I may have mentioned once or twice in the 2016 Recall series that “I’d like to have this one back”.
While I will probably say that about every loss during the season, here’s a game that no one gave the Steelers a chance to win, but they had every opportunity to do the opposite.
Yet, it didn’t look like they stood a chance from the start. The 5-1 Patriots jumped out to an early 14-0 lead on the 4-2 Steelers. Fans were sick to their stomach. Pittsburgh just got thumped by the Miami Dolphins a week earlier and in the process, lost Ben Roethlisberger to a knee injury. The team was also left without defensive captain Cameron Heyward and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (replaced once again by Chris Hubbard).
The expectations were lowered further based on the offense being left no choice but to hand over the quarterback reigns to Landry Jones. Having sat in the stands myself, I think a lot of Steelers fans sold their tickets to Patriots fans: there were far too many of them in attendance and they were like sharks smelling blood in the water.
Jones didn’t do much on the Steelers first possession but got a second chance when Jarvis Jones forced a fumble and gave Pittsburgh the ball right back to the New England 45. A few players later, however, an underthrown pass on a 3rd-and-6 from the Patriots 16 would be intercepted by CB Malcolm Butler, blowing a chance to capitalize on a rare New England mistake and possibly strike first with a 7-0 lead.
Instead, the Patriots would jump out to consecutive scoring drives and the aforementioned 14-0 head start. Though it looked bad, the game was still within reach.
Landry wasn’t incredibly awful as many expected. In fact, the fourth-year passer, making only his third career start, answered New England with a 71-yard drive in under two minutes, which included a deep 51-yard dart to WR Antonio Brown.
Pittsburgh’s defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense got the ball right back. Jones took advantage of good field position off of a poor New England punt (25 yards) and had the Steelers knocking on the door once more. Landry again connected with Darrius Heyward-Bey on a would-be tying touchdown, but a “phantom” holding call (one of many questionable call/no-calls in this game) negated the points. Chris Boswell would miss the field goal attempt right after but would hit on his next as the Steelers quickly drove the field and put up three more points before halftime, entering the locker room down 14-10.
As the second half started, the defense would once again hold Tom Brady and company to a three-and-out, but the Pittsburgh offense could only muster another field goal. New England responded quickly with another TD, taking a 20-13 lead… because Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point try, keeping the game within seven points.
The fourth quarter would start with a Steelers push to the Pat’s 26-yard line but they would again settle for only a field goal. New England went for the proverbial kill, scoring another quick touchdown to extend their lead 27-16. A miserable response by Pittsburgh’s offense meant Jordan Berry was going to punt the ball away with about eleven minutes remaining in the game, but a strip on the punt return led to a rare Greg Warren highlight, as the long-time Steelers long snapper recovered the fumble, giving new life to the black and gold.
The opportunity, however, was squandered. Jones ran for his life on a 3rd-and-3, escaping the pocket and tossing a lob to Le’Veon Bell, who had daylight in front of him but dropped the pass.
Boswell would attempt a 52-yard field goal that would also miss the mark. Each team would punt the ball back and forth as the Patriots chewed time off the clock by pounding LeGarrette Blount between the tackles, effectively finishing the game.
Play of the Game
The game looked hopeless as New England ran up an early 14-0 lead, but Pittsburgh looked to rally, with the most improbable players.
In the red zone, QB Landry Jones would step back to pass, go through his progressions, have ample time, and then fit a pass through a keyhole where the also unlikely hero Darrius Heyward-Bey would haul in the pass for a tip-toe touchdown.