Pats ride wild finish to 27-24 win over Steelers; claim AFC East title

(USA Today) 

It took some late-game heroics and a controversial call, but the Patriots managed to stave off the Steelers in Pittsburgh and take home the AFC East title.

Three clutch catches totaling 69 yards from Rob Gronkowski in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter helped set up a Dion Lewis touchdown, and the ensuing two-point conversion back to Gronk put them on top for good in the 27-24 win. Though the Pats had their first lead since the first quarter, the Steelers had the ball at their own 21 with just a timeout left.

Ben Roethlisberger threw a short pass to Juju Smith-Schuster, who impressively carved 69 yards out of it all the way to the Pats' 10. From there, Roethlisberger connected with Jesse James on a pass up the middle, and the Steelers reclaimed the lead -- or so they thought.

While the play was initially ruled a touchdown, video review determined that James lost control of the ball as he crossed the plane. The call was subsequently overturned, and immediately mired in controversy. 

With five seconds left on the clock, Roethlisberger called a fake spike, and targeted Eli Rogers in the end zone. Eric Rowe tipped the ball, and Duron Harmon came down with it to seal the win. 

Remarkably, the Steelers were able to come close to the win despite being without one of their weapons for much of the game. Antonio Brown was carted off early in the 2nd quarter with a partially torn calf, suffered on a shot to the end zone.

Rex Burkhead opened the scoring for the Patriots (11-3) on their first possession of the game, and Rogers countered with an 18-yard touchdown of his own on the ensuing drive. After Chris Boswell and Stephen Gostkowski traded field goals in the 2nd quarter, Martavis Bryant put the Steelers ahead with 25 seconds left in the first half. 

Brandin Cooks caught his fifth touchdown of the season in the 3rd quarter, but as Gostkowski missed the point-after, the Patriots found themselves down by one. Le'Veon Bell padded the lead for the Steelers (11-3), setting the stage for the fireworks-filled fourth.

Tom Brady completed 22 of 35 passes for 298 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Lewis carried the ball 13 times for 67 yards and a touchdown, and Gronkowski's monster fourth quarter helped him finish with nine catches for 168 yards.

Roethlisberger finished with 22 of 30 passes for 281 yards, two touchdowns and a pick, while Bell earned 117 yards on 24 carries. Smith-Schuster caught six balls for 114 yards -- the second time he crossed the 100-yard mark in his career. 

The win gives the Patriots five straight against the Steelers, and 11 in their last 13 meetings, dating back to Jan. 2005. It also gives them their ninth-consecutive AFC East championship, and 15th of the Bill Belichick era.

The Patriots return to Foxboro for the penultimate game of their regular season on Christmas Eve against Buffalo, who is fresh off the heels of a 24-16 win against Miami.

Follow Rob Riches on Twitter @Riches61