The Steelers struggled on the road all season. Whether or not you wanted to believe it or thought they might "flip the switch" once the playoffs hit, they just never put it together outside of Heinz Field. In short to summarize this game, the Steelers were flat out out-coached. John Fox put together a game plan and the Broncos executed it on both sides of the ball. The Steelers didn't really seem to have much of a game plan. If they did, they looked totally unprepared to execute portions of it, like "defending the option."
Denver wins the toss and defers.
Earlier this week, Tomlin mentioned that the Broncos struggled to defend the middle of the field given their injuries at safety. The Steelers go right after it, working Heath Miller for a first down then on a deep seam route to move us into field goal range. The drive eeks inside the 30 and Arians decides to go with a WR screen on 3rd and 7. I'm sure you can imagine how that turned out.
I've been adamantly against the WR screen since Arians first popped a boner over it after seeing some WPIAL team run it. Even it's biggest proponents, like Tunch Ilkin, will admit it is at best a "run replacement" play that is designed to get you 3-5 yards (usually on first down to get you into second and manageable). If this is a play designed to get you 3-5 yards, why are we running it on 3rd and 7? It's like the mid-90s all over again when we would throw 3 yard passes on 3rd and 7. Except this time the pass didn't even go 2 yards forward.
Denver starts slow, testing the Steelers run defense.
Cotchery drops a ball that hits him right in the hands on 3rd down. If he catches that he might still be running. No one between him and the end zone.
Denver goes 3-and-out again.
Isaac Redman starts to take things over, dominating in short yardage situations, ultimately busting a 3rd and 1 up the guy for 13 yards to get us down into the red zone. The offense can't do anything else and it's Suisham again.
Tebow starts to open things up and hits Decker over the middle but he gets blown up by Harrison who, having been suspended for hitting guys high, makes the Goodell-approved hit and destroys Decker's knee.
Tebow comes right back like he's playing NFL Blitz and runs Da Bomb, connecting with Thomas over Ike Taylor. Two plays later, he hits Royal over Will Gay down the right side on pretty much the exact same pass Jordy Nelson scored on in the Super Bowl.
The Steelers catch a case of the drops as David Johnson drops one that hits him in the hands and Mike Wallace can't hang on to a deep ball that was initially called a catch. Fox wins the challenge and the Steelers wind up punting.
Tebow keeps running his video game offense and bombs another one for Thomas down the sideline. Two plays later, Tebow takes it up the middle for a touchdown.
The wheels start to come off as Starks gets blown over and Ben gets sacked then throws a pick across the middle.
Denver takes over deep in Steelers territory but the defense locks it down and forces a field goal. Big-time stand by the defense right there.
A defensive penalty wipes away another interception but the Steelers can't really do anything with it.
Tebow throws Da Bomb again. McGahee gets them into field goal range.
The Steelers take over with 1:05 left on the clock and a chance to put some points on the board. AB and Sanders make big grabs to get us across midfield and we use our second timeout with 51 seconds left. Ben hits Sanders to get us to the edge of field goal range, but on 3rd down Legursky snaps the ball over Ben's head, knocking us out of field goal range.
Kapinos punts and Tebow kneels.
Lots of people freaking out, but for those of us that remember the Ravens playoff game last year know that it only takes one big play from the defense and we're right back in the game.
The Broncos are able to drive into Steelers territory, but the defense is able to tighten it up and force a punt.
Brown converts a 3rd down to get things moving. We catch a HUGE break when Ben throws a WR screen for Wallace that he drops, but since it was a backwards pass it should've been a fumble. Somehow, the refs blew the whistle and called it incomplete so it's not challengeable. Sanders converts another 3rd down to move a sputtering drive out to the 40. Brown picks up a big chunk on an end-around. Redman works it to 3rd and short then gashes Denver up the middle, rumbling all the way to the goal line. The initial call is a touchdown, but after review Redman's knee was down at the 1. With less than a yard to paydirt, Arians decides to...run the ball parallel to the line of scrimmage?! It's a good thing Mike Wallace is fast. He zooms around the corner on an end-around and gets into the end zone untouched.
That was either going to be a 4-yard loss or a touchdown. Horrible play call in that situation, but we're lucky that it worked.
Denver gets the benefit of a horrible pass interference call when Thomas stops running and Ike bumps him. Tebow puts the team on his shoulders and carries them down into the red zone.
A holding penalty sets the Broncos back, but they stretch their lead with a field goal.
All Antonio Brown does is make big plays, and he makes a huge catch to get the drive rolling. Redman bounces one off tackle and rumbles down the sideline to get us into field goal range. Ben scrambles to get us into 3rd and reasonable then tries to throw into triple coverage for Heath and the ball gets knocked away. Suisham puts us within a score.
Tebow converts a 3rd down to get things moving, but Ryan Mundy is able to do his best Ryan Clark impression and whacks Willis McGahee, knocking the ball out. The ball hops into Woodley's arms for the HUUUGE turnover our defense needed.
007 takes over with 7 and a half left, and recovers from a sack by hitting Manny Sanders to get close to the sticks. Redman converts again. Ben and Redman carry us down into field goal range. We catch a huge break when Ben tries to take a shot deep for Wallace into double coverage and Champ Bailey drops the pick. On the next play, Ben does his Ben thing, scrambling out of the pocket then gunning one to Cotch in the middle of the end zone. Cotch takes a big hit but hangs on to tie the game.
Denver doesn't move very urgently, and a few incompletions from Tebow stop the clock and give Ben a chance with a minute and a half to go.
Ben has put together plenty of game-winning drives in his career, and you really believed that he was going to do it again here. But the guys up from just couldn't block a 4-man rush, and that hurt. Ben gets sacked at the start of the drive, but bounces back and hits AB for a huge 17-yarder then floats one to Sanders for 18 more down the sideline to get us across midfield with 30 ticks left. On a 3-man rush, Dumervil is able to reach in and knock the ball out. The season flashes before your eyes as the ball lays there but Ben falls on it and the Steelers use their last timeout with 18 seconds left. Redman gets a few yards on a check-down and gets out of bounds at midfield with a few seconds left. Rather than try a 68-yard field goal, Tomlin elects to go for the hail mary. But Ben gets sacked and that's that.
CBS makes a big deal about the new overtime rules. Guess what? It didn't matter.
John Fox makes a great call to go for the jugular and Tebow hits Thomas on a deep post route. Thomas throws a stiff arm to Ike and he's off to the races, taking it all the way to the house.
Players of the Game
Offensive Game Ball: Isaac Redman
Defensive Game Ball: Lawrence Timmons
Mr. Yuck Sticker of the Game
When a touchdown is the only thing that beats you, I don't understand having no safeties in the middle of the field. Ryan Mundy cheated up to stop the run and the play-action froze him in his tracks. Mundy had no chance and the Steelers basically left Ike Taylor to try to defend the entire 52x80 section of field. Ike definitely had his worst game of the season, but he had no safety help over the top all day. It was like Tebow was playing a video game where he just had to chuck it deep.
- Ike Taylor really struggles against Denver. Not sure what it is, but he got lit up by them in 2006 in Pittsburgh too.
- I mentioned on twitter that I was worried that Hines wasn't part of the game plan. The Steelers were 9-1 this year when he caught 3+ passes. Hines had no catches and only 2 targets. I doubt he was on the field for more than 5 plays.
- Debate me if you want, but the WR screen is the worst play in the playbook. What a horrible play.
- The Steelers looked like they had no game plan for this game. They didn't have a consistent plan for attacking Denver's defense and seemed lost and fragmented with their offensive play-calling. On defense, we looked like we had no idea how to defend the option and like we were afraid to blitz.
- Heath had two big catches early then was pretty much silent the rest of the game.
- Gutsy effort by Ben going the distance on what was basically one leg.
- Lawrence Timmons had his best game of the season.
- What a game by Isaac Redman. This guy has what it takes to be a feature back in the NFL. Gotta get the kid more carries next season. Then again, depending on Mendenhall's recovery timeline, Redman might be the starter entering camp.
- Losing Hampton and Keisel to injury hurt. It really wasn't much of a surprise the inside guys didn't get much push considering Ziggy, Cam, and McLendon had to play the whole game without subbing out.
- The Steelers had opportunities at the ends of both halves with the ball across midfield that they could've at least gotten field goal attempts, but a bad snap and a sack ended those chances.
- This might have been the first football game I have ever seen that no holding was called. There was holding all over the place, but Ron Winters and his crew decided they wouldn't call it.
- All in all, this was a 12-4 season where we endured a lot of injuries, battled through them, saw young guys arise, and ultimately saw an bruised and battered offensive line unable to hold their blocks at key times at the end of both halves.
- Given all the injuries we had, it's hard to imagine this team getting past New England, but it still would've been nice to see them try.
- In the grand scope of my Steelers fandom, this loss doesn't even rank in the top 5 as most painful in the playoffs. It was a tough way to lose, but hey, you can't win them all. Ask the 2007 New England Patriots.
- As Dick LeBeau told the defense today in their end-of-the-year meeting: Come back next year ready to win a Super Bowl.