What. A. Game.
Unreal. Hands down the best game of the year and it is not even close. And I am not just talking about the best Patriots game of the year either. No, I mean that was the best game of the entire NFL season right there. While I say this, I do not mean that this is the best they have played this season. Not even close. I actually think they didn’t even play that well.
The defense got torn up by the Steelers all day long. Le’Veon Bell killed them over and over and over again. Coming into the game, I was expecting this kind of game from Bell. The Patriots run defense has not been great this season, and knowing what the Patriots love to do and take away your top option, I figured they would key in on Antonio Brown and let Bell eat. And that is exactly what they did. They covered Brown with Malcolm Butler, who has a history of shutting him down, with safety help over the top. Brown was bottled up and the Patriots forced the Steelers to run the ball, which is exactly what they wanted. However, when Brown left the game with an injury and did not return, I then thought that they would key in on the run and make Big Ben throw to his secondary weapons. Bell was never taken away however, actually he continued to tear up the Patriots for a total of 117 yards and a touchdown.
A big reason for this is because the Patriots defensive line blows. They were missing their best run stuffer in Alan Branch. And while they did get their best pass rusher back in Trey Flowers, the pass rush as a whole was underwhelming. And for the love of god, when our pass rush finally does get to the Quarterback in the backfield, CAN WE PLEASE FINISH OUR TACKLES?!?! I am getting sick and tired of making Ben Roethlisberger and Jay Cutler look like Johhny Football spinning out of tackles and making plays. Once again, the front 7 really missed Kyle Van Noy being out on the field. With Hightower gone, we need Kyle out there more than ever. Elandon Roberts and David Harris just can’t get the job done on their own. And you better believe that any team that the Patriots play the rest of the way out with half a brain is gunna attack that run defense.
While the front 7 was a big problem on Sunday, I also wanting more from the secondary. I thought Malcolm played well during the game and I think Stephon Gilmore had played well to start the game. For a guy that was getting put on a island with a freak like Martavis Bryant, I thought he did a good job keeping up and competing with him. However, you can only shut a guy that tall and that fast down for so long. And Bryant made a couple of HUGE plays on Gilmore, including the sideline lay out catch and then the one handed touchdown catch.
Another matchup I really hated from the beginning was Eric Rowe being put on Eli Rogers and JuJu Smith-Schuster. From the beginning I thought that both of those players were just too quick and fast for him. And I think that proved to be true on Rogers touchdown and on JuJu’s big catch and run on the final drive.
I thought it would have made more sense to put a guy like Jonathan Jones on those guys because he would have had a better chance to stick on them. And while I still think I was right, I am goddamn happy that they didn’t. Because while I think Rowe had a tough time keeping up with JuJu and Rogers, Rowe’s length came up huge on that last play.
Just an amazing play and awareness by the Patriots secondary. While it was embarrassing that they let up that big play to JuJu, the next couple plays were just flat out impressive. First of all, Butler had a sneaky huge play to have the understanding that he had to tackle Darrius Heyward-Bey in bounds to keep the clock running. And then since the clock was running, just like in the Super Bowl against Seattle where Bill didn’t call a time out and let the Seahawks scramble, the Steelers had to hurry to snap the ball. They end up doing a fake spike and Ben did not do the smart thing and throw a fade route, he just chucked it over the middle into the whole Patriots secondary. NOT IDEAL!
The fact that the Patriots recognized the fake spike and played it perfectly is a testament to their preparation. Not only did they know that Ben has run fake spikes before and caught teams sleeping, but they also said after the game that the team practices fake spikes all the time. That the Patriots Offense always tries to catch the Patriots Defense off guard in practice. Situational Football ladies and gentlemen. Another example of the Patriots being more prepared than their opponent due to superior coaching. And for that sole reason, this is what allows a team like New England, who did not play well all game long, come in and steal one on the road.
While the Patriots Offense was able to get the job done, it was not pretty. Brady threw his first interception to Pittsburgh in twelve(12) years. Not only did he throw and interception, but it was on their own 35 and ended up leading to a Steelers touchdown. The big reason of the interception was because the Steelers pass rush got to Brady, which was a problem all night. Once again, the offensive line struggled and now that Cannon is gone for the season, I am not sure if I trust it getting that much better. While the line did not improve from the loss in Miami, the passing game did, and the sole reason of that is yo soy fiesta, Rob Gronkowski. I have never seen a pass catcher take over a game like Gronk did in the second half. That was just two players who are the best ever at their positions take over and dominate a game. Brady and Gronk just would not be stopped especially on the game winning touchdown drive. The fact that the Steelers tried to play Gronk 1-on-1 with Sean Davis is just amazing. And the fact that they never thought of doubling Gronk after he abused Davis over and over is even more amazing. Gronk was a man on a mission after costing his team the game by being suspended against the Dolphins. And he showed everyone why he is still the best weapon in the NFL.
And while we can talk all day about the Patriots Tight End who made all the plays, it wouldn’t be right to not talk about the Steelers Tight End who could not do the same. I want to make something 100% clear so listen up.
Jesse James dropped the ball and did not complete the catch.
If you do not agree with that then you are an idiot who does not know the rules. Please Steelers fans, stop acting like the NFL is out to get you and pulled a rabbit out of their asses. Calvin Johnson did not catch the ball. Dez Bryant did not catch the ball. And by the letter of he law, Jesse James did not catch the ball. The league has been making this call for years and while some might think it is a dumb rule, they have actually been very very consistent with it. And by the way, that play didn’t lose you the game. The Steelers lost the game because they were unprepared on the fake spike and Ben threw a horrible pass that was intercepted by the team that was better coached. It is as simple as that. And just like that, the Patriots are AFC East Champions and the road to the Super Bowl runs through New England once again.