Labriola on loss to Broncos

DENVER -- One calendar year ago, the Steelers opened their regular season in Baltimore, and the "performance" they put forth that afternoon was pathetic. The turnovers, the sloppy play, the total failure to match the level of intensity brought by their most hated rival was an embarrassment to their professionalism. The Ravens rubbed it in with a two-point conversion attempt after their fourth touchdown and generally partied in their bench area as if they were expecting a trophy presentation to follow. Those Steelers took the field believing there to be carryover from the previous season in which they had been their conference's champions only to discover they were a very different team facing very different challenges.

That was what was truly at stake last Sunday night at Sports Authority Field. These 2012 Steelers needed to make their own statement, because you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Analyze it anyway you choose, but losing this game is disappointing, because for the Steelers there never are any mitigating circumstances. Sure, it was a tough venue, and the opponent presented a talented roster boosted by the addition of a great quarterback, but the standard under which the Steelers operate allows for no concessions or excuses.

It was 31-19. A loss. Period.

In any review of the Steelers' performance against the Broncos, it will be pointed out that Ben Roethlisberger played for the most part like the elite quarterback he is, but even he is incapable of single-handedly carrying the Steelers to a win over a quality opponent. It also can be said that the wide receivers are a talented group, and that Heath Miller is a legitimate weapon on both third downs and close to the goal line.

But in the final analysis it will have to be pointed out that they also had the kinds of problems on defense that cost teams games.

After each of their first two touchdowns, the Steelers defense allowed the Broncos to answer with a touchdown of their own – one on a 71-yard catch-and-run by Demaryius Thomas that came after a simple, quick throw into the flat by Peyton Manning, and the other on a 10-play, 80-yard drive in which Manning operated almost exclusively from the hurry-up.

And the offense was by no means blameless for this defeat, because its red zone efficiency early in the game set a course from which the Broncos were able to stay in the game and eventually take a lead and then build upon it.

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