The Steelers lost their first game of the preseason, falling 34-17 to the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field at Mile High.
Ben Roethlisberger started for the Steelers, completing four of six passes for 67 yards. Dennis Dixon got his most extensive action with the first team, completing nine of 16 passes for 94 yards with two interceptions.
Rookie Jonathan Dwyer saw action in the second half, carrying the ball 13 times for 89 yards and a touchdown.
Denver hurt the Steelers when they returned two interceptions for touchdowns, and the black and gold hurt themselves with penalties.
The Broncos started the game off with good field position at their own 40-yard line after Dan Sepulveda's opening kickoff went out of bounds. Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton took advantage with an 18-yard completion to Eddie Royal. Keenan Lewis was called for a late hit on Royal, tacking a 15-yard penalty on to the play and giving the Broncos the ball at the Steelers 26-yard line. The Steelers held the Broncos to six yards on two straight rushing plays, but on third down Orton hit Brandon Lloyd for a nine-yard gain and was hit by Lawrence Timmons, who was called for roughing the passer giving the Broncos the ball at the five-yard line. The Broncos capped the drive with a two-yard touchdown run by LenDale White for an early 7-0 lead.
It didn't take long for the Steelers to get right back in the game. Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace in stride at the Steelers 40-yard line, and the speedy receiver broke free for a 47-yard gain to the Denver 34-yard line. Rashard Mendenhall added a four-yard carry and came right back with an 11-yard scamper. An incompletion and a four-yard carry by Mendenhall set the Steelers up with a third-and-six from the 15-yard line, but Roethlisberger was unable to hit Mewelde Moore and the Steelers settled for a 33-yard Jeff Reed field goal to close the gap to 7-3.
After a defensive stop the Steelers went back to work. Isaac Redman went up with the middle for four yards, followed by a seven-yard run by Mendenhall. Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward for two straight five-yard gains, and went to rookie Emmanuel Sanders for a 10-yard gain to end the first quarter.
Dennis Dixon took over the reins at quarterback in the second quarter, scrambling for a five-yard gain. Redman took it for two yards, but Dixon's third down pass to Wallace was tipped, forcing a punt.
A swarming defense held the Broncos in check on their next series. Orton looked for Jabar Gaffney over the middle who was hit while catching the ball. It was originally ruled a completion and fumble, which James Harrison recovered. Orton came downfield to make a tackle on Harrison, and was injured on the play. The call was overturned and ruled an incomplete pass. Brady Quinn came into the game and had nowhere to hide as he was sacked for a 10-yard loss by Ike Taylor.
Antonio Brown set the Steelers up with good field position after an 11-yard punt return to the Broncos 46-yard line. Antwaan Randle El took it around right end for three-yards, but an incompletion to David Johnson gave the Steelers a third-and-seven. Dixon was sacked for a three-yard loss, but the play was negated after the Broncos were called for illegal use of the hands, giving the Steelers a first down and new life. Dixon hit Johnson for a 16-yard gain to the 14-yard line and Redman added a five-yard gain. The drive was thwarted when Dixon's pass to Matt Spaeth in the end zone was intercepted by rookie cornerback Perrish Cox.
Penalties continued to hurt the Steelers on the next drive. Harrison was called for unnecessary roughness after a three-yard run by White. Orton, who returned to action, hit Royal for 17 yards and White added a nine-yard carry. Orton completed an eight-yard pass to Brandon Lloyd, and another defensive penalty was costly when Lewis was called for unnecessary roughness. The defense was able to hold off the Broncos though, limiting them to a field goal and putting them up 10-3.
Two false start penalties put the Steelers in a quick hole on their next drive, starting off with a first-and-20. Dixon hit Wallace for a six-yard completion, but that would be it as they were forced to punt right after the two minute warning.
The defense stepped up big when William Gay intercepted Orton on the next play at the 46-yard line, giving the offense another shot before the end of the first half. But it wouldn't be the Steelers who would put points on the board. Andre Goodman intercepted Dixon and returned it 77 yards for a touchdown, giving the Broncos a 17-3 halftime lead.
Dixon opened the second half with a 14-yard completion to Moore and nine-yard toss to Ward. Dixon used his feet, taking it up the middle for 29 yards to the 26-yard line. Moore added two three-yard carries, but a five-yard gain by Dixon was negated by a holding call. On third-and-14 Dixon hit Tyler Grisham for 13 yards. The Steelers went for it on fourth-and-one, but Dixon was sacked for a six-yard loss.
Rookie Tim Tebow entered the game for the Broncos and got into a hole fast when Lance Ball was knocked for a one-yard loss and a false start call had him facing second-and-17. Tebow completed his first pass attempt for 14 yards, but followed it with an incompletion to force the punt.
Byron Leftwich saw his first action with 6:36 to play in the third quarter and most of the starters already on the bench for the night. It was a quick three-and-out for his first series, with two incomplete passes.
The Broncos extended the lead to 20-3 when Matt Prater hit his second field goal of the game on their next drive and then stopped the Steelers, giving Tebow the ball back. It wouldn't be for long, though. Rookie Crezdon Butler intercepted Tebow and returned it 40 yards to the five-yard line. Another rookie made it count when Dwyer took it five yards for the touchdown, cutting the lead to 20-10.
Denver got the points back fast when Tebow hit Matthew Willis for 24 yards and then found Eric Decker for a three-yard touchdown and a 27-10 lead.
The Steelers went to their fourth quarterback of the night with Charlie Batch, and Dwyer got things rolling for him with a 17-yard run up the middle and a 40-yard run to the Broncos 35-yard line. Batch hit Justin Vincent for 20 yards and then threw a seven-yard touchdown strike to Brown, closing the gap again at 27-17.
The back-and-forth scoring continued when Syd'Quan Thompson intercepted Batch and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown and a 34-17 lead.
Linebacker James Farrior left the game on the first series after he lost his helmet and suffered a head laceration.