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Week 15 Game Recap: New England Patriots 27, Pittsburgh Steelers 24


What you need to know

New England Patriots

-Rex Burkhead's injury clears the way for Dion Lewis to become the primary running back, and we may even see Mike Gillislee active as a result. Burkhead's loss will also be felt on special teams. -Chris Hogan was inactive a week after being active, which cascades down on the offense. -The offensive line hasn't pass protected well for the last two or three weeks, and with Marcus Cannon on I.R., this is something to watch as the season closes.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers were dealt a heartbreaking loss 27-24 to the Patriots. With less than 30 seconds remaining, it appeared that the Steelers took the lead with a go-ahead touchdown reception by Jesse James. The touchdown was controversially reversed because James did not control the reception as he was falling to the ground. Two plays later, the Patriots intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone. Antonio Brown exited the game during the second quarter with what was later reported to be a partially torn calf muscle.

New England Patriots

QB Tom Brady, 60 offensive snaps, Pass: 22 - 35 - 298 - 1 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 2 - -2 - 0
It wasn't the prettiest of days, but Tom Brady found a way to get it done, thanks in large part to Rob Gronkowski. Coming out hot, Brady and the Pats offense eventually played their way to an up and down day. There was plenty of pressure, a couple terrible decisions by Brady, and more. Brady's pick was that of the terrible decision variety, as he just chucked a pass up for grabs under pressure. The defense came away with a fairly easy pick with no Patriot in the immediate vicinity, continuing the theme of the questionable Brady interception here and there. There were also a few plays where Brady missed a few wide open players period as he locked onto other receivers, a rarity for the star quarterback. On the flip side, Brady's touchdown to Brandin Cooks was a thing of beauty, as he stepped up in the pocket and fired a pass with a small window to operate. Pittsburgh did have a couple extended drives, including a 9 minute drive and a 7+ minute drive, as they dominated time of possession by 10 minutes, which led to Brady's lack of volume. Regardless, going into Pittsburgh and winning is no easy task, and the Pats managed to do it by the hair of their teeth.

RB Dion Lewis, 33 offensive snaps, Rush: 13 - 67 - 1, Rec: 1 - 13 - 0 (2 targets)
With Rex Burkhead injured for much of the game, Lewis became the de facto primary running back, and played relatively well. Lewis was able to pick up several intermediate chunk gains, including his 8 yard touchdown run. The offensive line did seem to run block better than they pass blocked, which certainly helped things out. Expect Lewis to see plenty of work we the season closes out.

RB Rex Burkhead, 16 offensive snaps, Rush: 4 - 12 - 1, Rec: 1 - 5 - 0 (1 targets)
Though he vulture a 1 yard score, the big Burkhead news was his knee injury early in the game. It is being reported as a knee sprain, which means he could be back for the playoffs. For the next couple weeks though, it looks like he will be unavailable.

WR Brandin Cooks, 57 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 60 - 1 (7 targets)
Though he only caught 4 passes, Cooks had two big plays on the day, and nearly had a third that would have make his stat line enormous. On the first drive of the game, Cooks beat zone coverage off pay action for a huge 43 yard gain. Later in the game, he scored a touchdown on a great step up and throw by Tom Brady. Cooks also had a long gain called back because he just stepped out of bounds on the route, which meant he wasn't allowed to touch the ball first. His volume was lower because of Gronk's insane efforts, but with Chris Hogan once again sidelined, he's still the focal point of the wide receiver attack, and will continue to be so.

WR Danny Amendola, 37 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 23 - 0 (4 targets)
With Chris Hogan sidelined, Amendola had a chance to have a decent day, but it wasn't to be. There were few opportunities as Gronk dominated the day against the Steelers.

TE Rob Gronkowski, 60 offensive snaps, Rec: 9 - 168 - 0 (13 targets)
Star players have a tendency to rise up when it counts, and that's exactly what Rob Gronkowski did against the Steelers. Coming into halftime with roughly 30 yards receiving, Gronk went supernova in the second half, including 3 catches for 69 yards on the final Pats game-winning drive. Gronk beat defenders with regularity, often finding himself two steps ahead of his defender/defenders on nearly every play. His highlight was an Edelman-like shoetop catch with just over a minute remaining in the game, putting the Patriots in eventual scoring position. Almost all his catches were chunk first down gains, and he put his stamp on his march towards becoming the best tight end of all time. This was the element the Patriots sorely lacked against the Dolphins, and with Gronk working the middle of the field at will, the Steelers had no answers.


Pittsburgh Steelers

QB Ben Roethlisberger, 67 offensive snaps, Pass: 22 - 30 - 281 - 2 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 3 - 10 - 0
Ben Roethlisberger had an efficient day but will be remembered for one late mistake. Late first quarter, Roethlisberger threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Eli Rogers. On the play, Roethlisberger noticed that Rogers had gained separation from his defender as the middle of the field was wide open. Late second quarter on a third and goal, Roethlisberger threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant. On the play, Roethlisberger placed the pass in a spot only where Bryant could complete the reception. Late fourth quarter and down by three, Roethlisberger completed a short pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who ran for a 69-yard reception. On the next play, Roethlisberger found Jesse James for what looked to be the game-winning touchdown. The play was controversially reversed because James did not control the reception while he was falling to the ground. With the clock running with nine seconds remaining, Roethlisberger faked a spike on third and goal before throwing an interception. On the play, Roethlisberger tried to force a pass over the middle to Eli Rogers before it was tipped and picked.

RB LeVeon Bell, 57 offensive snaps, Rush: 24 - 117 - 1, Rec: 5 - 48 - 0 (6 targets)
Leveon Bell was the centerpiece of the Steelers offensive attack with 29 touches for 165 total yards. Bell ran strong as he gashed the Patriots defense to the tune of 4.9 yards per rush. The running back was also a factor in the short passing game continuing to move the chains. After Antonio Brown left due to injury, the offensive game plan ran through Bell. Late third quarter on second and goal, Bell patiently ran a draw around the left side for a three-yard touchdown run. On the play, Bell waited for the Patriots safety to over-pursue than quickly hit the hole and dashed toward the goal line.

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, 66 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 114 - 0 (6 targets)
JuJu Smith-Schuster finished with a team-leading six receptions for 114 yards. The Steelers rookie wide receiver was once again impressive with his ability to gain separation from his defenders. With the Steelers down by three points and only 52 seconds on the clock, Smith-Schuster delivered a key 69-yard reception. On the play, Smith-Schuster ran a crossing-route and quickly found the left sideline dashing past Patriots defenders.

WR Martavis Bryant, 36 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 59 - 1 (6 targets)
After Antonio Brown left early due to injury, Martavis Bryant picked up some of the slack with four receptions for 59 yards and one touchdown. Early second quarter, Bryant got behind his defender and made a spectacular 39-yard diving reception. Late second quarter on a third and goal, Bryant scored a four-yard touchdown reception. On the play, Bryant showed great concentration by completing the reception with one hand while he was being held by a Patriots defender.

WR Antonio Brown, 21 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 24 - 0 (3 targets)
Early second quarter while Brown was running a crossing route in the end zone, his left leg slammed against a Patriots defender as he was attempting to complete the reception. Brown was helped to the locker room and taken to a local hospital. After the game, it was reported by Ian Rapoport that Brown has a partially torn calf muscle. “The hope is that he’s OK for the postseason. His regular season is over. No surgery needed.”

WR Eli Rogers, 25 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 18 - 1 (2 targets)
Late first quarter, Eli Rogers scored an 18-yard touchdown reception. On the play, Rogers quickly got the inside track on his defender as the middle of the field was left with wide open.

TE Jesse James, 60 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 7 - 0 (5 targets)
Jesse James looked to be the hero of the game with a go-ahead touchdown with 28 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. The touchdown was controversially reversed because James did not control the reception as he was falling to the ground.