New England’s Tom Brady seemed poised for a comeback on not one, but two fourth-quarter possessions in Pittsburgh on Sunday. But instead of another in a long line of come-from-behind wins, the legendary quarterback tossed a crucial interception and allowed another drive to fall short on the Steelers’ 21-yard line as the Patriots fell 17-10 for their second consecutive loss.
To put that in perspective, the team had not lost two games in December since 2002, when Brady was just 25.
Rookie running back Sony Michel was just seven-years old at the time, so it’s understandable that he assumed the Patriots would naturally pull off the comeback to clinch a playoff spot.
‘I never had a doubt,’ he told reporters afterwards.
The perennially strong Patriots are still in first place in the AFC East at 9-5, and will likely reach the postseason for the 16th time in Brady’s Hall of Fame career.
New England probably will wind up winning a 10th consecutive AFC East title; it only needs one more victory to do that.
‘We’re still in a decent position,’ the 41-year-old Brady said.
That’s true, of course. And no one would be foolish enough to write off the Pats just yet. But two consecutive close late-season setbacks – last week’s ‘Miracle in Miami,’ then this week’s penalty-fest in Pittsburgh, with 14 flags against the Patriots – certainly make them look vulnerable.
‘You know, they say penalties in the red area are pretty much the difference in a game, so we need to do a better job there,’ Belichick told reporters.
If nothing else, the Patriots are set to finish with fewer than 12 wins for the season for the first time since 2009.
Then there’s this: New England is currently slotted into the No. 3 seed in the conference standings, behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, which would translate to a wild-card slot and no bye in the playoffs.
And that’s significant because Belichick’s Patriots never have reached the Super Bowl without a bye.
Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on in the first half during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on December 16
As for that pivotal interception thrown by Brady, a week after he blew a scoring chance at the end of the first half in the loss at the Dolphins? Down 14-10 with about 8 minutes left, but inside Pittsburgh’s 20, Brady was flushed out of the pocket and basically threw the football up for grabs – into the hands of Steelers defensive back Joe Haden.
‘I was just trying to flick it out of bounds,’ Brady said. ‘Didn’t want to take a sack.’
Brady avoided the sack, but committed the ultimate sin of throwing an interception.
‘I’m not used to seeing Tom Brady just throw the ball up and just panic like he’s a rookie,’ former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said on NBC’s ‘Football Night in America.’
The rest of the league isn’t used to seeing Belichick, Brady and the five-time Super Bowl champion Patriots seem this vulnerable.
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SOURCE: Associated Press / Daily Mail – Alex Raskin