The Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski connection has sputtered a bit this season. One week after Gronkowski became a topic of conversation for all the wrong reasons after his best offensive performance of the 2018 campaign, Steelers cornerback Joe Haden stole his shine again. In doing so, he also helped deliver a second consecutive L to the Patriots win-loss column.
Pittsburgh led 14-10 and points were at a premium in the much anticipated AFC clash, which is why the tension was palpable as the Pats drove 40 yards over five minutes late in the fourth quarter. History told us that with Tom Brady under center, there was a high probability that the Patriots would score a touchdown and take the lead. Even after a penalty and a loss of yardage on first down pushed the Patriots back six yards, nothing could be assumed given Brady and Belichick’s track record of pulling multiple rabbits out of all sorts of hats.
On 2nd and goal from the Steelers' 16-yard-line, New England aligned in a five-receiver set. Once the ball was snapped, Gronkowski quickly shed his defender and took off toward the right sideline. Meanwhile, pressure from the edge and up the middle forced Brady to backpedal and lob an off-balance, high-arching pass to his 6'6" target. The Patriots are used to seeing Gronkowski win these jump balls. It's practically a given. That wasn’t the case on this occasion, albeit Brady was probably more to blame thank Gronk.
Haden, who stands at 5'11" on a good day, simply beat Gronkowski to the spot on the errant throw. The Steelers cornerback elevated and got his mittens on Brady’s throw, forcing Gronwkowski to play emergency defense for the second straight week.
What’s more remarkable is how Haden was able to tap his feet inbounds, looking more like Antonio Brown than a defensive back, as Gronkowski and Julian Edelman tried to drag him out before he could get two feet down.
Haden‘s interception deprived New England of a field goal, which would have cut their lead to one and changed the complexion of what remained of the final frame. It also took the wind out of New England’s sails. The Steelers would subsequently drive down the field and tack on three points. Pittsburgh’s victory was their first over New England in six tries and kept them a half-game ahead of Baltimore in the AFC North standings.
Even as Haden became the hero for his skills as a receiver, Gronkowski was the butt of jokes for the second straight week in reaction to his subpar defensive skills.
*Out-of-market games only. Select int'l games excluded.