Patriots

Brown's spectacular catch helps Steelers beat Packers, keep pace with Patriots

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Brown's spectacular catch helps Steelers beat Packers, keep pace with Patriots

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers had the ball, 17 seconds and about 30 yards to go to avoid overtime against relentlessly resilient Green Bay.

Oh, and the Steelers had Antonio Brown. The Packers did not. And 17 seconds, 30ish yards provided entirely by Pittsburgh's do-everything wide receiver and one 53-yard field goal from Chris Boswell later, the Steelers were dancing on the logo at midfield following a 31-28 escape on Sunday night.

Pittsburgh (9-2) won its sixth straight behind Brown, who finished with 10 receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Yet the biggest grab was a 23-yard toe-tap along the sideline on the first snap of his team's last-gasp drive that put the Steelers near the fringe of Boswell's range.

At first, it looked as if Brown was out of bounds. Two officials conferred for more than 15 seconds before ruling Brown somehow managed to get both feet down. The call stood on replay.

A more conventional 14-yard reception on the next snap pushed the Steelers closer. Boswell's career-long blast slipped inside the left upright to keep Pittsburgh tied with New England atop the AFC and keep Brown's teammates searching for superlatives.

"It's one thing to do it in practice on a Thursday," guard David Decastro said. "To do it in that situation to get into field-goal range? I just, I guess how can you not be surprised?"

Brown wasn't.

"I knew right away I had it," Brown said. "I got my hand on the ball. I knew it was a catch."

One the Steelers needed to avoid perhaps another mystifying loss. Even though the Packers were missing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, running back Ty Montgomery and linebacker Clay Matthews, they pushed Pittsburgh to the limit.

Brett Hundley completed 17 of 26 for 245 yards and three touchdowns for the Packers (5-6) in his best start since taking over when Rodgers went on injured reserve with a broken collarbone last month. Jamaal William ran for 66 yards, including a 4-yard leap into the end zone with 2:02 that tied it at 28.

"I just want to give this team an opportunity to win," Hundley said. "And I feel like we were really close."

Hundley actually had a chance to pull off a Rodgers-like winning drive. But Green Bay went three-and-out after getting the ball with 1:20 to go. The Packers punted it back to Pittsburgh with 17 seconds left. Just enough time, it turns out, for Brown to do his thing and for Boswell to do his.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and special teams coordinator Danny Smith didn't approach Boswell before Boswell headed onto the field to kick into the tricky closed end of Heinz Field. That's not what they do.

"I don't tell them numbers, they don't ask me numbers," Boswell said. "If we need it, we need it and I kick it. That's about it."

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 351 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Le'Veon Bell ran for 95 yards and added another 88 yards receiving but also had a fumble that stalled a drive early in the fourth quarter. The Steelers outgained Green Bay 462-307 and had the ball for nearly 34 minutes.

Yet the Packers counterpunched repeatedly behind Hundley, who threw touchdown passes of 39, 54 and 55 yards then later guided Green Bay on a 12-play, 77-yard drive that was nearly enough to send the game to overtime.

Nearly.

"It was a close game and it came down to the wire and it hurts when you don't finish it off," Green Bay wide receiver Davante Adams said. "I think this team can rally together and finish strong."

"THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM"

The usually taciturn (at least when cameras are rolling) Tomlin raised eyebrows during a pregame interview in which he stressed he believes his team can win the Super Bowl and allowed there's a part of him thinking about New England's visit to Heinz Field on Dec. 17.

"We've got a good football team," Tomlin said. "I've got a great deal of confidence in them. Everybody in America knows it's a big game. We couldn't deny it if we wanted to."

ODD CHOICE

The Packers were up 21-14 and had the ball in Pittsburgh territory in the third quarter when head coach Mike McCarthy sent Mason Crosby out to attempt a 57-yard field goal, a risky move at best let alone in perhaps the hardest stadium in the league to kick.

Crosby's low knuckler was never close and the Steelers took advantage of the short field to even the score at 21 on the first of Brown's two touchdown grabs.

"We needed points," McCarthy said. "You look at the flow of the game ... that's the right decision."

FILLING IN

With Steelers rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster out with a hamstring problem, Martavis Bryant and had his most productive game since returning from a year-long drug suspension that cost him the entire 2016 season. Bryant finished with 99 total yards and his first touchdown since Week 2.

UP NEXT:

Packers: Host Tampa Bay next Sunday. Green Bay is 0-3 at home since Rogers was injured.

Steelers: At Cincinnati on Monday, Dec. 4. Pittsburgh beat the Bengals 29-14 on Oct. 22.

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Cowboys edge Raiders 20-17 by slimmest of margins

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Cowboys edge Raiders 20-17 by slimmest of margins

OAKLAND, Calif. - Dallas kept its playoff hopes alive by the slimmest of margins.

Dak Prescott converted a fourth-down sneak by the width of an index card to set up Dan Bailey's go-ahead 19-yard field goal, and Derek Carr fumbled the ball inches from the goal line with 31 seconds left to give the Cowboys a 20-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday night.

"We know where we're at, our season is on the line as far as going to the playoffs," tight end Jason Witten said. "It's good to just see us find a way to get the result that we did. ... Good to get lucky and see the football gods help you out a bit. I've certainly been on the other end of it over the course of my years."

The first key play came when Cowboys coach Jason Garrett decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 39 with about five minutes left in a tie game. Prescott ran into a pile that took officials time to untangle.

Referee Gene Steratore then called for the chains to come out, but even that wasn't clear. He then tried to slide what appeared to be an index card between the tip of the ball and the end of the chain. When the card didn't slide through, Steratore signaled a first down for Dallas (8-6). He said he had decided it was a first down before the odd measurement.

"The final decision was made visually. The card was used nothing more than a reaffirmation of what was visually done," he told a pool reporter. "My decision was visually done based on the look from the pole."

That explanation didn't satisfy Raiders coach Jack Del Rio.

"I had a different viewpoint. I saw air," Del Rio said. "It was pretty obvious. Again, they do the best they can with a tough job."

Prescott then hit Dez Bryant with a 40-yard pass that set up Bailey's short kick with 1:44 to play that gave the Cowboys the lead.

But the game was far from over. The Raiders (6-8) got a gift when Jourdan Lewis committed a 55-yard pass interference penalty on a fourth-and-10 from their own 30. Carr then scrambled on third-and-3 from the 8 and reached out for the end zone. But the ball came loose before crossing the goal line and went out of the end zone for a touchback that all but ended Oakland's playoff hopes. The Raiders are tied for ninth in the AFC.

"I tried to hold onto it," Carr said. "It wasn't like I didn't try. But there's obviously a lot of different things . throw it away, kick a field goal, run out of bounds. OK, cool. But in that moment I was just trying to win for my teammates."

Dallas is in a three-way tie for seventh place in the NFC, a half-game behind Atlanta for the final playoff spot. The Falcons beat the Cowboys head-to-head.

The Cowboys got their third straight win without suspended star running back Ezekiel Elliott, who returns from a six-game suspension next week. But Dallas' three straight losses at the start of the suspension created a hole the team is still trying to escape.

"We continue to scratch, we continue to claw," coach Jason Garrett said. "It wasn't our most perfect performance in any phase of our football team, but the fight was there."

FAKE IT OUT

The Cowboys took a risk in the third quarter on a fourth-and-11 from their own 24. Punter Chris Jones kept the ball and ran 24 yards for a first down. Dallas then drove down the field and took a 17-10 lead when Prescott ran in from 5 yards out and then was given a shower of drinks thrown by fans in the Black Hole.

MILESTONE THROW

Carr set up Oakland's first TD with a 32-yard scramble that was his longest run since his rookie year. That led to a 2-yard TD to Michael Crabtree that gave Carr 100 career touchdown passes. He joined Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck as the only players with at least 100 TD passes in their first four years in the NFL. Carr added a second TD pass to Crabtree in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 17.

TAKE IT AWAY

Sean Smith intercepted two passes for the Raiders, doubling the team's total from the first 13 games. Smith got his first on the opening drive of the game and then added another just moments after Oakland got on the board for the first time. Bruce Irvin hit Prescott on the throw and Smith came up with the floater . He was initially given a TD return on the play but was ruled down by contact on replay and Oakland settled for a game-tying field goal from Giorgio Tavecchio.

INJURIES

The Raiders lost LT Donald Penn (foot) and DT Treyvon Hester (ankle) to injuries in the first half. ... Dallas LT Tyron Smith left in the second half with a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Cowboys: Host Seattle on Sunday.

Raiders: Visit Philadelphia on Dec. 25.

GOAT-to-GOAT: Brady puts trust in Gronkowski with Steelers game on the line

GOAT-to-GOAT: Brady puts trust in Gronkowski with Steelers game on the line

PITTSBURGH - Down five points with a little over two minutes to play, Tom Brady knew what the Patriots offense had to do. But with precious few of his receivers actually getting open consistently, the quarterback knew whose number to dial up again and again and again. Rob Gronkowski’s phone was ringing off the hook and the tight end knew who was on the other end.

“There were two minutes left,” he said. “I knew we had to go down, make a drive and just do what you have to do. If the ball is coming to you, you have to make some plays. It just went well.”

Gee, you think? Gronkowski dominated the Pats’ final drive of the game, accounting for 69 of the team’s 77 yards and then added the all-important two-point conversion.

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“I thought he did a great job of separating and making the catches,” said Brady. 

The game-winning drive nearly ended in disaster long before it finished with Gronkowski dancing and flexing in the end zone like he had temporarily lost his mind. On first down from the Pats’ 23, Brady went Gronk’s way, but the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage and safety Sean Davis had the ball slip through his hands for an interception that surely would have sent the Pats to their second straight loss in December. Instead, Davis was unable to go back across his body and snag the football. What usually happens when you give Brady a reprieve? Let’s review.

The very next play was when it started. With Gronkowski working out of the left side of Brady as the slot receiver in trips, the tight end worked down the seam but then angled his route more toward the post and reeled in a 26 yarder with Davis desperately in a chase position. How does someone who’s 60 pounds lighter - as Davis is - find himself in that position? Allow Matt Slater to offer a theory.

“It is hard to describe special players in this league,” he said. “There are certain guys - when the moment is big - they just become bigger. The moment wasn’t too big for those guys. They’ve worked at it for years now, that connection, and it was certainly clicking tonight. It was fun to watch. The confidence they have in one another hasn’t happened overnight. It is something that they’ve built on.”

With more ground to cover, Brady would once again go back to the Gronk well. But this time, the Steelers weren’t content to sit back and let it happen. They blitzed, playing zone behind it. Lined up as the wide slot in twins, Gronk once again got over the top of Davis and found a soft spot in the coverage. The window wasn’t huge, but Brady fit the ball in there. Another 26 yards and the Pats were now well-positioned on the outer rim of the red zone.

“I have so much trust in him,” said Brady. “It may look like it’s 50-50, but it might be 95-5. You try and develop that chemistry over time, and Gronk’s earned it.”

So much so that Brady went to him yet again. It came on a play that maybe Gronk doesn’t make if he hadn’t changed up some of his training and embraced the pliability that Alex Guerrero - yes, that guy - preaches. The 28-year old went down and got a low throw from Brady, plucking the ball off the blades of glass like he was picking daisies to bring back to his mama.

“That was unbelievable,” admired newcomer Kenny Britt. “I’ve never seen anything like that between two people. That’s some connection they have built over the years. Hopefully we can keep seeing it.”

“Awww man, I’ve seen it so many times but to see it firsthand on this team was incredible,” said Dwayne Allen. “It was incredible. Tom and Rob just carried us to the win.”

To prove he isn’t a one-trick pony, the Pats ran off Gronk’s backside on the game-winning touchdown jaunt by Dion Lewis. The big fella sealed off 303-pound defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt like he was just a little fella who took a wrong turn and ended up playing with the big boys. Then needing a two-point conversion to make it a field goal game, Gronk flexed out wide right. Davis tried to jam him, but the attempt was futile. The Steelers’ safety had been emasculated. Gronk caught the fade and shook and flexed and generally acted like a fool. 

“It was just spontaneous,” he said.

The Steelers may remember it, but so what, they have never been able to stop it. Hell, no one has had any success stopping the Brady-to-Gronk connection.

“That’s the GOATS, man,” smiled Duron Harmon. “Gronk’s turning into the GOAT. Tom’s the GOAT and Gronk’s turning into one. Those two did what they had to do for us on that drive, man. That’s what happens. Your best players play their best in situations and those two are our best players.”

No arguments here, nor, it would seem, from the Pittsburgh sideline.

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