PITTSBURGH — After losing 27-24 Sunday to the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly don’t lack any confidence. One player even predicted that they’ll beat the Patriots in the playoffs.

“We’ll see them again,” said Steelers receiver Eli Rogers. “And the outcome will be different.”

The Steelers had momentum for most of the game. Pittsburgh darted out to a 24-16 lead in the third quarter before Tom Brady and the Patriots rallied.

Then, after the Patriots took the lead with 56 seconds left, JuJu Smith-Schuster set up a first-and-goal from the 10 for Pittsburgh with a 69-yard catch and run. After officials ruled Jesse James’ potential winning touchdown was an incomplete pass, Ben Roethlisberger surprised many by faking a spike. His pass attempt to Rogers was deflected by Eric Rowe and intercepted by Duron Harmon.

“I was yelling clock it. I felt the thing to do was clock it and get yourself a (chance to kick a field goal),” Roethlisberger said. “And it came from the sideline: ‘Don’t clock it, don’t clock it.’ Well, at that time, I’ve got everyone thinking it’s clock (it), so you don’t have time to get everyone lined up. Eli ran a quick slant, and at that time you’ve got to try and make a play. I didn’t make a good enough throw.”

When asked if he had a problem with Roethlisberger’s decision, Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin said, “No. No, man. We play and play to win. That’s what we do.”


IN A GAME where there were several ebbs and flows, Eric Rowe went through more of an emotional roller coaster than most.

The Patriots’ cornerback earned the start, his first start since Week 2 in New Orleans. After missing two months because of a groin injury, Rowe was finally back. Then Ben Roethlisberger went after him and had success.

After giving up a first-quarter touchdown, Rowe was directly involved in the 69-yard pass play by JuJu Smith-Schuster that nearly lost the game. Instead, his deflection a few plays later led to a game-securing interception by Duron Harmon.

The last time Roethlisberger tried to pick on Rowe, the young cornerback made him pay.

“I see Big Ben fake it and I was like, ‘oh, they are running a play,'” Rowe said. “I got my eyes on the receiver and noticed he was doing a slant. I didn’t really think he was going to throw it because I was right on his hip. I mean, he threw, and I was like, I need to break this up, ‘boom.’ It tipped up. I honestly thought they caught it, I was like, ‘oh my god.’ (But we) came down with it, and I was just ecstatic.”

Four plays earlier, Rowe was upset with himself. Smith-Schuster ran a crossing route, caught the ball near the line of scrimmage while Rowe was being picked and darted up the field.


“I was on him, but then I got picked off just a little by the receiver,” Rowe said of the long play by Smith-Schuster. “Then once he broke that tackle, I was like, ‘oh my god.’ I was really mad at myself for letting that happen. In my head, I was like, ‘damn, I just gave up this game by myself.’ Then they scored, that made me feel bad. Then it got overturned and it was like, ‘OK, we got to keep playing.’ Obviously, one last play. God, I was blessed to make the play.”

ROB GRONKOWSKI was unstoppable in Sunday’s game. He caught nine passes for 168 yards, including 69 yards on the Patriots’ final scoring drive.

So after the game, it was no surprise when Patriots players had plenty of nice things to say about their teammate.

Perhaps no one paid a better compliment to Gronkowski than quarterback Tom Brady, who has had the pleasure of passing to the three-time All-Pro tight end throughout the last eight seasons. Brady found Gronkowski repeatedly for contested catches.

“It’s just risk-reward, I think, for the quarterback,” Brady said. “Any time with Gronk, though, we’ve played so much football together and I have so much trust in him that it may look like 50-50, but it might be 95-5. You try to develop that chemistry over a long period of time. Gronk’s earned it and he played a hell of a game. I’m just really proud of him. That guy fights his ass off every single day.”

Patriots Coach Bill Belichick agreed that contested passes to Gronkowski are better than 50-50 balls.

“Even when Rob’s covered, he’s open because he’s so long and he has such great range and reach,” Belichick said. “If you can put the ball away from the player who is covering him even though he is close, Rob can get it and the other guy can’t.”

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