Further Review: Some good opportunities


Game action from the Steelers' AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Broncos.

DENVER -** Running back Fitz Toussaint's fumble turned the tide in the fourth quarter, but it's what the Broncos did thereafter and what the Steelers couldn't that ultimately ushered the Steelers into the offseason.

"There was a turnover but we still had enough time and room to put a stop to it," linebacker William Gay said. "We weren't able to."

Cornerback Bradley Roby's forced fumble and linebacker DeMarcus Ware's recovery at the Denver 35-yard line with 10 minutes left in regulation prevented the Steelers from potentially adding onto a 13-12 lead. From there, the Broncos marched 65 yards in 13 plays for the touchdown and two-point conversion that put Denver ahead, 20-13, with three minutes left in what ultimately became a 23-16 victory on Sunday afternoon at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

"We had some good opportunities to get off (the field) or at least surrender a field goal instead of a touchdown," defensive end Cam Heyward said. "As a defense we relish those moments when it's all on our backs. We just didn't come up big.

"The fourth quarter, that's when we have to pick up our level of play, all three phases have to, and we didn't do that. They made a couple more plays than us. It (stinks) to say that but it happened."

The Broncos' game-winning drive included a 31-yard completion from quarterback Peyton Manning to wide receiver Bennie Fowler on third-and-12 from the Denver 33 with 8:17 remaining in regulation.

Denver also ran 10 times for 32 yards on the march, including five consecutive times for the final 14 yards and the lead the Broncos would never relinquish.

"Like we talked about during the week (leading up to the game), Peyton's the ultimate play-caller," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "He got them in some good checks and did a nice job.

"And that's why, I'm sure, they started him, because he's capable of not only doing things in the passing game but things like that in the running game. I'd be remiss if I didn't compliment him in terms of what they were able to do in the run game."

Added Harrison: "Towards the end (Manning) was checking out of some things, getting them in good plays. Some of it was our execution. We didn't execute a few (plays) here and there, missed tackles, so on and so forth.

"They executed better than we did in the fourth quarter and that was the difference."

SUPPORT FOR TOUSSAINT: There were no fingers being pointed in Toussaint's direction in the visitor's locker room in the immediate aftermath.

"No, no," guard David DeCastro insisted. "We all took our turns (making mistakes)."

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wholeheartedly agreed.

"It's not on (Toussaint), it's on all of us," Roethlisberger said. "He's one of the reasons we got here.

"You can't blame him. He's trying to make a play and he's trying to go farther. The defender (Roby) made a great play on it."

Toussaint said he spent the time during the Broncos' subsequent possession after his fumble "just going over in my head how I could have protected the ball a little bit more.

"They made a great play so hats off to them," he continued. "I have to protect the ball."

Toussaint appreciated his teammates for showing "tremendous loyalty and support; hats off to those guys."


NEXT MAN UP:** The Steelers played without wide receiver Antonio Brown (concussion) and running back Le'Veon Bell (foot) and with Roethlisberger trying to play through a shoulder injury.

"I think I was fine (physically)," Roethlisberger said.

The Steelers also lost linebacker Arthur Moats (pectoral) in the first quarter, which seemed somewhat appropriate given all the injuries they'd battled all season.

"I didn't even really notice" DeCastro said of what wasn't available in the lineup against Denver. "Guys came in and stepped up. Honestly, I think we had a chance, we really did. That's what hurts the most."

The Steelers hadn't used injuries as an excuse all season despite losing the likes of center Maurkice Pouncey, running back Le'Veon Bell and offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum, among others.

They weren't about to start doing so after losing to the Broncos.

"Injuries are not an excuse," Harrison said. "Everyone has injuries. You have to be able to make it through those injuries. I felt like we could have done that. We just fell short.

"There's no excuses. They played better than we did. I'm not going to diminish what they did. They played better than we did."


THEY SAID IT:** "I think we have a cohesive group. We all have each other's backs. It's just a tight-knit group. Everybody has always put the ego aside and just tried to focus on the task at hand. I applaud everybody in the locker room, from the top guy to the lowest guy. We never tried to put egos before team. We just kept battling, no matter what was going on, adversity, we just kept battling and I appreciate that." - Heyward on the 2015 Steelers.

"Very proud. I said to the guys, we dealt with a lot of issues this year, a lot of injuries, a lot of 'next-man-up' and people going down. A lot of teams just kind of quit; we didn't. We stepped up and got to this point. Obviously, we're disappointed we didn't go further but we made it to this point with a lot of young guys stepping up. Just really proud of the effort and the next-man-up mentality." - Roethlisberger on the 2015 Steelers.

"We can here to win and we weren't able to do that. So all the little sidebars, responding to challenges and stuff, that's so secondary to us, it's irrelevant." - Tomlin on the 2015 season-ending loss to the Broncos.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.