Kevin Gorman: Steelers get everything but ending against Patriots
This was everything we expected of and everything we wanted from Steelers-Patriots, except for the ending.
That was so hard for the Steelers to swallow Sunday night, following a heart-pounding performance with a heart-stopping finish.
"I don't know," Steelers strong safety Sean Davis said. "I wish we could hit a rewind button and change it up on them."
It was the rewind button that cost the Steelers their fifth comeback victory in six games, a review overturning what could have been their winning play.
Before you could do a countdown to victory, Jesse James' touchdown catch was reviewed and reversed. Before you could blink, the seconds were ticking away and the Steelers were out of timeouts, and Ben Roethlisberger was making a split-second decision over whether to spike the ball to stop the clock or run another pass play.
With time running out, Big Ben pump-faked a spike and threw a slant pass to Eli Rogers. Eric Rowe had one hand on Rogers' back, but got the other on the ball. It popped up in the air and into the hands of safety Duron Harmon.
Just like that, the reigning Super Bowl-champion Patriots had beaten the Steelers again. They did it for the 11th time with Tom Brady at quarterback, including the AFC championship game last year.
"You see the history and you know it's the Patriots," Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. "We don't like to lose at all but when you lose against them, it kind of affects us."
You can blame officials, for the calls they made and the ones they didn't, for taking a touchdown off the scoreboard. But the Steelers know better than to leave the outcome in the officials' hands.
"We are going to take this loss," Roethlisberger said. "It was tough. We had chances to win that game, and we just didn't."
The Steelers were in no mood for moral victories, even if their game plan worked for almost 58 minutes.
The Patriots didn't just snap the Steelers' eight-game winning streak, they likely stole the top seed and home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs.
The Patriots stole a page from the Steelers' playbook for comeback victories, leading the game for all of 3 minutes, 28 seconds before their final drive.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin promised fireworks, and this game could have been brought to you by Zambelli.
The Steelers were inspired by the sight of Ryan Shazier smiling and waving a Terrible Towel on the Jumbotron early in the first quarter, just 11 days after spinal surgery.
Somehow, the Steelers survived the loss of MVP candidate Antonio Brown to a calf injury in the second quarter to take a 17-10 halftime lead.
But you knew no lead was safe against Bill Belichick and Brady, who have won five Super Bowls together since 2001.
The Steelers had their moments, especially after inside linebacker Vince Williams intercepted a Brady pass and returned it to the Patriots 22 to set up a Le'Veon Bell touchdown run for a 24-16 lead with 1:33 to play in the third quarter.
But, even then, you knew it wasn't over. Stephen Gostkowski cut it to 24-19 with a 46-yard field goal with 3:56 remaining, and the Steelers went three-and-out and punted, giving Brady the ball at his own 22 with 2:06 remaining.
That's a lifetime for Brady and Gronkowski. Brady immediately looked for the Woodland Hills graduate. The pass was tipped by defensive end Cameron Heyward and almost intercepted by Davis.
"I'm a playmaker, man. Of course, I want to win and make plays, and that would have been a great play to seal the game," Davis said.
Instead, Brady and Gronk beat Davis for back-to-back 26-yard passes over the middle, then for a 17-yarder to set up Dion Lewis' 8-yard scoring run. Despite a 69-yard play by JuJu Smith-Schuster to give the Steelers a shot to win, they lost.
"I feel terrible … letting a win slip out of your hands," Davis said. "I ain't scared of them. I ain't scared of Gronk. I ain't scared of Brady. We're all not. We're going to see them again and run it back.
"They're beatable. We had 'em. We've just got to do a better job of executing and put a dagger in 'em."
The Steelers got everything but the ending, which is all that really mattered.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.