Patriots

MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Steelers' fourth-quarterback sinks Bengals, 23-20

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MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Steelers' fourth-quarterback sinks Bengals, 23-20

CINCINNATI -- No matter how high the stakes, how big the deficit or how late in the game, Ben Roethlisberger and his tough-to-catch playmakers always find a way to leave the Bengals wondering what just happened.

Chris Boswell kicked a field goal on the final play shortly after Antonio Brown caught a 6-yard touchdown pass - taking a hit to the head while landing in the end zone - and the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled off another improbable comeback against the stunned Bengals, rallying for a 23-20 victory Monday night.

Down 17-0 early, the Steelers (10-2) extended their best start since 2004 in a physical game with a couple frightening injuries. Brown's touchdown tied it at 20 with 3:51 to go - safety George Iloka was penalized for hitting him in the head after the catch. Boswell won it with 38-yard field goal, his second straight winner in the closing seconds.

Both teams know the script.

"It sort of reminded me of the playoff game - what was it, two years ago?" Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "It's sort of the best reality TV show out there - better than the Kardashians."

Two years ago, the Steelers came to Paul Brown Stadium and pulled out an improbable 18-16 playoff win set up by Cincinnati's fumble and personal fouls on Vontaze Burfict and Adam "Pacman" Jones. Boswell won that one with a 35-yard kick with 14 seconds left.

Desperate for a win to salvage their playoff hopes, the Bengals (5-7) still couldn't find a way to beat their Ohio River rival, not even after getting off to the big early lead. They've dropped six straight and nine of 10 against Pittsburgh.

"Very disappointing," said Bengals receiver A.J. Green, who had two touchdown catches in the first half. "We had it."

Nope. They never do, not against the Steelers.

"We've got a no-blink group," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've been in this situation before, and in this stadium before."

The hard-hitting game was full of personal fouls, penalties and injuries that could have a long-term effect, especially for the AFC North leaders.

Pittsburgh lost leading tackler Ryan Shazier to a back injury in the first quarter. The linebacker was taken off the field on a cart and taken to a hospital for evaluation. Tomlin had no details about his injury or his prognosis after the game. ESPN reported that Tomlin went to the hospital after the game to check on Shazier.

Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was carted off in the fourth quarter after JuJu Smith-Schuster leveled him with a high hit, then taunted him by walking over him. There were 11 personal fouls in another acrimonious rematch in their hard-edged series. The Bengals self-destructed with 13 penalties for a team-record 173 yards.

The Steelers remain tied with New England for best record in the conference. They host the Patriots on Dec. 17.

Bottled up by Cincinnati's aggressive defense in the first half, Pittsburgh's playmakers made the difference down the stretch, just as they have all season. They rallied to beat the Packers 31-28 last Sunday on Boswell's 53-yard field goal on the final play, which was set up by Brown's incredible sideline catch.

After missing practice last week with an injured toe, Brown ran gingerly in pregame warmups and had another big game, finishing with 101 yards in eight catches.

Le'Veon Bell ran for 76 yards and had another 106 yards on five catches, including a 35-yard touchdown play in which he remarkably kept his balance along the sideline - cornerback William Jackson pulled up, thinking there was no way he could stay inbound.

It's the first time that Bell and Brown each had 100 yards receiving in the same game. Ben Roethlisberger was 24 of 40 for 290 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception.

PRIME-TIME OPPOSITES

The Steelers have won 11 straight prime-time games, including four already this season against the Lions (Sunday night), the Titans (Thursday night) and the Packers (last Sunday night). It's been a horrific time slot for the Bengals, who are 11-24 on Monday night, dropping their past four.

PRIME-TIME PLAYERS

Roethlisberger has won his last seven prime-time starts, throwing 26 touchdowns and five interceptions. In those games, Brown has 58 catches for 883 yards with 15 touchdowns.

IN YOUR FACE

Bell and Burfict have a long-running feud on Twitter, and it got in-your-face right away. After Jones picked off a pass to end the Steelers' opening possession, Bell shoved Burfict's facemask and drove him to the ground, drawing a personal foul.

OTHER INJURIES

Steelers: Brown missed practice last week with a toe injury. He moved slowly during pregame warmups but started and finished with eight catches for 101 yards.

Bengals: Jones injured his groin on his first-quarter interception and didn't return. Running back Joe Mixon suffered a concussion late in the first half.

UP NEXT

Steelers host second-place Baltimore (7-5) next Sunday night in their fourth prime-time game of the season. They won at Baltimore 26-9 on Oct. 1.

Bengals host the Bears (3-9), completing a stretch of three straight home games. Cincinnati is 3-2 at Paul Brown Stadium this season.

Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

Would WWE outbid Patriots for Gronkowski?

If Rob Gronkowski is serious about leaving football to become a wrestler, it probably won't be for the kind of money the Patriots are paying him, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer tells WEEI.

“I think that is more of a Gronkowski is going to make the call himself and I don’t think it is WWE is trying to — they are not going to outbid him," Meltzer told WEEI "Dale and Holley with Keefe" show on Thursday. "They are not going to spend $10 million a year on him. But, if he’s done with football, are they interested in him? Yeah, it is pretty clear they are."

Meltzer reported last week that World Wrestling Entertainment was interested in signing Gronk to a "similar style" deal to that of Ronda Rousey, who left UFC to join WWE for a reported $5 million a year. Gronkowski is scheduled to make $8.6 million from the Patriots in 2018. 

Meltzer cited NFL-turned-wrestling examples of James Laurinaitis, Kevin Greene and Brock Lesnar as the footsteps Gronk could follow. 

"Now, can you do it on a Brock Lesnar schedule of 10 matches a year? Yeah, probably. Lesnar was a unique type of character. He made probably $5 million-plus a year in wrestling the last couple of years.

Gronkowski is also said to be contemplating a career as an action movie star. 

Here's more on Gronk from NBC Sports Boston Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Not many needs for young interior offensive line of Patriots

Before free agency kicks off, and before we dissect the top college prospects entering this year's draft, we're taking a look at the Patriots on a position-by-position basis to provide you with an offseason primer of sorts. We'll be analyzing how the Patriots performed in 2017 at the position in question, who's under contract, how badly the team needs to add talent to that area, and how exactly Bill Belichick might go about adding that talent. Today we're looking at a spot where the Patriots are completely set . . . we think: interior offensive line. 

OTHER ENTRIES IN THE SERIES

HOW THEY PERFORMED: It wasn't always pretty, particularly at the outset of the season when Tom Brady was being hit at a rate that rivaled years when he was most battered. And the way the season ended for this group -- with Shaq Mason allowing a sack to Philly's Brandon Graham that helped end the Super Bowl -- was obviously less than ideal. But that shouldn't overshadow how this group performed, particularly in the second half. Mason was a borderline Pro Bowl talent (Pro Football Focus' fourth-best grade at right tackle for 2017), pairing his devastating run-blocking with a vastly-improved ability to protect. David Andrews continued to play solidly and effectively make calls from his place as the line's pivot, getting through the season as PFF's No. 4-graded center. And while Joe Thuney had occasional issues with power rushers, he graded out as PFF's seventh-best left guard. Three top-10 players at their respective spots? And a reliable all-around backup in Ted Karras (three total pressures and one bad snap in two starts at center)? Plenty of teams around the league would love to be as solid up front. 

 

WHO IS UNDER CONTRACT FOR 2018: Thuney, Mason, Andrews, Karras, James Ferentz, Jason King

HOW DIRE IS THE NEED: Not dire. At all, really. It's a 1 out of 10. They have three young, relatively healthy, improving players who will come back in 2018 and should slot in as immediate starters. The No. 1 backup at all three interior spots, Karras, is back as well. Ferentz is veteran depth piece who spent last season on the team's practice squad and was given a future contract by the team soon after the Super Bowl. Jason King (and Cole Croston who can play both guard and tackle) will also be back with the team when offseason training begins. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN FREE AGENCY: The best guard on the market was one of the best guards in the league in 2017: Carolina's Andrew Norwell. Other veterans who will garner interest on the market? Colts 2014 second-round pick Jack Mewhort and former Patriots starter Josh Kline. Jonathan Cooper, briefly a Patriot, will also be back on the market this offseason. Will the Patriots be interested in any of them? My guess is no, unless the team is put in an impossible situation at left tackle and they want to try Thuney on the outside, freeing up their left guard spot . . . but that's a pretty far-fetched scenario at this point. Even though Thuney played tackle in college, the Patriots drafted him to play on the inside. 

WHAT'S AVAILABLE IN THE DRAFT: Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson will be fascinating to track on draft day. The 330-pound guard is considered by some to be one of the two or three best football players in the draft. He's touted by experts as a surefire longtime starter with All-Pro potential. But he's a guard. Are teams going to be willing to spend a top-10 or top-15 pick on a position that is ably filled by late-round picks and undrafted players all over the league? Nelson's an interesting case study in that regard. It's a pretty strong draft class at the top, it seems. Georgia's Isaiah Wynn and Texas-El Paso's Will Hernandez have received first-round buzz, as have a few centers: Iowa's James Daniels, Arkansas' Frank Ragnow and Ohio State's Billy Price. Then there are the tackles-who-may-be-guards-at-the-next-level. Texas' Connor Williams, who we mentioned in our tackle assessment, is the biggest name who could end up getting kicked inside. 

HOW THE PATRIOTS CAN ADDRESS IT: There really isn't much to address, in my opinion. However, there's a little wrinkle here that's worth keeping in mind. The Patriots were reportedly interested in drafting Indiana's center/guard prospect Dan Feeney in the third round last year. They had the 72nd pick. He ended up going to the Chargers at No. 71. The Patriots traded down for a pair of picks when Feeney was gone. One was used to get defensive end Derek Rivers. The other helped them snag tackle Tony Garcia. Why the interest in Feeney? His size (6-foot-4, 305 pounds) and athletic profile (7.52-second three-cone, 101-inch broad jump) actually compared somewhat favorably to those of Logan Mankins (6-4, 307, 7.52-second three-cone, 95-inch broad jump). The idea of having him at center, between Thuney and Mason, could've been enticing. So will the Patriots jump at the chance to add a similarly-gifted player to play in the middle if the opportunity presents itself? Never say never, but I don't think so. Andrews received an extension after the draft, keeping him in New England through 2020, and he was named a captain before the 2017 season.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE