If all goes as the New England Patriots hope, thousands of Pittsburgh Steelers fans will be throwing in the towel Sunday night.

The Patriots are in Pittsburgh for a game that could make or break the season for the Steelers, who have lost three straight and now lead Baltimore by just a half game in the AFC North. Pittsburgh is on the edge of falling out of playoff position, and a loss to the Patriots could be difficult to overcome, with division rival Baltimore surging and a Week 16 game at New Orleans looming.

It could be called a must-win game for the Steelers, making New England’s latest trip there an even greater challenge.

“It’s the same thing as every year,” Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “Every time we play them, every time we go there, it’s always like a 4 o’clock game, gets dark by 4:30, night atmosphere, and it’s always popping. It’s a football atmosphere. It’s a football town. It’s all about the Steelers.”

Also hanging over the Steelers is the memory of last year’s loss, when Jesse James had his apparent touchdown overturned with 29 seconds left when it was ruled he didn’t “survive the ground” to complete his catch.

An interception by Duron Harmon two plays later sealed New England’s 27-24 win, and the Patriots secured the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage for the playoffs en route to a second straight Super Bowl berth. The play also led to a rule change for just what is considered a catch.

“It’s not bugging me or keeping me from sleeping at night,” James told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It is what it is. That’s in the past. I’m worried about what we can do today, tomorrow and the next day to get ready.”

It was just the latest chapter in a rivalry appreciated by Patriots Coach Bill Belichick.

“Bill spoke about that this week as far as their tradition,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “They don’t have even that many coaches in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s fans that have been riding with those guys forever. It’s like it gets passed down generationally.

The Patriots have fared well since Heinz Field opened in 2001, going 6-2, but they have struggled on the road this year with a 3-4 record, including a shocking 34-33 loss at Miami last weekend on the last play of the game.

The Steelers are just 3-3 at home.

STEELERS RUNNING BACK James Conner is doubtful after sitting out last week’s loss to Oakland. He injured an ankle in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 2.

THE PATRIOTS’ offense is fourth in fewest sacks allowed per pass play (18), while Pittsburgh leads the league in sacks with 45. Linebacker T.J. Watt, younger brother of Houston’s J.J. Watt, leads the team with 10.

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