All this past week, I was thinking how embarrassing it'd be if the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the 8-8 Denver Broncos. But there was no chance of that happening, right? The Steelers were heavily favored. Plenty has been said by commentators about how unfair it was that the Broncos, on a three-game losing streak, were able to host a wildcard playoff game against a team with a much better record.
Proves how much they know I guess. Somehow, Tim Tebow and the Broncos won and are going to see the New England Patriots next week. Good luck with that one. And now we Steelers fans are left to keep drinking to try to erase this game from our collective memories.
The numerous injuries faced by the Steelers have finally caught up with them. And let the debate commence whether or not Ben should have played in the games against the 49ers and the Browns. Clearly, with 20/20 hindsight, the answer is no. But then again, the defense lost this game too.
There were 20 unanswered points by the Broncos in the second quarter alone. The Steelers, even though they were able to tie up the game and put it into overtime, simply couldn't take the lead.
The Steelers had the momentum during the first quarter. The defense was able to stop Tebow and he wasn't able to get anything going. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, since suffering an ankle injury, still doesn't look like his old self, unable to scramble and struggling with inaccuracy -- receivers unable to catch the ball didn't help either.
In the first quarter, the Steelers converted six first downs compared to the Broncos' zero. They racked up 119 yards compared to 8 for the Broncos. Tebow was 0-for-2 for 0 yards, while Roethlisberger went 7-of-13 attempts for 79 yards passing. The Broncos went three-and-out on their first possession (they gained 1 yard). The Steelers then went 53 yards in eight plays. A 45-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham got them an early lead. After another three-and-out, Shaun Suisham hit another 38-yard field goal to put the Steelers ahead 6-0, culminating a 12-play, 47-yard drive. Not being able to get into the endzone would end up kicking their asses in the end.
Then everything just fell apart in the second quarter.
Two plays made all the difference. Tebow threw a 51-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas, and then hit a 30-yarder to Eddie Royal for 6 points. The Steelers on offense were unable to do anything in response, with Ben hobbling around looking like he needed crutches. On the Broncos' next drive, Tebow ran for an 8-yard touchdown after completing a 58-yard pass to Thomas.
And that's when things started to look really, really bad, especially with nose tackle Casey Hampton and defensive end Brett Keisel out due to injuries. It soon got even worse. Quinton Carter intercepted Roethlisberger deep in Steelers territory. Matt Prater then kicked a 20-yard field goal to give Denver an 11-point lead.
On their next drive, the Broncos went 59 yards in eight plays. Luckily, the Steelers were able to stop them from getting into the endzone for a second time. Prater kicked a 28-yard field goal to extend the Broncos lead to 14 points late in the first half. The Steelers were driving to score to close out the second half, but a high snap by Doug Legursky, subbing in for the injured Maurkice Pouncey, took them out of field goal range, putting the nail on the coffin on one of the worst quarters I've ever seen from the Steelers.
I'm pretty sure I blacked out at the beginning of the third quarter due to the shock from the previous quarter. Yet somehow, the Steelers offense started to show some life, going 87 yards in 11 plays, ending with a 1-yard TD run by Mike Wallace, his first rushing TD. Those were the only points scored in the third quarter.
Of course, the Steelers made things interesting in the fourth. They always do. Tebow started off the quarter with two big runs, culminating in a 35-yard field goal by Prater, increasing their lead to 10. The Steelers hit right back, finally getting some production out of the offense, ending with Suisham hitting his third field goal, a 37-yarder. They were only down by 7. Wow, the Steelers could actually make a game of this now.
Finally it was the Steelers' defense turn to step up. They recovered the ball at their own 45 yard line after forcing a fumble by Willis McGahee, with Ryan Mundy knocking the ball out. The Broncos challenged, but the ruling was upheld. It proved costly, as Roethlisberger was able to drive the Steelers down the field, even scrambling and making runs, and then threw a beautiful 31-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery. Game tied, 23-23.
With the ball in Tebow's hands, he was able to complete a big 17-yard pass, but unable to convert on third-and-8. This was the chance the Steelers needed. With less than two minutes left, there was hope that Ben could orchestrate yet another last-minute comeback.
He completed two big passes to Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, driving the offense to Denver's 45. Then, of course, he was sacked yet again and lost 11 yards, putting the Steelers out of field goal range. Throw in a delay of game penalty, an incomplete pass to Hines Ward (who looked like he wanted to cry throughout most of the game -- we all did, Hines, we all did), and yet another sack, losing 15 yards, and this game was going into overtime. And of course let the debate commence as to whether they should have let Suisham try for that last 60+ yard field goal.
It was the first postseason game in NFL history under the new overtime rules, when the game wouldn't end in a sudden death field goal. Turns out these new rules didn't matter much. On the very first freakin' play of overtime, Tebow threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Thomas to win it, as whoever is first to score a touchdown in overtime wins.
And that's it. The Steelers season is over after this ridiculously embarrassing game. Ike Taylor got beat all day long. The secondary was completely exposed. The linebackers were unable to put enough pressure on Tebow. Ben was able to have moments of brilliance, but imagine what this game would've been like if he were 100 percent. The running game was decent, with Isaac Redman racking up 121 yards, but they certainly missed Rashard Mendenhall to share the load. With so many key guys injured, from our #1 running back to The Beard, to our always reliable center, the Steelers just couldn't make up for all that lost talent.
But I'm sure many of us assumed they would have won in Denver and maybe put up a good fight against the New England Patriots next week. It didn't happen, and our season is abruptly over. This one is gonna suck for a long time. So not looking forward to a week full of talk about how the magic is back and how Jesus loves Tebow and Tebow loves Jesus. (Though I honestly hope that Jesus has more to concern himself with than a football game.) Still, Tebow was mistake-free, going 10 for 21 for 316 (why 316, whyyy?) yards and 2 touchdowns. Thomas ended the game with 204 yards against a defense that previously didn't allow a 100-yard receiver all season. For the #1 defense in the NFL to lose it at the very end makes it even worse.
Damn, maybe the stupid magic was on Tebow's side tonight. Hard to believe the Steelers lost to a team that didn't have a winning record. They had a streak of nine straight quarters without letting an opponent score a touchdown to have it completely blow up in their faces in the second. It was a crazy game and I'm looking forward to putting this up-and-down season behind me. Somehow, I'll find a way to enjoy the post-season and take this time to reevaluate my life. But as of right now, time for another beer. Go Green Bay?