The Steelers were without Ryan Shazier and Joe Haden in this matchup against New England. When Antonio Brown went down, all hope was lost. The Steelers fought back and had a chance to win the game with a Jesse James touchdown that was overturned on a very controversial call.
The Steelers lost to the Patriots in heartbreak fashion in a battle for the number one seed in the AFC. With good and bad play on both sides of the ball, here are my Steelers winners and losers from Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots:
For some, it may be hard to put Ben in this column considering he threw an interception in the end zone to give the Patriots the win. However, Ben really had a good game in this one. The fake spike on the last play came directly from Haley, but apart from that, Ben was huge all night - averaging 9.4 yards per pass attempt and finishing with a passer rating of 110.6.
What a game Martavis had in the absence of Antonio Brown. Bryant had 59 yards on six targets and an incredible one-handed touchdown catch. Martavis is going to need to step up in a big way with Brown ruled out for the remainder of the regular season, and possibly beyond.
Bell had one of his best games of the season from a rushing standpoint, as he garnered 117 yards on the ground (4.9 average). Le'Veon proved to be huge when Brown went down and the Steelers needed him most. Credit the offensive line for an awesome job blocking in this game as well.
JuJu is going to be a beast for the Steelers. Although 69 of his 114 yards came on the last drive of the game, he turned a huge performance yet again, and will probably be Ben's most reliable target moving forward without Brown. JuJu put the Steelers in a terrific position to win the game, but they couldn't quite capitalize.
The offensive line, in general, did a great job in this contest, but these two players stood out to me. Hubbard and DeCastro were road-graders in the run game and had no problem getting to the second level and paving the way for a huge Le'Veon Bell performance.
Despite the Steelers allowing Dion Lewis to rush for 5.2 yards per carry in this contest, Williams was pretty solid. He made a nice pass breakup in coverage and was the first Steeler to intercept a pass from Tom Brady since 2005.
Spence is flat-out awful. He was useless against the run, and equally as bad in the passing game. He looked lost on defense wasn't involved in a single positive play on the field. If it were my choice, I would be done with this little experiment the Steelers have with him.
Speaking of Sean Spence, here is the man responsible for not only signing him from his couch to play for the Steelers but to start him two consecutive weeks despite his terrible play. Tomlin made some very questionable decisions in this game - including punting the ball to New England with more than two minutes and two timeouts remaining for the Patriots.
As usual, Tomlin didn't trust his offense at the end of the game. They played conservative and elected to punt on 4th and 1 to give the Patriots a chance to win the game. This is two consecutive weeks now that Tomlin has made some iffy choices towards the end of the game.
For a while, I thought I was going to be able to put Butler in the winner's list. He started playing a lot of man coverage (which is necessary against the Patriots), and they did a decent job containing Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. However, the Steelers had no answer defensively for Rob Gronkowski as they left Sean Davis on an island with him. Butler wasn't all bad in this game, but some of his tactics may have cost the Steelers the number one seed.
Let's start by giving Davis a little credit. He was tasked with matching up with possibly the most dominant tight end in NFL history - Rob Gronkowski - with little to no help. However, despite this challenge, Davis was torn apart by the All-Pro tight end, surrendering 158 yards in coverage (according to Pro Football Focus) and doing nothing to slow down New England's top weapon.
You can't tell me Ryan Shazier doesn't make the difference in this game. Not only could he have helped matchup with Gronk and the running backs, he would have dramatically improved the run defense. As I stated, Sean Spence is basically worthless as a run defender, and the Steelers didn't seem to have an answer up front.
If these teams play each other again in the playoffs, this is an area that must be improved.