Just when you think the defense is done, think again. After the Steelers jumped out to an early 7-0 lead over Denver, on a DeAngelo Williams touchdown run following a Mike Mitchell fumble recovery, the defense reverted to a stage where they looked totally helpless and inept. They offered little to no resistance as Brock Osweiler led the Broncos to four straight touchdown drives, after not seeing the endzone in their previous 25 offensive possessions. By the time the first half ended, the Steelers were trailing 27-13 and searching for answers on defense. Somehow, they were going to have to hold serve until the offense could gain some traction and momentum. In the second half, they did more than hold serve, the shut the Broncos down and held them scoreless, while Ben and the offense lit their number one ranked defense up, for the 34-27 comeback win.
Throughout the entire first half, the Steelers’ defense could not get off the field on third down, as the Broncos converted on all eight of their third down plays. In the second half, the Steelers held the Broncos to only one third down conversion on nine attempts, and only allowed them to cross midfield just once. This turned out to be the difference in the game, because it gave Ben Roethlisberger and the offense time to heat up and solve the Broncos defense. Despite the numbers that Ben put up in the first half, the Steelers had nothing to show for it other than Williams’s touchdown run and a field goal. It’s too bad for the Broncos secondary that games are more than 30 minutes long, and that they were matched up against Ben Roethlisberger and the best wide receivers in the league.
The second half started with the Steelers’ defense holding the Broncos to three straight three and outs, before Ben started to heat up. With 7:16 left in the third quarter, Roethlisberger tossed the first of his three second half touchdown passes when he hit Antonio Brown with a nine yard strike to cap off a 7 play, 58 yard drive that lasted 3:17. In the fourth quarter Ben found Markus Wheaton for another 9 yard score at the end of a 5 play, 60 yard drive that knotted the score at 27-27. With 3:24 left in the game, Big Ben hit Brown again, with the game winner, a 23 yard laser that finished off a drive that lasted all of 56 seconds, that started at the Broncos 37 following a Ryan Shazier interception.
The story of this game is the second half turnaround of the Steelers’ secondary, that spent the entire first half being victimized by yet another backup, Brock Osweiler. The entire defense came into this game prepared for the Broncos to try and set up the pass with their running game, and were caught completely off guard when they came out throwing the ball. The second half, however, was a completely different story. After making some halftime adjustments, Emanuel Sanders and his fellow receivers just could not shake the Steelers’ defenders, and when they did, they couldn’t make the clutch receptions.
Both Vernon Davis and Demaryius Thomas dropped critical third down passes, as each felt the presence of Mike Mitchell nearby. Both of those drops led to the Broncos turning the ball back over to the Steelers on downs. Where the Steelers’ defense really showed their resolve was after Ben Roethlisberger gave the ball right back to Denver, immediately after the defense held the Broncos on fourth down. From the Broncos 42, Ben was intercepted when he threw a weak third down pass in the direction of, but behind Antonio Brown, that was picked off by linebacker Brandon Marshall. Instead of being disheartened, the defense stood tall and took the ball back on fourth down for the second straight time, preserving the win.
To pick an MVP for this game, it would be easy to choose Ben Roethlisberger, who was 40/55 for 380 yards, with three second half touchdown passes. It would be obvious to select Antonio Brown who had 16 more receptions for 189 yards, catching two touchdown passes against Chris Harris, Jr., who hadn’t surrendered a touchdown pass in two years. Despite the performances of Ben and AB, the MVP in the 34-27 come from behind win, which matches the largest deficit in Heinz Field history, would have to be a secondary that put on its most gritty performance of the season. Despite their critics, and a clear lack of a number one caliber starter, these guys have pretty much come through when it has mattered the most. Maybe, just maybe, these guys can use what they did today for a deep post season run.