PITTSBURGH – New England benefits from controversial call with 28 seconds left The New England Patriots have built a dynasty on second chances. Miss an opportunity to bury the Super Bowl champions and they will find a way to find a way, usually behind a mix of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, and defensive playmaking at just the right time.
It’s a lesson the Pittsburgh Steelers have learned through the years, one they were determined to finally learn from this time around. Instead, more of the same.
Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone with 5 seconds remaining, securing New England’s 27-24 comeback victory Sunday, one built on more Brady and Gronkowski magic.
Another AFC East title, a record ninth in a row. Another shot at home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
This one came with an assist from the NFL rule book that will add “surviving the ground” to the league’s ever-expanding and ever-perplexing lexicon.
Plus, the risky decision by the Steelers quarterback not to spike the ball and set up a tying field goal, which could reverberate well into January.
“It was a tight game,” said Brady, who fed Gronkowski repeatedly to set up Dion Lewis’ go-ahead 8-yard touchdown with 56 seconds remaining. “We just made one more play than they did.”
Brady finished with 298 yards passing with two touchdowns and an interception. Gronkowski, fresh off a one-game suspension, finished with nine receptions for 168 yards, including three on the winning drive.
That drive, by the way, started with Pittsburgh safety Sean Davis letting a tipped pass slip off his fingertips. Instead of a game-sealing interception, the Steelers gave New England another shot. Brady responded by finding Gronkowski for gains of 26, 26 and 17 yards.
It briefly looked like it wouldn’t be enough.
The AFC North champion Steelers gamely hung in and appeared to take the lead when Roethlisberger connected with tight end Jesse James for a 10-yard touchdown with 28 seconds to go.
The play was overturned on review, with official Tony Corrente explaining that because the ball shifted as James twisted his way into the end zone , it did not “survive the ground” and therefore wasn’t a catch.
“He lost complete control of the football,” Corrente told a pool reporter.
That decision that left James stunned.
“I guess I don’t know a lot of things about football,” James said. “I can’t call it, obviously. They think they made the right call. I’m sure we’ll see it over the next couple days.”
Jaguars 45, Texans 7
In Jacksonville, Blake Bortles threw three touchdowns passes, including two to a reserve receiver who slept in his car earlier this season, and the Jaguars won for the seventh time in eight games to clinch a postseason berth for the first time since 2007.
Bortles finished with a season-high 326 yards and the best QB rating (143.8) of his career, including 186 yards and a touchdown to rookie Keelan Cole. Primary punt returner Jaydon Mickens, who stepped in for injured starter Marqise Lee in the first quarter, caught four passes for 61 yards and two scores against the Texans (4-10).
The Jaguars were an NFL-worst 22-74 over the previous six years, more a laughingstock than a postseason contender.
Rams 42, Seahawks 7
In Seattle, Todd Gurley rushed for 152 yards and scored four total touchdowns in just 2½ quarters, and Los Angeles moved to the cusp of its first division title since 2003.
The matchup to determine first place in the NFC West was completely one-sided. The Rams (10-4) were dominant, embarrassing Seattle into the worst loss during Pete Carroll’s eight seasons in charge.
Taking advantage of field position, Los Angeles scored on six of seven first-half drives, including a 21-point blitz in the second quarter capped by a 57-yard TD run by Gurley on third-and-20 with less than a minute remaining in the first half to take a 34-0 lead at the break.
49ers 25, Titans 23
In Santa Clara, California, Jimmy Garoppolo led one final scoring drive in the closing seconds to cap a fantastic first home start and Robbie Gould kicked a winning 45-yard field goal as time expired.
Garoppolo threw for a career-high 381 yards and a touchdown to give the 49ers (4-10) a three-game winning streak in a lost season. And Tom Brady’s former backup showed he could do it at home as well as on the road — and against a playoff contender, no less — outdueling Marcus Mariota down the stretch as the teams traded field goals.
Vikings 34, Bengals 7
In Minneapolis, Eric Kendricks had an interception return for a touchdown, Case Keenum passed for 236 yards and two scores, and the Vikings clinched the NFC North with a win over the depleted and disinterested Bengals.
Running backs Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 37 touches and 242 yards from scrimmage for Minnesota (11-3). Keenum completed 20 of 23 passes, including seven easy tosses to McKinnon for 114 yards in the first 100-yard receiving game for a Vikings running back since Onterrio Smith on Sept. 26, 2004, against Chicago.
Eagles 34, Giants 29
In East Rutherford, New Jersey, Nick Foles threw four touchdown passes in his first start replacing the injured Carson Wentz, and Philadelphia secured a first-round playoff bye.
Foles hit 24 of 38 passes for 237 yards and no interceptions. The NFC East champion Eagles (12-2) made a late stand on first-and-goal in the final minute in edging the Giants (2-12) for the second time this season, spoiling a three-touchdown, season-high 434-yard passing game by Eli Manning.
Panthers 31, Packers 24
In Charlotte, North Carolina, Cam Newton threw for 242 yards and four touchdowns, and the Panthers spoiled Aaron Rodgers’ return from a broken collarbone.
Damiere Byrd had two touchdown catches, and Christian McCaffrey had 136 yards from scrimmage, including a 7-yard touchdown reception as Carolina (10-4) won its fourth straight home game.
Saints 31, Jets 19
In New Orleans, Mark Ingram ran for two touchdowns and gained 151 yards from scrimmage, including a late 50-yard TD run, and the Saints overcame three turnovers.
Michael Thomas became the second NFL player with at least 90 receptions in his first two seasons. He caught nine passes for 93 yards, including a pivotal fourth-quarter touchdown on a short slant for New Orleans (10-4), which retained its tenuous hold on first place in the NFC South heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
Ravens 27, Browns 10
In Cleveland, Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass, ran for a score and the Ravens beat the Browns again as Baltimore stayed on track for the AFC playoffs.
With victories at home over Indianapolis and Cincinnati in their last two games, the Ravens will return to the postseason after a two-year absence.
The Browns are two losses from becoming the NFL’s second-ever 0-16 team.
Bills 24, Dolphins 16
In Orchard Park, New York, LeSean McCoy scored twice and surpassed 10,000 career yards rushing while helping the Bills stay in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt.
Tyrod Taylor also scored on a 9-yard touchdown run and Shareece Wright and Jordan Poyer intercepted Miami’s Jay Cutler on consecutive drives to start the second half of a game in which Buffalo never trailed.
Rookie Tre’Davious White sealed the win by intercepting Cutler with 28 seconds remaining — and one play after Miami punter Matt Haack recovered an onside kick at Miami’s 37.
Redskins 20, Cardinals 15
In Landover, Maryland, Anthony Lanier sacked Blaine Gabbert and forced a fumble that Preston Smith recovered and the Redskins held on to beat the Cardinals in a comedy of errors for each team.
Smith also intercepted Gabbert and Lanier batted down three passes and had two sacks as they gave Washington (6-8) a glimpse of their potential as significant pieces of the defense for years to come.
Cowboys 20, Raiders 17
In Oakland, Dallas kept its playoff hopes alive by the slimmest of margins after Dak Prescott converted a fourth-down sneak by the width of an index card to set up Dan Bailey’s go-ahead 19-yard field goal, and Raiders quarterback Derek Carr fumbled the ball inches from the goal line with 31 seconds left.