Ryan Shazier

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.

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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

Ravens stay in playoff picture, down winless Browns 27-10

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CLEVELAND (AP) Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass, ran for a score and beat Cleveland again as the Baltimore Ravens stayed on track for the AFC playoffs with a 27-10 win Sunday over the Browns, now two losses from becoming the NFL’s second 0-16 team.

Flacco scored on a 2-yard run and threw a 33-yard TD pass to Benjamin Watson as the Ravens (8-6) took control with two touchdowns in the final 3:01 of the first half.

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams recovered a fumble and rolled in for a TD in third quarter to put the Ravens up 24-10.

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The Browns (0-14) went 0-8 at home – 0-7 in Cleveland, 0-1 in London – for the second time and must win at either Chicago or Pittsburgh to avoid joining the 2008 Detroit Lions in the notorious 0-16 club. Last season, the Browns avoided infamy by winning their final home game and finishing 1-15.

Cleveland is 1-29 in two seasons under coach Hue Jackson, who is expected to be back despite his .033 winning percentage.

Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer threw two more interceptions, the last into a group of defenders in the fourth quarter.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh wasn’t concerned about his team overlooking the Browns with so much on the line. Baltimore was coming off a last-second, 39-38 loss at Pittsburgh last week, and while the Ravens weren’t at their best, they didn’t do anything to help Cleveland.

With victories at home over Indianapolis and Cincinnati in its last two games, the Ravens will return to the postseason after a two-year absence.

Flacco completed 26 of 42 passes for 288 yards and improved to 17-2 in his career against Cleveland.

With the Ravens leading 17-10, Baltimore’s defense put away the Browns.

Kizer was stripped in the end zone by Za'Darius Smith and the loose ball was pounced on by Williams, who shimmied his 340-pound frame across the goal line.

Later, Kizer forced a throw to the back of the end zone that could have been picked off by three Ravens.

Cleveland was held to zero total yards in the first quarter, but the Browns went on a 96-yard drive – Isaiah Crowell ran for 59 on the first play – to take a 7-3 lead on Duke Johnson‘s 12-yard run.

After reaching the end zone, Johnson knelt with teammates before flashing “5-0” with his hands to salute Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is recovering from back surgery.

RAVENOUS RAVENS

Baltimore has scored five defensive touchdowns. It’s also forced 33 takeaways – nine in two games against Cleveland.

SUNDAY SCHOOL

The Browns have lost 31 consecutive games on Sunday.

QB CLASS

Flacco’s .895 winning percentage against the Browns is the third best by an active quarterback against any opponent. Ben Roethlisberger is 21-2 (.913) against Cleveland and Tom Brady is 27-3 (.900) against Buffalo.

HUE’S FUTURE

Marvin Lewis’ imminent departure in Cincinnati has added a new wrinkle to Cleveland’s cloudy coaching situation.

Although owner Jimmy Haslam has said Jackson will return in 2018, new general manager John Dorsey has left open the possibility of a coaching change. Dorsey ripped fired vice president of football operations Sashi Brown earlier this week, but sidestepped a question about Jackson’s future.

INJURIES:

Ravens: WR Jeremy Maclin injured his knee on the first series, returned briefly and then was held out. … S Chuck Clark sustained a head injury in the first quarter but returned after clearing concussion protocol. …DT Carl Davis left to be treated for a head injury in the second quarter.

Browns: CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun (knee) missed his second straight game. … DT Danny Shelton sustained a lower right leg injury in the second half but returned.

UP NEXT

Ravens: Host Indianapolis on Sunday.

Browns: Visit Chicago on Sunday.

Steelers lock up AFC North with 39-38 win over Ravens

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PITTSBURGH — Ryan Shazier was everywhere. His helmet rested on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ bench. His jersey too. His face and #Shalieve stitched on specially-designed cleats. His familiar No. 50 printed in white in the middle of a gold circle on T-shirts worn by teammates searching for a way to let Shazier know he is never far from their mind as he recovers from a spinal injury that put the linebacker’s blossoming career in jeopardy.

Shazier may never play football again. That doesn’t make him any less of a Steeler. And the men who have taken so much from him over the last three-plus years decided it was time they gave him something back in return: the AFC North title he ordered them to lock down without him.

Chris Boswell made a 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left and Pittsburgh’s defense overcame a shaky night without their most dynamic player to shut down Baltimore’s last-gasp drive and hold on for a 39-38 victory on Sunday night to capture their third division title in the last four years.

“We are riding with that guy,” head coach Mike Tomlin said of Shazier. “He is strong. He is strengthening us.”

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Looked like it.

The Steelers (11-2) trailed by 11 points going into the fourth quarter but capped an emotionally draining week to rally for their eighth straight victory, one they couldn’t wait to share with Shazier, who joined the giddy postgame celebration via Facetime.

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to top 500 yards passing three times. Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards, including two long gains in the fourth quarter that allowed the Steelers to recover after blowing an early 14-point lead. Le'Veon Bell had 125 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns .

“We can win a shootout against anybody,” Bell said. “I feel like we can score points whenever we need to.”

Good thing, because Pittsburgh might have to. The Ravens (7-6) rolled up 414 yards against the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense and recovered from a slow start to score on five consecutive drives and six out of seven to take a 38-29 lead on Javorius Allen’s second touchdown with 6:44 left.

Not much time against most teams. Far too much against the Steelers.

Roethlisberger and Brown, who is mounting a legitimate MVP candidacy, hooked up on a 57-yard connection set up an 11-yard sprint by Bell with 3:29 to go. The Steelers forced the Ravens into a three-and-out and Roethlisberger calmly led Pittsburgh within field goal range, including a 34-yard lob down the sideline to Brown that set up Boswell’s winner.

Baltimore’s Joe Flacco threw for 269 yards passing with two touchdowns and one interception but was strip-sacked by rookie linebacker T.J. Watt on the Ravens’ final snap.

“This one hurts,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We lose to them the same way we did last year. This one sucks, but we’ve got to get over it. Yeah, this one’s going to hurt but it’s best for us to have a short memory on this one because if we win out there’s a good chance we’ll be in (the playoffs).”

Shazier, who’s been in the hospital since injuring his spine in the first quarter of last week’s victory over Cincinnati, told his teammates to finish the work he helped start. Even as they celebrated an important step in a journey they hope will carry them deep into the postseason, they were making plans to keep Shazier involved, starting with a late-night trip to the hospital to deliver him his AFC North champions’ swag.

“We are going to give him the hat and T-shirt tonight,” good friend and fellow inside linebacker Vince Williams said.

When someone mentioned visitor’s hours were probably over, Williams repeated “tonight.” Then, it was home to rest before preparing for a showdown with New England next Sunday.

“That’s the crazy part about the NFL, things constantly change and you’ve got to keep rolling,” Williams said. “So you’ve got to find a way to roll with the punches even though it may be a haymaker, got to find a way to recover.”

HONORING SHAZIER

Linebacker James Harrison took to the field shirtless during warmups even as temperatures hovered in the low-30s, a nod to one of Shazier’s pregame rituals. When Roosevelt Nix drilled Moore on the opening kickoff, Nix lifted his jersey to show the T-shirt most of the Steelers wore at some point during the night.

BRING ON THE PATS

The Steelers fell to New England in a one-sided loss in the AFC championship game 10 months ago. They’re not exactly intimidated by the prospect of facing Tom Brady and company.

“You act like they’re coming in with Kryptonite, Superman and Batman and Avatars and stuff,” Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey said. “Heck yeah, it’s a regular football game, what do you mean? We’re going to go out there, tackle the football and run the football.”

UP NEXT

Ravens: Visit winless Cleveland next Sunday. Baltimore beat the Browns 24-10 on Sept. 17.

Steelers: Will try to beat Brady and New England for the first time since 2011 next Sunday.

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