40 degrees / rain
Key Decision #1: (PIT tied 7-7/ 4th & 26 own 33 / 12:20 Q2)
- Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s first big decision of this game; attempt a 51-yard FG in the rain, pooch punt it, or run a play designed to push the ball further into Patriots’ territory so that the Patriots start 1st & 10 on a longer field?
- Tomlin risked the FG attempt; failure would have given the Patriots the ball and a short field on their own 41. But Steelers kicker Chris Boswell converted for a 10-7 lead.
Key Decision #2: (NE trails 17-10 / 4th & 1 PIT 16 / 9:54 Q3)
- This was New England Head Coach Bill Belichick’s first big call of the game. Even though there was plenty of game left, he bypassed a 33-yard FG attempt in order to go for the first down here. Failure would incite a large crowd further and give the Steelers tremendous momentum – they had just scored on a long drive to take the lead, converting four 3rd downs.
- But Belichick’s gamble worked; QB Tom Brady completed a pass for a first down, and that ultimately led to a TD, and a 17-16 deficit (K Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point).
Key Decision #3: (PIT leads 24-16 / 1st & 10 own 3 / :02 Q3)
- This was an opportunity for the Steelers to take a 4th quarter, two-score lead, but they curiously went conservative, and in combination with a series of penalties, somehow managed to run 13 plays, but gain only 25 yards. The Steelers also ran nearly seven minutes off the clock.
- Nine of the 13 plays were run plays, including a 2nd & 22 from their own 25. While WR Antonio Brown left the game with an injury earlier, WR Martavis Bryant was stepping up in his absence, but on this series, they simply chose to play quite conservatively.
Key Decision #4: (NE trails 24-19 / 1st & 10 own 23 / 2:06 Q4)
- Pittsburgh came into this game with a new defensive gameplan: let’s try to play man-to-man defense and abandon the zone. And for the most part it worked – a five-point lead deep into the 4th quarter was evidence of that.
- In this man-to-man defense, the Steelers actually had matched up well on all of the Patriots’ weapons, and with RB Rex Burkhead out of the game due to injury, Pittsburgh was in good shape – with the exception of one matchup, and that was with S Sean Davis trying to cover Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski. On this drive, Brady focused only Gronkowski with tremendous success, and Pittsburgh didn’t want to make an in-game adjustment at this juncture. The Patriots ultimately scored a TD exploiting this match-up and a 2 pt PAT to lead 27-24.
Key Decision #5: (PIT trails 27-24 / 1st & 10 NE 10 / :34 Q4)
- The Steelers at this juncture had no timeouts left, but a first down, with a chance to win the game, and at the very least, tie it.
- On 1st down, the Steelers appeared to complete a pass to TE Jesse James for a TD – but after a lengthy replay review, the play was overturned.
- On 2nd down, Pittsburgh completed a pass to WR Darrius Heyward-Bey for a three-yard gain – in bounds – so the clock continued to run.
- On 3rd down, and with the clock running, QB Ben Roethlisberger took the snap at approximately nine seconds left in the game, faked a spike, and attempted to throw an inside slant to WR Eli Rogers. The pass was intercepted, and the Patriots won the game.
- After the game, Roethlisberger advised the media that the play call to Rogers came from his coaches; his coaches said that they actually gave Roethlisberger the choice to run a play or to spike the ball.
- We wonder what happened during the lengthy replay review of TE James’ reception. Did the coaches use that time to go over options with Roethlisberger? This is where we felt the game was won or lost. The Steelers didn’t have any timeouts left, but the lengthy replay review served as an extra time out. It appears that they may not have utilized this time to go over options, or they did, but everyone simply forgot what to do. Roethlisberger is a veteran QB, so to put the game into his hands is reasonable – if the coaches gave him the option of what play to call. If they didn’t, however, and advised him to run an inside slant, then that call is highly questionable. Typically, the better option in this circumstance is to run a fade or corner route – low percentage, but an incompletion that could stop the clock and allow the Steelers to kick a game tying FG. This was a confusing sequence for us to understand what happened with Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin and his staff – a sequence that could cost them a Super Bowl trip.
- But this game ending sequence shows how difficult it can be for NFL head coaches to make decisions under pressure.
- Patriots DC Matt Patricia has done wonders with a unit that doesn’t have a lot of top end physical talent; but they are very savvy and disciplined. Patricia puts them into position to make plays, but this year, they’ve missed on quite a number of key occasions. In this game, the Steelers had a 2nd & goal at the New England 3, up 17-16. On this play, Patricia had LB Elandon Roberts clear in the hole to make a tackle on RB Le’Veon Bell, but Roberts whiffed, Bell scored, and the Steelers took a 24-16 lead.