Lost in the hype of Peyton Manning’s return to the gridiron was the fact the Pittsburgh Steelers wanted to prove to the league that last year’s playoff loss to the Denver Broncos was a fluke — and that despite losing key players both to injuries and salary cap cuts, they are still a team to be reckoned with.
What they showed was they are still a work in progress. Denver cornerback Tracy Porter, off an inside release, picked Ben Roethlisberger’s pass off with just over two minutes and sealed the 31-19 win for the Broncos on a 43-yard touchdown return.
The Steelers’ offense did keep the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands for most of the third quarter, but Denver’s no-huddle offense scored 22 points and stymied Pittsburgh’s defense.
When Manning did get the ball, he brought back memories of last year’s playoff loss when he found receiver Demaryius Thomas for a 71-yard touchdown pass. It was Manning’s 400th career touchdown pass, putting him in elite company with just Dan Marino and Brett Farve.
Then every time Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu dropped back, Manning checked to a run and it also proved successful.
The Steelers converted 10-of 11 third downs and led in times of possession — things which are usually enough to win a football game — but the lack of a running game seemed to hamper the team, especially in the second quarter when they got to the Denver three-yard line, but had to settle for a 21-yard field goal.
Up until Manning’s big play, the Steelers seemed to be doing everything they needed to win the contest. After that, they seemed to lack the intensity they showed earlier in the game, especially on defense where they were unable to disrupt Manning’s flow.
Ben Roethlisberger’s interception in the fourth quarter doesn’t mar his performance on the night. He only passed for 245 yards and had a rating just over 79, but he did what was needed to win, keeping the ball out of Manning’s hands and keeping his team in the game with some big plays and good game management.
It was running back by committee, and the committee averaged just over three yards per carry — not exactly the amount that is going to win you a lot of football games. They also rushed for just three first downs on the night. If there was a positive, it’s the fact they picked up blitzes to protect Roethlisberger, giving much needed help to an offensive line that was banged up. Jonathon Dwyer did show more of his potential during the game.
Max Starks one-on-one with Elvis Dummerville could have been a disaster. Instead he held his own. And considering the fact the line lost both Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert, the protection they provided Roethlisberger was more than adequate until the final series when Denver brought everyone off the edge with the blitz.
Nothing spectacular. Shaun Suisham made a chip shot 21-yard field goal after the offense could not convert from three yards out and his kickoffs were unreturnable in the thin air of Denver.
True, they got two sacks in the first quarter, but even with plenty of rest, against the no- huddle they seemed hapless. When Troy Polamalu dropped back in the secondary, Denver’s run game was able to bust out big yardage. There were too many misplays and missed tackles, especially in the secondary. Not having safety Ryan Clark did hamper the Steelers, but when Denver went to the no-huddle the stunts up the middle stopped and the Steelers did not play well on the perimeter.
Player of the game
Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The reasons here are simple: He didn’t play a down, but the unveiling of his new offense not only utilized the fullback, it also kept Denver on its toes all game with a mix of plays.
“I should have called time out,” Roethlisberger said. “The play clock was running down, but I should have because we were kind of all over the place. There’s no one to blame but myself. I already told my teammates and coaches, it’s my fault and it’s on me. That loss is squarely on my shoulders.”
Matt Pawlikowski is a veteran journalist covering all things Steelers. His work can be found onExaminer.com.