Steelers ride rookie Samuels past Patriots 17-10

Steelers ride rookie Samuels past Patriots 17-10
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden (23) celebrates after intercepting a pass intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) (Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger didn't want to use the word "crossroads." He did anyway.

His team mired in a three-game losing streak and with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on the other sideline Sunday — a sight that typically signals doom for Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers — the longtime quarterback understood his team's enigmatic season had reached a tipping point.

"Are we going to step up and play? Are we going to divide each other? Who knows?" Roethlisberger said after a taut 17-10 victory. "This was going to be a great challenge for us against a team that is always one of the best. I thought we answered the bell today."

In so many ways.

Rookie running back Jaylen Samuels ran for a season-high 142 yards in his second NFL start. The defense that looked so vulnerable in the late going during Pittsburgh's recent slide figured out a way to slow Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Embattled kicker Chris Boswell drilled a critical 48-yard field goal in the final minutes, and the Steelers (8-5-1) gave their playoff hopes a welcome jolt.

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden (23) intercepts a pass intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden (23) intercepts a pass intended for New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) (AP)

"I knew it was a big game, it was a redemption game for last year," said Samuels, a senior at North Carolina State last fall when Pittsburgh collapsed late in a loss to the Patriots. "I just wanted to go out there and give them my all."

Forced into action with James Conner missing his second straight game due to a sprained left ankle, Samuels said he's never been a feature back. Funny, the fifth-round pick considered a bit of a project certainly looked like one against New England (9-5). Samuels ran 19 times and caught two passes for 30 yards, including a leaping 20-yard grab on third-and-9 on Pittsburgh's penultimate possession that helped set up Boswell's field goal.

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) calls the crowd to action as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) huddles his team during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. The Steelers won 17-10. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) calls the crowd to action as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) huddles his team during the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. The Steelers won 17-10. (AP Photo/Don Wright) (AP)

"I was just staying relaxed, didn't want to stay too tensed up," Samuels said. "Just do what I do. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game ... it was a pretty good outcome."

One that helped Pittsburgh preserve its half-game lead over Baltimore (8-6) in the AFC North with two weeks to go. It also exorcised some demons. The Steelers had dropped five straight to New England and only beaten Brady twice in his storied career. Despite never trailing, their third win over him wasn't assured until Morgan Burnett knocked down Brady's heave to the end zone intended for Julian Edelman with 20 seconds to go.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) lines up behind center during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. The Steelers won 17-10. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) lines up behind center during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. The Steelers won 17-10. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) (AP)

"It's a big win for us," Roethlisberger said. "It's that time of year. We need to win this football game."

Roethlisberger threw for 235 yards with two first-half touchdowns and two interceptions. Boswell, who has struggled so badly this season the team held open tryouts during the week in search of a possible replacement, atoned for a 32-yard miss in the third quarter by drilling a 48-yarder with 2:30 remaining that provided the final margin.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, left, and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick greet each other on the field following an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. The Steelers won 17-10. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, left, and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick greet each other on the field following an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. The Steelers won 17-10. (AP Photo/Don Wright) (AP)

"He's our kicker from start to finish and I liked that way he came back and banged that next opportunity, and that's what this thing is about," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "You are going to be tested, we are going to be tested. Sometimes you are going to fail, but you better pass enough of them."

MISSED CHANCE

New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) scores after taking a pass from quarterback Tom Brady during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan (15) scores after taking a pass from quarterback Tom Brady during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Wright) (AP)

A victory would have given the Patriots their 10th straight AFC East title. While they still have two shots at it while finishing the regular season at home, the road issues don't appear to be going away. New England finished 3-5 away from Gillette Stadium, the first time the Patriots have a losing road record since 2009.

"We haven't played very well on the road," Brady said. "Obviously what we're doing isn't good enough."

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) celebrates with Ryan Switzer (10) after catching a touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) celebrates with Ryan Switzer (10) after catching a touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Wright) (AP)

Brady finished 25 of 36 for 279 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Pittsburgh held tight end Gronkowski to two receptions for 21 yards. Brady flung a jump ball to Gronkowski deep in Pittsburgh territory midway through the fourth quarter that was picked off by cornerback Joe Haden, just Brady's fifth pick in 14 games against the Steelers.

"I was just trying to flick it out of bounds," Brady said. "Didn't want to take a sack. It shouldn't have happened."

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Wright) (AP)

The uncharacteristically sloppy Patriots were flagged 14 times for 106 yards, including a handful of offensive holding calls that blunted momentum. The Patriots had a second-and-5 at the Pittsburgh 11 with 37 seconds to go when right guard Shaq Mason was hit with a holding penalty that pushed the ball back to the Pittsburgh 21. The Patriots would get no closer.

"There's holding on every play in the NFL," Brady said. "It's what we do, we hold. ... If they're calling it, we've got to do a little bit less of it."

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) stiff-arms New England Patriots defensive back J.C. Jackson (27) after catching a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) stiff-arms New England Patriots defensive back J.C. Jackson (27) after catching a pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the first half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Don Wright) (AP)

HE SAID IT

"Sometimes you got to cut your eyelids off when you want to blink when it gets thick, and we talk openly about that." Tomlin when talking about his team's ability to deal with adversity.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) looks to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) looks to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) (AP)

UP NEXT

Patriots: Host Buffalo next Sunday. New England is unbeaten at home this season (6-0).

Steelers: Visit New Orleans next Sunday. Pittsburgh's last road victory against the Saints came in 1990.

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