Ask Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin to reflect on what Pittsburgh has proven this far and he’ll likely cut you off and tell you “We’re still writing our story.” That’s true. The title to the latest chapter of this story says Steelers Beat Broncos 34-27, Score 21 Unanswered 2nd Half Points.
- But what’s most important is how the 2015 Steelers wrote this chapter.
Glancing just at the score, one can quickly conclude that Pittsburgh’s win over Denver followed the script established long-ago for the 2015 Steelers – the Steelers offense goes into juggernaut mode while the Steelers defense slows the other team just enough to keep the Black and Gold ahead.
- But that fails to capture what happened at Heinz Field on Sunday.
For the first 30 minutes the Steelers offense stumbled and its defense looked lost. During the second 30 minutes the Steelers reclaimed their status as a juggernaut while the defense looked like a Steelers defense should.
And if Mike Tomlin is to be believed, the mental toughness and trust in teamwork are the reasons why the Steelers mounted such a dramatic turnabout. And that’s a very good thing to be able to say 2 weeks away from the post-season.
Col Sanders Returns to Fry Some Defensive Backs
Given Antonio Brown’s stratospheric performances of the last several seasons, one can be forgiven for forgetting that as rookies, Emmanuel Sanders kept Brown on the bench. Indeed, heading into 2011, coaches looked to Sanders and not Brown to step up alongside Mike Wallace.
- Alas, injuries kept Sanders on the bench for large parts of 2011 and 2012 as Brown exploded while Wallace waned.
When Emmanuel Sanders did get on the field he played well, and in many ways reminded me of a young Hines Ward. The Steelers front office didn’t share Steel Curtain Rising’s opinion and was ready to let Sanders depart for New England. Sanders stayed and put in a solid 2013, but the Steelers never seriously considered resigning him.
- During the first half, Sanders played as if he wished to make Pittsburgh pay for letting him walk.
The combination of Brock Osweiler to Sanders made Roethlisberger to Brown appear tame by comparison. For much of the year, the Steelers secondary has made fantasy football owners happy only to come up big in the Red Zone and/or by producing turnovers at critical points in key games. In the first half vs. the Broncos, the Steelers secondary did neither.
- Osweiler hit Sanders on eight of 9 tries for 139 yards. For good measure, Sanders also added 24 yards on a reverse.
On the opposite side of the field, the Steelers offense opened with a strong drive that culminated in a DeAngelo Williams touchdown, only to see Denver score four touchdowns on their next 4 possessions. The Steelers offense sputtered in response, settling for 6 points on two Chris Boswell field goals as an answer to the Denver Broncos 27….
The Steelers entered the day needing a win to keep pace in the AFC playoff race and they went into the locker room at half time facing a 13 point deficit.
Steelers Shut Out Broncos in 2nd Half, Score 21 Unanswered Points
Going into half time, Mike Tomlin told CBS that only adjustment the Steelers needed to make was to stop beating themselves. No where was was that more apparent than on third downs where Osweiler and the Denver offense had been perfect in the first half.
The Broncos got the ball to begin the second half, holding on to a 27-13 lead and their third down performance unfolded like this:
- CJ Anderson runs 5 yards on 3rd and 20
- Will Allen bats away a pass to Owen Daniels
- Ben Roethliberger to Antonio Brown brings score to 20-27
- Michael Mitchell keeps Osweiler from connecting with Andre Caldwell
- Cameron Heyward sacks Osweiler
- Ben Roethlisberger to Markus Wheaton brings the Steelers ahead 28-27
- Robert Golden bats away a pass to Caldwell
- Osweiler over throws Vernon Davis by a mile
- Osweiler tries to hit Emmanuel Sanders but Ryan Shazier intercepts
- After a 9 yard pass to Martavis Bryant and a 5 yard run by Williams, the Steelers convert turnover into touchdown on Roethlisberger-Brown hookup
With 3:04 remaining in the in the game, only after the Steelers offense had scored 21 points that the Broncos converted their first 3rd down of the second half.
The irony is, that Osweiler didn’t complete another pass the rest of the day, even though a Ben Roethlisberger interception at the 2:08 mark gave him a gift-wrapped chance to be a hero. He targeted Sanders on 3 of his final seven passes, but he over threw him once and saw Will Allen and William Gay defend the other two.
Steelers Beat Broncos, Stand Strong at 9-5
The Pittsburgh Steelers have won some big games and staged some dramatic comebacks under difficult circumstances thus far in 2015. But the comeback vs. the Broncos somehow has a different feel to it.
- Denver came into Pittsburgh leading the NFL in no less than 7 different categories.
No one had scored 30 points on Denver all season, and the Broncos defense was only giving up 17 points a game. Those are Blitzburgh like numbers; defenses are not supposed to do that in today’s NFL. Moreover, with Osweiler calling the signals, the Broncos had knocked off the New England Patriots, who’d looked unstoppable.
- For 30 minutes, the Broncos appeared poised to knockoff the Steelers too.
But Steelers didn’t let that happen. The Steelers succeeded because, as Mike Tomlin explained, “When things get bad, you can’t go mute and they didn’t.” Good communication, trust in teammates and mental toughness fueled the Steelers comeback.
You can pull a lot of impressive offensive and defensive statistics out of the Steelers victory over the Broncos. But it is those intangible three characteristics that cement Pittsburgh’s contender status.