For the first time since 2002, the Patriots have lost back-to-back games in December.
Sunday’s defeat came at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who did just enough to hold on for a 17-10 win over New England. Quarterback Tom Brady drove the Patriots within scoring range as time ran down in the fourth quarter, but his fourth-down pass to the end zone with 20 seconds left was knocked away by the Steelers’ defense.
New England fell to 9-5 (3-5 on the road), its first season with at least five losses since 2009, and dropped to the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs.
“We’re just obviously not playing well enough to win,” Brady said. “Just missed opportunities, too many plays where we got opportunities to do stuff with it and we don’t. It’s football. Wish outcomes were different. But just have to get back to work.”
It was the second straight week that New England could have wrapped up the AFC East, but came up short. The Patriots are looking for their 10th straight division title.
“I was proud of our guys, how we battled, all the way from the first play to the last. In the end, we just came up short. They made a few more plays than we did,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
The Patriots committed a season-high 14 penalties (their most since 2014), Brady threw a bad interception, three receivers dropped passes, and the run defense was again shredded.
Brady and Belichick both complimented the defense’s performance overall despite the unit giving up 158 yards on the ground. Belichick said he was pleased with how the defensive backs competed against a tough group of pass catchers. Safety Duron Harmon, who intercepted Roethlisberger twice, said the group “played solid defense.”
“But for whatever reason it just wasn’t enough for a win,” he said. “We still could have played better. We’re a team. There’s been times when we gave up 42 points and our offense did enough for us to win.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 22-of-39 passing for 235 yards, two touchdowns, and the two picks as the Steelers collected 376 yards (142 on the ground by rookie Jaylen Samuels). Pittsburgh was 4 of 9 on third down.
It was Roethlisberger’s first regular-season victory over New England since 2011.
“This is a total team victory. I’m so proud of so many guys, all phases of football,” Roethlisberger said.
Brady completed 25 of 36 passes to eight receivers for 279 yards, and a touchdown. On the red-zone interception, Brady said he was trying to throw it away to avoid the sack, but didn’t get enough on it.
“Yeah, I was just trying to flick it outta bounds and didn’t,” he said.
But key penalties, including five in the red zone and five false starts, were damaging enough.
“Pretty much the penalties in the red area made the difference,” Belichick said. “That’s once of those typical tough football game against the Steelers.”
The Steelers (8-5-1) maintained their slim lead in the AFC North standings and are in fourth in the AFC playoff picture. Baltimore, which defeated Tampa Bay on Sunday, is 8-6 and in the second wild-card slot with two weeks to go in the season.
“It’s that time of year, every game is a must-win for us. Regardless of who we’re playing, where we’re playing, we need them all,” Roethlisberger said.
Photos from the game
Below are updates and analysis from the game as it unfolded.
Steelers 17, Patriots 10 (0:00): Tom Brady threw three straight passes intended for Rob Gronkowski on New England’s final possession. The first two sailed through the back of the end zone, before Brady’s throw on fourth and 15 was batted down for an incompletion.
Ben Roethlisberger took a knee after the turnover on downs to complete a 17-10 Steelers’ victory.
The Patriots offense’ was flagged for two more penalties on the drive, the first a false start whistle on Joe Thuney and the second for holding on Shaq Mason. Brady made up for one of those penalties with a 34-yard completion to Julian Edelman, but could not breach the end zone in the final four tries.
Steelers 17, Patriots 10 (2:30): After Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson ripped the ball away from JuJu Smith-Schuster to stop the Steelers drive, kicker Chris Boswell split the uprights for a 48-yard field goal.
Running back Jaylen Samuels led the Steelers downfield, going for 20 yards on third and 9 and following that up with a 15-yard rush into New England territory. Pittsburgh reached the 30-yard line before Jackson’s intervention deep downfield forced the offense off the field.
Steelers 14, Patriots 10 (7:43): Joe Haden picked off Tom Brady on a pass intended for Julian Edelman, ending an eight-play 43-yard drive by the Patriots. Edelman came up hurt on the play. Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense took over at their own 4-yard line.
I can't believe Haden got both feet in. Impressive INT— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Brady with a horrible interception, and Edelman is limping badly before crumpling on the field. He's hurt— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Last week: Taking the sack at the end of the first half.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 16, 2018
This week: Throwing that ball.
Stuff you don't normally see from Tom Brady.
Edelman is staying on the sideline, and testing out his knee/leg. Looks like he's OK— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Edelman looks like he's OK. He's moving around the sideline. Was testing out his right foot.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 16, 2018
The Patriots committed two penalties inside the red zone on the drive: False start by Trent Brown on third and 8 from the 13 and holding by Marcus Cannon on first and goal from the 5.
Rob Gronkowski, who hadn’t caught a pass before the New England drive began, got involved with two catches for first downs.
There's the old Gronk. Catches the slant short of the sticks, then buldozes his way to the first down— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Gronk's first catch of the day comes wint 12:40 left in the 4Q. Goes for 13 yards, Patriots are in business at the Steelers' 40— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Steelers 14, Patriots 10 (13:29): Stephon Gilmore broke up a Ben Roethlisberger pass, deflecting the ball into Duron Harmon’s hands for the safety’s second interception of the evening. Tom Brady and Co. took over at their own 41.
Duron Harmon on the spot again, hise second INT of the game. Gilmore gets thet assist for knocking it out of Brown's hands. Big play for the Patriots— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Steelers 14, Patriots 10 (0:17): Stephen Gostkowski made a 33-yard field goal to trim Pittsburgh’s lead.
It was the 50th straight make inside 40 yards by Gostkowski, who came on for the kick after Julian Edelman was stuffed 1 yard shy of the first down.
Belichick takes the points instead of going for it on 4th and 1. Thought he'd be more aggressive there.— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Patriots then false start on the FG. But Gostkowski nails the 33 yarder, and it's Steelers 14, Patriots with 0:17 left 3Q
I think the Patriots should have gone for it on 4th-and-1.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 16, 2018
FG cuts Steelers lead to 14-10 heading into 4th quarter.
New England got its ground game going on the possession, running on eight of the drive’s 13 plays and eating up more than 8 minutes of clock.
Patriots finally getting into a good rhythm running the ball. Have slowed the game down a lot, too— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
The drive was also aided by a pass interference call on Joe Haden on third and 16.
The back judge strikes again. This time a 21 yard pass interference penalty, and the fans aren't too happy about it— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
But the Patriots committed three penalties on the drive, two back-to-back by Julian Edelman early in the possession and one by holder Ryan Allen on the field goal.
False start and illegal formation back to back. Very un-Patriot like— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
False start and illegal formation back to back. Very un-Patriot like— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Steelers 14, Patriots 7 (8:32): Chris Boswell missed a 32-yard field goal wide right, leaving Pittsburgh with no points after a nine-play, 65-yard drive that included catches of 32 and 24 yards by James Washington and an intentional grounding penalty on Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers drove to the New England 4-yard line, before the grounding penalty pushed them back 10 yards. Pittsburgh had one more chance for seven points, but Vance McDonald couldn’t keep both feet in bounds in the end zone.
Patriots D bends but doesn't break. And then Boswell misses the 32 yarder. Huge missed opportunity for the Steelers— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
There's a reason the Steelers fans at Heinz field have been cheering so hard after every made PAT. Boswell misses the FG from 32 yards out. Still 14-7. Steelers had 1st-and-goal at the 4, wind up with nothing.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 16, 2018
After that Boswell miss the Steelers have now made 58.8% of their field goals this season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 16, 2018
The last team to make under 60% of their field goals in a season was the 2000 Bengals (57.1%, 12-of-21).
AB and Stephon Gilmore just got into it a bit. AB pushed Gilmore in the shoulder, Gilmore responded, they had to be separated.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 16, 2018
Jason McCourty has had a great tackling season, but whiffs on Washington in the open field— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Steelers 14, Patriots 7 (13:00): The New England offense was forced to punt for the fifth straight possession. After Sony Michel ripped off a 13-yard run on the first play, he posted back-to-back 2-yard runs to set up a third and 6. But Josh Gordon dropped a pass from Tom Brady, bringing out Ryan Allen to boot it away.
The Dropsies are going around today. Bad one for Gordon on third down— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Total yards: NE 167, PIT 217
Plays: NE 22, PIT 35
Yards per play: NE 7.6, PIT 6.2
First downs: NE 6, PIT 15
Third down: NE 1-5, PIT 2-4
Rushing yards: NE 29, PIT 84
Red zone: NE 0-0, PIT 2-2
Penalties: NE 6 for 56 yards, PIT 2 for 9 yards
Time of possession: NE 10:54, PIT 19:06
Tom Brady: 11 of 16 for 138 yards, TD, 116.1 rating
Ben Roethlisberger: 17 of 23, 150 yards, 2 TD, INT, 101.7 rating
NE receiving: Cordarrelle Patterson 3 catches for 20 yards, Josh Gordon 1 for 19, Chris Hogan 1 for 63 (TD), James Develin 2 for 18, Julian Edelman 2 for 8, James White 1 for 6, Rex Burkhead 1 for 4, Rob Gronkowski 0 catches.
PIT receiving: Antonio Brown 4 for 49 (TD), JuJu Smith-Schuster 3 for 39, Eli Rogers 4 for 20, Jaylen Samuels 1 for 10, Jessee James 1 for 9, James Washington 1 for 9, Ryan Switzer 2 for 9, Vance McDonald 1 for 5 (TD).
NE rushing: Sony Michel 4 carries for 21 yards, James White 1 for 6, Rex Burkhead 1 for 2.
PIT rushing: Jaylen Samuels 7 for 70, Stevan Ridley 1 for 12, Ryan Switzer 1 for 3.
Steelers 14, Patriots 7 (0:21): Although Cordarrelle Patterson thought he had fought for a first down on third and 9, the call was overturned and the Patriots wide receiver was ruled down short of the marker.
The Patriots’ offense initially lined up to go for it, but then subbed in the punt team, with Ryan Allen booting it to the Pittsburgh 19-yard line. Ben Roethlisberger took a knee to end the half.
Patterson had moved the chains already in the drive, reeling in a Tom Brady pass on third and 5, the Patriots’ first third-down conversion of the contest. Brady nearly connected with Julian Edelman deep downfield three plays later, but the ball caromed off the wideout’s hands for an incompletion.
Brady way late on the post-corner to Edelman. He had him for a big gain— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
The Patriots first third-down conversion of the day goes to Cordarrelle Patterson, who has morphed back into a receiver over the last couple weeks.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 16, 2018
Patriots now 1 for 4 on third down today. Big conversion by Patterson— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Steelers 14, Patriots 7 (5:13): New England couldn’t do anything with Duron Harmon’s interception and punted for the third straight possession. Tom Brady threw one incomplete pass before connecting with Julian Edelman for a 5-yard gain to bring up third down. The Patriots quarterback felt the Steelers pass rush and threw a hurried incompletion intended for James White. Punter Ryan Allen sent the Steelers back to their 28-yard line.
Patriots are 0/3 on third down.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 16, 2018
Quick three and out for the Patriots. Third straight punt. Can't do anything wit the turnover— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Steelers 14, Patriots 7 (6:01): On seocnd and 10 from the New England 46-yard line, Ben Roethlisberger fired a pass intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster over the middle. But the ball sailed past Smith-Schuster and into the waiting arms of Patriots safety Duron Harmon.
It was Harmon’s fourth career interception against the Steelers.
Steelers 14, Patriots 7 (9:18): After the New England offense stalled, the Patriots special teams downed Ryan Allen’s punt at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line.
Jonathan Jones and Rex Burkhead each had spectacular dives to bat the football out of the end zone and avoid the touchback. Ramon Humber ultimately downed it at the 1.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin challenged the play, but the ruling was upheld.
We all just witnessed what happens in Bill Belichick's dreams. That's the best punt coverage I've ever seen.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 16, 2018
Punt coverage that would make the Harlem Globetrotters proud— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Steelers 14, Patriots 7 (12:01): Ben Roethlisberger threw a dart to Antonio Brown for a 17-yard touchdown. The score was set up after Jonathan Jones was flagged for pass interference on Eli Rogers, giving Pittsburgh the ball at the New England 17. It was an eight-play, 92-yard drive by the Steelers. It was Brown’s 13th touchdown catch of the season.
Three officials were watching the play, only the back judge thought Jonathan Jones committed pass interference. 26 yard penalty— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Antonio Brown scores on a 17-yard laser from Ben Roethlisberger. Jason McCourty was in coverage. Questionable DPI on Jonathan Jones set it up. Steelers up 14-7.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 16, 2018
Earlier on scoring drive, Roethlisberger tossed the football up and let JuJu Smith-Schuster go get it for a 22-yard gain on second and 14.
JC Jackson just gave up his first catch to JuJu Smith-Schuster, who he's shadowing when the Patriots are in man. Not a lot more Jackson could have done on that one, great catch.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 16, 2018
What a catch by Smith-Schuster, picking it right off JC Jackson's head. 22 yards for the first down— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Patriots 7, Steelers 7 (1:27): Tom Brady and the New England offense stalled at the Pittsburgh 46. The drive went five plays and included drops by Julian Edelman and James White, a 19-yard completion to Josh Gordon (his first target and catch of the day), and an 11-yard completion to James Develin.
Patriots stall at midfield, in part to a bad drop by Edelman. Pats punt away on their second drive— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Patriots 7, Steelers 7 (3:06): The New England defense got to Ben Roethlisberger twice in five plays, forcing the Steelers to punt. Kyle Van Noy sacked the Pittsburgh quarterback for a 10-yard loss on first down, then Jonathan Jones did the same for a 7-yard loss on third down to stall the drive. Julian Edelman signaled for a fair catch at the New England 22-yard line.
Great coverage on the back end, and Jonathan Jones wraps up Roethlisberger with a big third down sack. Jones has 1.5 sacks this year— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Kyle Van Noy perfectly timed that blitz. Now has 3.5 sacks this season— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Patriots 7, Steelers 7 (6:48): The Patriots needed just three plays to tie the game. After two short passes — and a too many men on the field penalty on the Steelers — Tom Brady fired a deep ball to a wide-open Chris Hogan, who waltzed into the end zone untouched for a 63-yard touchdown. Stephen Gostkowski added the extra point to draw New England level.
It was Hogan’s first touchdown since Week 2 and his third of the season.
It was Brady’s 24th TD pass of 60-plus yards and his first since Week 11 last season.
63 yards is the Patriots' longest play from scrimmage this year. Previous long had been 55 by Gordon and Patterson— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
Steelers 7, Patriots 0 (8:40): Ben Roethlisberger connected with tight end Vance McDonald for a 5-yard touchdown, capping off an 11-play, 75-yard opening drive by Pittsburgh.
The Steelers tested the Patriots’ struggling run defense early, with Jaylen Samuels picking up 39 yards on four carries, including a 25-yard scamper.
Roethlisberger kept the drive from stalling in Pittsburgh territory, connecting with wide receiver Eli Rogers across the middle for a first down on third and 3, one of two third-down conversions by the Steelers on the possession.
Easy TD drive for the Steelers. 11 plays, 75 yards, 6:25. Patrick Chung lost Vance McDonald in the end zone.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 16, 2018
Looks like JC Jackson on JuJu Smith-Schuster, Stephon Gilmore or Jason McCourty on AB. When McCourty had AB Gilmore had Eli Rogers in the slot which was.. something.— Nora Princiotti (@NoraPrinciotti) December 16, 2018
The Steelers won the toss and elected to receive, giving the Patriots a chance at a double-score.
For the Patriots, defensive lineman Keionta Davis, defensive back Duke Dawson, defensive end Derek Rivers, offensive lineman James Ferentz, defensive lineman Danny Shelton, defensive back Obi Melifonwu, and tight end Jacob Hollister are inactive.
A full deck for Brady today vs. the Steelers:— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) December 16, 2018
WR: Edelman, Gordon, Hogan, Dorsett
RB: Michel, Burkhead, White
TE: Gronk, Allen
For the Steelers, quarterback Mason Rudolph, safety Marcus Allen, cornerback Brian Allen, running back James Conner, tackle Zach Banner, linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, and defensive end L.T. Walton are inactive.
This and that
■ The Steelers downgraded running back James Conner (ankle) to doubtful. The club also activated receiver Eli Rogers from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. He had an 18-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the Patriots last season.
■ Sunday will be the 27th regular-season meeting between the clubs, with the Steelers owning a 14-12 advantage, including a 10-8 mark in Pittsburgh. The franchises have met five times in the postseason, with the Patriots holding a 4-1 edge
■ Steelers assistant head coach John Mitchell was Belichick’s defensive line coach with the Browns from 1991-93.
■ Winning on the road has been a staple of the Patriots’ reign, but this season has been a struggle. Their gut-punch loss to the Dolphins last week dropped them to 3-4 away from Gillette Stadium.
— Jim McBride and Julian Benbow, Globe Staff
Steelers’ keys to victory
1.) Gone, gone, gone: Mike Tomlin’s club must put its three-game skid — and their recent history against the Patriots — in the rearview. This game against this team is all that really matters.
2.) Mr. Roboto: Ben Roethlisberger has to be sharp — particularly in the red zone. Taking unnecessary risks will haunt you against opportunistic teams. Take the safe route to stay in it for the long haul.
3.) Renegade: T.J. Watt must dominate. He has the skills to set the edge against the run and crush the pocket. His teammates feed off his energy, so he has to bring it all game long.
Patriots’ keys to victory
1.) The Best of Times: Bury those Miami memories and move on — you can’t let the stunning loss to the Dolphins carryover and lead to another loss. Conjure up the good feelings of past trips here.
2.) Show Me the Way: The offensive line must create space for Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and James White to move the ball on the ground. Striking a balance is essential to success.
3.) Having a Ball: Get the ball to Rob Gronkowski. The tight end is coming off his best game and has traditionally thrived against Pittsburgh’s scheme. Feed him until they stop him.
— Jim McBride, Globe Staff