Rex Burkhead

Patriots rally behind Gronkowski, edge Steelers 27-24

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski did it to the Pittsburgh Steelers again.

One questionable decision by Ben Roethlisberger helped.

Brady fed Gronkowski repeatedly to set up Dion Lewis‘ go-ahead 8-yard touchdown with 56 seconds remaining and Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone with 5 seconds left as the New England Patriots rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 on Sunday.

The Patriots (11-3) gained the inside track for homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs by ending Pittsburgh’s eight-game winning streak. Brady threw for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Gronkowski, fresh off a one-game suspension, finished with nine receptions for 168 yards, including four on the game-winning drive.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

It briefly looked like it wouldn’t be enough.

The Steelers (11-3), who played most of the game without injured wide receiver Antonio Brown, appeared to take the lead when Roethlisberger connected with tight end Jesse James for a 10-yard touchdown with 28 seconds to left. The play was overturned on review, with official Tony Corrente saying the ball did not “survive” the completion of the catch.

Roethlisberger hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for a short gain but stayed in bounds. With the clock running and no timeouts left, Roethlisberger hurried to the line. Rather than spike it to set up a short kick that would have sent the game to overtime, Roethlisberger tried to win it.

Instead, he lost it. His pass to Eli Rogers was batted into the air, and New England safety Duron Harmon came down with it. One kneel down later the Patriots had their fifth straight victory over the Steelers.

Roethlisberger completed 22 of 30 for 281 yards with two touchdowns and the pick. Le'Veon Bell ran for 117 yards and added another 48 receiving as Pittsburgh hung in there even with Brown, the NFL’s leading receiver, in a hospital having his left calf injury examined.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hardly downplayed the pregame hype, welcoming the moment and the pressure that comes along with it even while facing an opponent that he’s beaten just twice during his 11-year tenure and never in a game of true consequence, including a blowout loss in the AFC championship game 11 months ago.

Pittsburgh received an early emotional jolt when cameras cut to injured linebacker Ryan Shazier sitting in a private box less than two weeks removed from spinal stabilization surgery. The crowd at rainy Heinz Field roared as Shazier, who appeared to be seated, waved a Terrible Towe l. The 25-year-old is recovering from spinal stabilization surgery on Dec. 6, two days after leaving a Monday night victory over Cincinnati on a stretcher following a routine hit on Bengals wide receiver Josh Malone.

The emotional boost of Shazier’s surprise cameo faded quickly. Brady took a snap, and the reality the Steelers face without their most irreplaceable defensive player set in. Brady took the Patriots right down the field, connecting with Cooks for a 43-yard gain that set up Rex Burkhead‘s 1-yard touchdown.

The Steelers answered immediately on an 18-yard lob from Roethlisberger to Eli Rogers. Pittsburgh took its first lead over the Patriots since 2011 early in the second quarter on a Chris Boswell field goal, one that came at a possibly heavy price. Brown left in obvious pain after getting his left leg tangled up with a pair of New England defenders. He was helped to the medical tent then taken to a hospital for further examination.

Still, Pittsburgh hung around thanks to the depth they didn’t have while getting rolled by New England the last time the AFC superpowers met.

Bryant, suspended all of last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, made a pretty one-handed touchdown catch late in the first half that put Pittsburgh up 17-10 at the break. Bell, limited to just 11 snaps in Foxborough last January, churned up clock and yards. Smith-Schuster, the ebullient rookie, caught six passes for 114 yards, including a 69-yard catch-and-run that put the Steelers in position to at least tie it.

Roethlisberger opted to go for the wind instead, a decision now that could have ramifications in January.

UP NEXT

New England: Host Buffalo on Christmas Eve. The Patriots handled the Bills 23-3 in the first meeting of the season earlier this month in Buffalo.

Pittsburgh: Visits Houston on Christmas Day.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Watch Live: Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots on NBC

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Tom Brady and the New England Patriots host Tyreek Hill and the Kansas City Chiefs to kick off the 2017 NFL season.

On the heels of a miraculous Super Bowl victory, the Patriots start off their championship defense with a few new weapons at their disposal. The additions of Brandin CooksMike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead in the offseason, to go along with a healthy Rob Gronkowski will certainly lessen the blow of losing Julian Edelman for the season with a torn ACL.

The Chiefs will rely on their strong defense led by CB Marcus Peters and LB Justin Houston, but they will have their hands full. QB Alex Smith looks to methodically move the ball on offense by relying on TE Travis Kelce and Hill, who is one of the most electrifying players in the league and a threat to score every time he has the ball in his hands.

Football Night in America

Start time: 7:30 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app

Chiefs vs. Patriots

Start time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app

Football is back! Here are five things to watch this NFL season

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After an offseason filled with players returning from retirement, celebration rule changes, and Gronk being Gronk, football is back!

Before the Hall of Fame game gets underway, here are five storylines to watch as the new football season approaches.

Heavy is the head that wears the Star

Dallas entered last season with a rookie backup quarterback that wasn’t expected to see a lot of time until Tony Romo got injured and a rookie running back that was supposed to make an immediate impact. Now, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott enter this season with expectations the size of Texas. The Cowboys are looking to win the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995, or when TLC’s “Waterfalls” was the No. 2 song on the Billboard charts.

Undefeated Patriots? It could happen…

Even Seahawks fans can admit that Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever and Bill Belichick is one of the greatest coaches of all time. The amazing thing about the Patriots is their ability to reload (specifically from the Buffalo Bills, but that’s a longer story). Lose Martellus Bennett? Bring in Dwayne Allen. Lose LeGarrette Blount? Pick up Rex Burkhead. Top it off with an electric Brandin Cooks and the NFL’s best offense may be even better in 2017.

Falcons’ Super Bowl hangover recovery

28-3. The rallying cry of Patriots fans everywhere that makes Falcons fans cringe and want to crawl into a hole. Everyone talks about the Super Bowl hangover, but will a series of changes, including offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan departing to run his own team in San Francisco, be enough for the Falcons to return to the Super Bowl? Matt Ryan and Julio Jones will have a major role in that.

Kaepernick’s role

As of this post, Colin Kaepernick is still without a spot on an NFL roster. That could change at any moment. Kaepernick potentially has two landing spots: Miami Dolphins or Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco has been dealing with a back injury in camp, and the Dolphins are fearing the worst with Ryan Tannehill‘s knee injury Thursday. On the field, Kaepernick makes sense for both teams as a backup quarterback. But will one of these teams actually sign the former 49ers quarterback?

Raiders’ Resurgence

Before the Falcons’ brutal Super Bowl collapse, the Raiders held the crown for the most devastating way to have your season end, with quarterback Derek Carr breaking his leg two games before the playoffs started. Now, with Carr back and healthy, the Raiders look poised to make a big run and make the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2002. One person who remembers that run well? Oakland native and new Raider Marshawn Lynch, who was a student at Oakland Tech high school.

Just think of it this way-you’ll now have football every Thursday until January, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the season.

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