Who saw that ending coming? Anyone? Well, if the Patriots are to be believed, they had a pretty good idea that the Steelers were a threat to have something up their sleeve as time wound down on what turned out to be a thrilling 27-24 victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.
The ill-advised ‘fake spike throw a freakin’ slant to a well-covered Eli Rogers’ wasn’t the smartest play ever cooked up in offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s apparently very smokey lab. But that’s what Pittsburgh decided the situation called for, down 3 with 9 ticks left on the clock. They were hell-bent on walking away a winner and instead departed the field slack-jawed and silent, likely having cost themselves a chance at home field throughout the playoffs and maybe, just maybe, a shot at the Super Bowl.
“I think just practice execution turns into game reality,” said an elated Duron Harmon, who intercepted that final throw. “ We’ve seen it before. Everybody didn’t panic. Nobody was out there thinking they didn’t know what to do. We just played our rules, played good football and it turned into a good play for us.”
“The fake spike is something we see all the time,” said Devin McCourty. “I think all great quarterbacks do that. If they catch you sleeping and get an easy play, they’re going to try to do it. You could see us yelling and screaming the coverage, trying to get the guys up and get set because we knew there was a chance. If they spike it, they spike it.”
The tape told a little something different. Only Trey Flowers actually attempts to play the play up front, eventually jumping in the air to dissuade Ben Roethlisberger from throwing the pass. On the back side of the play, Stephon Gilmore barely moves while Pat Chung appears lost and then lets up. Even Duron Harmon, who ended up with the ball falling into his lap for the game-preserving interception, didn’t react at the snap of the ball. But cornerback Eric Rowe did. The Pats should thank goodness for that. He deflected the ball that ended up in Harmon’s hands.
“A lot of urgency on that last play,” he said, describing the play in detail. “I see ‘em rushing to the ball. I see Matty P (Patricia) giving the call. I’m the star (the nickel cornerback). No one is on the outside. I’m like, forget it, I need to go outside and cover ‘em up. Everybody was in panic mode trying to get lined up and I see Big Ben fake it and I’m like ‘oh they’re running a play.’ I get my eyes back on the receiver and see him doing like a slant or a pop pass. I didn’t really think he was going to throw it because I was on his hip. He threw and I said ‘I just need to break this up’ and then boom, and I honestly like - it tipped off and if they caught ‘oh my god,’ but we came down with it. I was ecstatic.”
Coming down with it was Harmon. One of his nicknames is “The Closer” for good reason. He’s had a knack for sealing games with an interception but this one may have been the biggest of his career.
“Just prepared, man. Like everyone on our team. I just prepare. Credit to the entire defense for playing until the end. To all the guys,” said Harmon.
“It’s not by accident,” said Matthew Slater, who’s seen his share of big plays. “The guy prepares himself in that way. He respects the game of football, gives it everything he has every day and comes in here and he works hard to be in position. When guys are always around the ball, it’s not by accident.”
No, it is not. Never seems to be with this team, who once again have put themselves in position to do special things come January and - they hope - February in Minnesota.