in Los Angeles' playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Boswell's made field goal shouldn't obscure what has been a disastrous season for the 2017 Pro Bowler. Making a change is Pittsburgh's best move.

      

What's Next?

The Steelers hit the road for a tricky matchup against the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 23 before hosting the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17. The Patriots wrap up the regular season with home games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.

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