To open the fourth quarter, Ben Roethlisberger hit rookie wideout Emmanuel Sanders on two consecutive plays for eight and 11 yards. A couple plays later, Mike Wallace caught an absolute bullet on a quick slant for 20 yards, setting up another Pittsburgh goal-to-go. Finally, on first down, Sanders hauled in his first career touchdown - a gorgeous fade play. Notably, Jeff Reed connected on the extra point. Normally, I wouldn't need to write that last sentence, but given the performance of kickers in this one, I feel compelled. With twelve minutes remaining in the contest, Pittsburgh narrowed the Patriots lead to 23-10.
After a couple first downs, New England's offense faltered on the following drive. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau sent a huge blitz up the middle, forcing Brady to chuck it to no one in particular. The resulting intentional grounding penalty gave the Patriots 3rd-and-20 and eventually another chance for Pittsburgh's offense to stage a comeback.
The next drive started out promisingly enough. Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace on a 12-yard hitch along the sideline. Unfortunately, the next pass was well behind Antwaan Randle El on a slant, and Patriots safety James Sanders picked off the pass and took it back for six, effectively sealing the win for New England.
Roethlisberger padded his stat line in garbage time, masking a deceptively awful performance. Eventually, he connected with Wallace on a 15-yard touchdown. It's been encouraging to see Wallace cut his teeth on some more conventional routes, instead of his usual deep bombs. He's looking like a more polished receiver, so there's a silver lining to this painful outing. The Steelers converted on the following two-point conversion on a Mewelde Moore dive from the Wildcat formation. The Patriots lead shrank to 29-18.
New England recovered a "surprise" onside kick attempt with about six minutes remaining. Not only did the Patriots run some time off the clock, they increased their lead to 36-18 after a third Rob Gronkowski touchdown. (Sidenote: I actually know someone who started him on their fantasy squad this week. For serious.)
With four minutes remaining and a three-score deficit staring them in the face, I don't understand why Roethlisberger was still under center. The game was over, the Steelers lost - no need to expose your star quarterback to potential injury. Regardless, Roethlisberger continued to rack up chunks of yardage, eventually connecting with Wallace for a 33-yard touchdown. Moore, who had a terrific game, scored another two-point conversion, plunging into the end zone.
After a second failed onside attempt, the Patriots milked the clock on the ground, kicking a 36-yard field goal on the tail end of the two-minute warning. The Patriots win, 39-26.