This was the kind of game you love to watch as a Steeler fan, especially in the second half. After a close affair in the first, the Steelers eventually took control and dominated the second. It looked like what it was: a mature and experienced team taking over and beating a team that hasn’t been winning for long. Huge recap after the jump.
Steelers defer the opening kickoff and get their defense out to start. Love that decision. Unfortunately, the Broncos come out firing and start marching down the field. The Steelers almost turn the drive around when Willie Gay gets his hands on a tipped ball, but he channels his inner Ike Taylor and can’t hang on for the interception. Way too early for that play to matter, but it definitely would make a nicer start to the game. Instead, the Broncos get a field goal on their opening drive. 3-0 Broncos.
On the Steelers’ opening drive, the announcers remind us that the Steelers aren’t a power running team so much anymore. That’s a pretty incredible insight; it’s amazing no one’s brought it up in the past two seasons. Rashard Mendenhall does his best to prove otherwise, but ultimately it’s 3rd and 4 and Ben has a week and a half to throw the ball. Unfortunately, the Broncos’ pass defense really IS that good at covering and Ben goes down. Punt.
Remember early in the season, when short passing games were tearing the Steelers apart for 3 or 4 weeks? Apparently Josh McDaniels was watching football those weeks, and the Broncos again come out firing with those quick passes and the Steelers look lost in the backfield.
Jon Gruden’s tone of voice makes you feel like a ten-year-old.
3rd and 7, Orton hits Marshall on one of those short routes, but Ike Taylor is a beast and stones him 2 yards short of a first. Mitch Berger trots onto the field for the Broncos and amazingly manages to get the ball all the way to the endzone for a touchback.
On the second play of the next drive, Ben fires a rocket downfield, roughly 20 yards behind his receiver. Next play, he hits Holmes for the first. After that, the pocket collapses and Ben goes down. On a 3rd and 9, he misses Mike Wallace, behind the DB that was trailing. Punt, end of the 1st.
Remember when I said when Ben is in rhythm, he’s near indefensible? He was anything but in rhythm in the first quarter.
To open the second, the Broncos keep running what the Steelers aren’t stopping, and then they line up in the wildcat (or wild horses, because I guess Denver is cool enough to act like they can name it). Dick LeBeau isn’t going to run a defense that’ll be intimidated by some gimmick offense. Orton motions back in, no one flinches. He takes the snap, drops back, takes a hit and Tyrone Carter smells blood in the water. Pick. Touchdown. 7-3. Bank.
(For the record, James Harrison was being choked to death on the play, but the refs didn’t call anything. Good thing teams that aren’t Baltimore can play well enough to beat a missed call. Wah wah wah.)
Couple of solid hits on the kick return, and the Broncos set up shop at the 21. 2nd and 6, Orton is not even paying attention and Brett Keisel sacks him while being blocked. How does Orton not have the awareness to at least TRY to move away? Didn’t matter though, Brandon Marshall picks up the first on a catch-and-run. Apparently the Denver WRs can get open whenever they want. These guys are underrated.
3rd and 5. This will undoubtedly be talked about. Receiver catches a quick pass, Willie Gay gets all up in his business, drives him out of bounds during the catch, and he loses the ball. If you go to the ground while making a catch and you do not maintain possession of the ball, it is incomplete. The refs rule it as such. Durr hurr refs love the Steelers.
Broncos go for it anyway and Orton hits Stokely on a slant for the first-oh wait, no. James Harrison is once again being headlocked by a lineman. Umpire sees it. Holding, ten yards. No way they go for it again on 4th and 15. Mitch Berger gets off a dazzling 27-yard punt. It’s telling though, that the Broncos had no fear of converting 4th and 5.
Steelers take over at their own 23. Jon Gruden doesn’t know his right from his left. Mike Wallace picks up a nice first down catch, and after a penalty and a fairly weak screen pass, it’s 3rd and 9. The Broncos are coming. Ben takes a shot, lofts a pass out to Heath Miller, and he gets back to the line. Eddie Royal fair catches at the 16 because Sepulveda is a million times better than Mitch Berger.
After a couple of decent runs by Denver, the two minute warning sneaks up on you. On the next play, those runs bite the Steelers as the Broncos go play-action and hit Brandon Marshall for a huge first down. Brett Keisel takes exception and his motor takes over everything on the next play. Sack. Troy Polamalu kills another down with a solid tackle for virtually no gain. Denver mails it in with a weak run into LaMarr Woodley’s waiting arms. Boo-birds come out. Solid set of downs by the Steeler defense. Classic example of a bend-but-don’t-break drive by a defense.
On the punt, Joe Burnett tries to get a hand on the ball, but he gets pushed into the punter on the dive. Any time you touch a kicker, you’re getting a flag. Luckily it’s only 5 yards, but Limas Sweed makes his presence felt with a holding penalty. Steelers get backed up to the 8 yard line, sit on the ball, and head to the locker room.
You know that ESPN commercial with Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter getting their own spin-off show? How awesome would that show be?
The Steelers’ offense was mud in the first half. They get the ball in the third quarter with something to prove. Ward picks up a catch over the middle and Mendenhall gets the first rushing first down of the night (for either team). Another short run and the Steelers are forcing Denver to respect the run, and it pays off when he gets an hour to throw and Hines Ward is in his own zip code to make the catch. Right after that, Holmes picks up another first.
And, just as he’s starting to find a rhythm, the Bronco defense strikes. Ben’s right arm gets obliterated. The ball flies out backwards and Robert Ayers takes it to the house. 10-7. Ouch. That one hurts.
Ben shows you what he is all about by taking to his line, trying to keep them positive after Kemoeatu surrenders that TD. That’s what a franchise quarterback does.
Then he goes out and fires a rocket to Mike Wallace on the sideline. Just to keep Denver from getting a feel for the offense, Mendenhall breaks off a 24 yard run off tackle. Ben hits Holmes (who smoked Champ Bailey, mind you) on a gorgeous pass for a 34 yard completion, and on 1st and goal, he finds Hines Ward in the back of the end zone. Four plays, 80 yards, touchdown. 14-10.
Broncos don’t know what hit them.
For some reason Jeff Reed kicks off way short and the Broncos start at their 40. Orton drops back to throw. Guess who? Eddie Royal, first down. Knowshon Moreno gets buried for a loss, and then… what? Orton shovels a pass to Daniel Graham, and he drops it. Troy tries to pick it up, Graham tackles him. Farrior or somebody starts running it back, he gets halfway down the field and fumbles, recovered by Denver or something.
It’s an incomplete pass, CLEARLY. How do the refs not blow the whistle on that?
Kyle Orton still sucks, so the Steelers get some pressure, Ziggy Hood runs into a teammate, and Orton, with time and space out of the pocket, fires a pass into the turf like 10 feet in front of Brandon Marshall coming back for the ball. Ensuing punt is downed at the 3.
Heath Miller is like seven kinds of money. Snags a pass for a first down, YAC, and the Steelers are up to the 20. Mendenhall finds a hole you could drive a truck through. 28 yards. A few plays later, Denver calls a timeout, presumably to assess the beating the Steelers are giving them on offense since that fumble.
A few more dominating plays later, and Ben slings it to the end zone…to Andre Goodman. Picked off. What an awful decision/throw. At least a block-in-the-back brings the ball back to the Denver 10.
Imagine that, Brandon Marshall, first down. Jon Gruden makes up some story about both teams having abandoned the run even though Mendenhall has 95 rushing yards. A little bit of defense later, and the Broncos punt. Mitch Berger must need that Denver air to punt past 25 yards.
Ron Jaworski believes the Steelers and Broncos will meet in the playoffs. Whatever.
The Broncos are feeding off momentum and their defense is playing better for it. They make a few stops and Ben fires a ball downfield, ten yards ahaed of his receiver. 3-and-out. Denver is getting the ball back with momentum. But all that really means is that the best defense in football is coming back on the field.
The Broncos offense looks as inept as you expected this season. 3-and-out. Mitch Berger returns to form with a 24 yard punt and the Steelers set up at their 40.
On a 3rd and 6, Holmes beats Champ Bailey again. First down. Dude is catching everything, and Champ is totally irrelevant against him.
Sweed drops a pass. Let’s all put on our shocked faces. Heath Miller can’t hang on to a pass. I’m actually shocked. Oh well, Daniel Sepulveda is awesome and punts to the 9.
Troy Polamalu is the best safety in the world. One awesome run-stopping tackle by the legs at the line, and on the next play, Orton overthrows Brandon Marshall. Guess who’s there to pick up the trash? Polamalu on the pick. Steelers set up in the red zone.
3rd and 10, Roethlisberger has three days in the pocket, rolls out, and no one is better out of the pocket than Ben. Mike Wallace standing alone at the goal line. Touchdown. 21-10.
So the Broncos are down two scores with seven minutes left. The Steelers live for this time of the game and chances are, so do you.
After the least memorable drive by Denver, the Steelers absolutely take over. Good football teams finish games. I can’t even talk about the beating Mendenhall is handing the Denver defense here.
So after a ton of domination, the Steelers get the ball, 1st and goal, less than two minutes to go, and the officials spend a week reviewing a fumble that didn’t happen. Way to put us all to sleep.
Two runs up the gut set up a pass on 3rd and goal. Hines Ward humiliates Champ Bailey on a screen pass to ice it. 28-10.
Brandon Marshall has to catch another pass for a first down, just to make a point apparently. James Harrison kills Correll Buckhalter. That’ll be a fine. People will cry about the refs handing this game over to the Steelers by not calling that, but those people are stupid because the score is 28-10 with 20 seconds left. So, go ahead, give them 15 yards, eject James Harrison, whatever.
Tyrone Carter still intercepts Kyle Orton on the next play.
Ben takes a knee. Steelers win.