FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — LeGarrette Blount burst through the line at the Pittsburgh 19, slipped one tackle and bulled into another defender at the 9.
Safety Mike Mitchell wrapped him up, but just got pushed backward. Three more Steelers pitched in, still unable to bring the New England running back down. And then came three more defenders — along with a whole bunch of Patriots pushing Blount toward the goal line.
By the time seven Steelers managed to tackle him, Blount had carried 18 yards to the 1-yard line. He finished the job on the next play to give the Patriots an 18-point lead as they snapped the Steelers’ nine-game winning streak on Sunday and won 36-17 in the AFC championship game.
Instead of Pittsburgh going to its first Super Bowl since the 2010 season, the Patriots are heading to their second in three years and seventh since 2001. And it will be Tom Brady trying for his fifth NFL title instead of Ben Roethlisberger going for his third.
“There’s a reason he’s one of the best to ever play the game. That’s why we have respect for him,” Roethlisberger said. “We know, coming into this environment what we were up against. That’s why we needed to play a near flawless game and we didn’t.”
Not even close.
Roethlisberger completed 31 of 47 passes for 314 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw a fourth-quarter interception when the Steelers were already struggling to mount a comeback. He wasn’t helped by dropped passes by Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton and Roosevelt Nix — all first- or second-year players.
“At times, it almost felt like it was too big for some of the young guys,” Roethlisberger said. “Sometimes it’s just one play here and one play there. Tonight we didn’t make those plays. Was it too big? … I don’t know. We need to make every single play in a game like this against an opponent like this.”
Missing Le’Veon Bell after the first quarter with a groin injury, the Steelers couldn’t convert in the red zone for the second straight game. A week after kicking six field goals — their only scores — but winning, Pittsburgh twice couldn’t punch the ball in from inside the 2.
“You’ve got good playmaking opportunities, you’ve got to make them,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “When you’re in championship-level play, or championship football, we didn’t do enough of them.”
But the biggest problem was the defense.
The Steelers allowed Brady to complete 32 of 42 passes for three touchdowns and a career playoff-best 384 yards while making No. 4 receiver Chris Hogan look like an All-Pro in his second postseason game. The former college lacrosse player had career highs with nine catches and two touchdowns and set a Patriots playoff record with 180 receiving yards.
And Brady was given too much time to find his open receivers . The three-time Super Bowl MVP was only hit three times and sacked twice; in all, he has thrown 22 touchdowns against the Steelers since they last intercepted one of his passes.
“I definitely don’t think we got enough pressure on him tonight,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “Normally we get turnovers and sacks when we get pressure on the quarterback the way we want to. We didn’t do that today and he was able to throw for 300 yards.”