BRONCOS 29, Steelers 23, OT
Steelers' record: 12-5
One year ago: 12-4
Series record (including playoffs): Broncos lead, 17-10-1
Much of the pregame analysis focused on the Broncos' read-option offense quarterbacked by Tim Tebow and how the Steelers defense was going to deal with the NFL's No. 1 rushing team. But what if the Steelers offense scored enough points early to force the Broncos away from that strategy? It seemed as though Denver's coaches were hedging their bets once reports surfaced that backup quarterback Brady Quinn had gotten about half the snaps with the first unit during the week of practice.
Settling for field goals has been a problem for this Steelers team all season, and that's what contributed to this defeat by providing the Broncos with some early confidence. Instead of 6-0, had the Steelers been able to score at least one touchdown on those two first-quarter possessions …
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
At halftime, Tim Tebow's yards-per-attempt was 16.8. Aaron Rodgers led the NFL in that category during the regular season. Rodgers' yards-per-attempt was 9.25.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
* Ben Roethlisberger completed 3-of-5 passes on the opening possession of the game, one that resulted in a 45-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham for a 3-0 Steelers lead. While Roethlisberger converted a third-and-2 with an 8-yard pass to Heath Miller and then got the team into scoring position with a subsequent 33-yard hookup with Miller, he also missed on a couple of throws. On the second play of the game, he overthrew Mike Wallace down the sideline, and Wallace had gotten behind Champ Bailey.
- Tim Tebow would have completed his first pass of the game, a 20-yarder to Eric Decker, but the ball came out after a hit from James Harrison. Originally ruled a catch, Mike Tomlin challenged the play and it was overturned.
- William Gay made two fine plays in a row to help hold the Broncos to a field goal after Quinton Carter's interception. On the first, Gay got past a couple of blockers to drop Eddie Royal on a bubble screen, and then on the next play he broke up a pass in the end zone to WR Matthew Willis.
- The Steelers got a break on the first offensive play after the field goal that gave the Broncos a 17-6 lead. Roethlisberger's pass for Antonio Brown was intercepted by Broncos CB Andre Goodman, but the play was nullified by an offside penalty on Elvis Dumervil.
- On the 11-play, 92-yard drive that ended with Mike Wallace's 1-yard run and brought the Steelers to 20-13, Ben Roethlisberger converted two third downs with passes, and then on a third-and-2, Isaac Redman rambled 33 yards to the Broncos 1-yard line.
WHAT WENT WRONG
* Denver's first offensive possession ended in a three-and-out, but the Steelers had a chance at a takeaway deep in Broncos territory. Ryan Mundy forced a fumble by Willis McGahee, but the Broncos jumped on the bouncing ball at their own 23-yard line.
- On a third-and-3 from the Denver 46-yard line, Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery in stride as he was cutting across the field with a lot of open space available once he caught the ball. But Cotchery dropped it, and the Steelers punted.
- Tim Tebow didn't complete a pass in the first quarter, but once he broke the ice, he did it in dramatic fashion. Tebow's first was a perfectly thrown 51-yard rainbow down the left sideline to Demaryius Thomas over Ike Taylor. Two plays later, his second was another perfect pass, this one down the right sideline to Eddie Royal for a 30-yard touchdown over William Gay.
- Hooking up with Mike Wallace was not going well in the first half. After overthrowing him down the sideline on the opening series, Roethlisberger had him behind the secondary down the middle of the field. Originally ruled a 52-yard completion, the play was overturned on a challenged by Broncos coach John Fox.
- Apparently, Tebow is a great deep-ball thrower. In taking the Broncos to a 14-6 lead with 10:36 left in the first half, Tebow had completed 3-of-6 passes for 139 yards. His second long completion to Demaryius Thomas was for 58 yards and put the Broncos in position for his own 8-yard touchdown run.
- Three plays after Tebow's touchdown run, Roethlisberger threw over the middle for Heath Miller, who appeared not to see the ball. It ended up being intercepted by Quinton Carter. It led to a field goal and a 17-6 Denver lead.
- On third-and-4 from the Denver 32-yard line with 39 seconds left in the first half with the Broncos holding a 20-6 lead, Doug Legursky's shotgun snap was high and wide, and by the time Heath Miller got back to fall on the loose ball it was a 23-yard loss and the Steelers had to punt on fourth-and-27.
- After the Steelers scored to close to within 20-13, they needed a stop from their defense but didn't get it. Aided by a phantom 32-yard pass interference penalty on Ike Taylor, the Broncos burned six minutes off the clock with a 12-play drive that ended with another Matt Prater field goal and a 23-13 lead for Denver with 13:10 left in the game.
- The Steelers got the ball with 1:37 left in regulation and two timeouts, but they didn't put together an efficient possession. Roethlisberger was sacked twice, had the ball knocked out of his hand once and there also was a delay of game penalty.
- The first play of overtime was a microcosm of the Steelers primary problem all afternoon. Receivers running free in the secondary, with Tim Tebow having all kinds of time to find them. This time, it ended the Steelers' 2011 season.