the afternoon was spent watching the two early NFL games between the jets-saints and packers-panthers. the carolina game featured the return of aaron rodgers after being out for 8 weeks with a broken collarbone. green bay is one of the teams i'd root for if the patriots don't make it to the superbowl, the QB's miraculous return from season ending injury to lead his team into the playoffs is such a gutsy story. but the panthers had a different idea, and rodgers showed a bit of rust, throwing 3 touchdowns but also 3 interceptions. packers ended up losing.
in the hour before the start of the patriots-steelers game, i drove my mother down to the waltham OSJL so she could return a few things and perhaps do some shopping. we were hoping my father would be home before then, but he was still at the hospital with my grand uncle, so i went into the garage to get out the honda after relocated all the equipment piled behind it (snowblower, lawnmower). we didn't leave OSJL until 4pm and i was getting worried until i realized the game wasn't until 4:30pm. my father and sister were home by the time we got back.
the patriots-steelers matchup turned out to be a crazy game. much of it was played in miserable freezing rain conditions, only to finally clear up towards the end. new england won in the end with a final score of 27-24 but they could've easily lost. patriots were the first to score, but the steelers tied it on their next possession, and kept the lead for the rest of the game, until new england regained the lead with about a minute left in the 4th quarter. all new england had to do was to prevent pittsburgh from getting close enough to the end zone for a tying kick that'd send the game into overtime.
unfortunately the patriots' defense had a momentary brain freeze, allowed smith-schuster to run for 69 yards to new england's 10 yard line. with 4 possessions, the steelers had 3 chances to score a touchdown, with an easy kick through the uprights on the 4th possession to tie the game at least. roethlisberger called their final timeout with 30 seconds left to allow the team to regroup in the red zone. it looked all but over when roethlisberger threw to jesse james for what looked to be a falling touchdown. referees reviewed the play, and it seemed to take an awfully long time for something that looked pretty routine, until it was revealed upon slow-motion replay that james might've bobbled the football, and never fully had possession when he crossed the end zone plane.
this sucked for pittsburgh, but they still had 3 more chances to score in the red zone. the only thing they didn't have were more timeouts, so they were under the gun. 2nd possession to heyward-bey was deflected by malcolm butler, another close call. on the 3rd possession, a miracle happened for the patriots. it looked like maybe pittsburgh would spike the ball to stop the clock, but new england was ready for a possible fake. while most of the steelers were in the backfield, eli rogers ran for a route with roethlisberger trying to connect. unfortunately he threw it in a very spot, surrounded by 5 patriots, and not only was the ball batted away (not so bad) but it was intercepted by patriots duron harmon (pittsburgh nightmare scenario) thus ending the game and taking away the steelers near-guaranteed chance to kick the field goal to send the game into overtime. victory new england!
true, had the game continued, there was no certainty the steelers could win, but they were playing at home with momentum on their side and a gunslinger for a quarterback, so they had a pretty good chance. the interception reminded me of malcolm butler's interception to end the game in super bowl XLIX, so i have to ask, do the patriots practice these end zone interception plays? i was grabbing my mother's shirt and screaming, i couldn't believe the patriots survived and won. i also felt bad for the steelers, they're one of the teams i root for when i'm not rooting for new england. i don't feel too bad though, there's a good chance the steelers and patriots will meet again in the playoffs, and given the result of this game, either team could potentially win.
i'm especially impressed with steeler running back le'veon bell, i've never noticed his playing style before, but i often hear the word "patient." he has an unusual cadence to his runs. typically running backs just charge straight ahead, but he slows down and speeds up, messing withe defenders' timing. it doesn't even seem like he's running especially fast, but the patriots defense had a hard time stopping him.
with this win new england has the number one seed and home field advantage for now, but they must win their next 2 games against the bills (8-6) and the jets (5-8). the jets game shouldn't be a challenge, but buffalo is trying to secure a wild card spot so it's an important survival game for them. that's good, because they probably still want revenge for gronkowski's dirty play 2 weeks ago, but with the season on the line, they'll be less likely to try committing cheap fouls. pittsburgh has an easier schedule, with the texans (4-10) and browns (0-16).
after some fried rice for dinner, i biked back home. it was cold, the air felt exhausting, but i wasn't in any rush, and slowly pedaled back to cambridge. i got back at 8:30pm, took a shower, and watched the dallas-oakland game. the cowboys ended up winning, keeping their playoff hopes alive.