Today’s AFC Championship at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts featured the two best teams in the conference after a long season of football. The New England Patriots have been the consistent, dominant team in the league from the first week of the season. The Pittsburgh Steelers, meanwhile, had a roller coaster ride of a season in the first half of 2016, but came into today’s game on a roll, nine straight games.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the Tom Brady dominance continued, as the Patriots won this game easily, 36-17, to advance to the Super Bowl.
Brady was magnificent today, picking the Steelers defense apart from the very first drive, racking up 384 yards and three touchdowns. Chris Hogan led the receiving core with 9 catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns, while Julian Edelman added 8 catches for 118 and a score.
For Pittsburgh, the offense was dealt a blow in the first half that it really couldn’t afford. Le’Veon Bell left the game with an injured groin and would not return. That left the running back duties up to DeAngelo Williams – a high quality running back, but not near the talent of Bell. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 314 yards and a touchdown, while Antonio Brown had seven catches for 77 yards.
New England took the lead in the first quarter on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal on the team’s opening drive. Brady hit Hogan from 16 yards out to make it a 10-0 lead after one quarter.
The Steelers answered with a 13 play, 84 yard drive, but after a missed extra point by Chris Boswell, they trailed 10-6. Hogan’s second score of the game, a 34 yarder from Brady, put the Patriots up 17-6. Pittsburgh once again responded, marching down the field for 70 yards, but couldn’t convert after having a first and goal opportunity from the one yard line, and had to settle for a field goal. The Patriots led 17-9 at the half.
The second half was dominated by New England. A Gostkowski field goal made it 20-9, and an eight play, 88 yard drive was capped off by a one yard touchdown run by LaGarrette Blount to make it 27-9. Edelman’s 10 yard touchdown reception increased the lead, and another field goal made it elementary from that point forward. Roethlisberger did hit Cobi Hamilton for a touchdown late in the game, but it was far too little, far too late.
Unfortunately, the trend continued when these two teams match up against one another. Brady and the Patriots have had the Steelers’ number, whether they play in the regular season or in the playoffs. Pittsburgh did have some opportunities early in the game to keep things close, but the third quarter was dominated by New England, and the Steelers’ defense had no answer.
It was another strong season for the Steelers, despite coming up one win short of making the Super Bowl. They overcame a lot this year, and made a strong run at an AFC Championship. While it’s always difficult to lose in the playoffs, especially this close to the Super Bowl, it was another exciting year, and one that makes us proud to be Pittsburgh football fans.