Denver’s Mile High Stadium is the site of landmark Steelers victories such as the 1984 playoff upset of the Orange Crush and the 2005 AFC Championship win that paved the way for Super Bowl XL. But it is also the same venue where Steelers have suffered several agonizing defeats:
- A failed snap between Chuck Lanza and Bubby Brister doomed the ’89 Steelers in the playoffs
- Tim Tebow, of all people, ended ’11 Steelers playoffs with a bang and slammed their Super Bowl window shut
- A Fitzgerald Toussaint fumble and a 3rd & 17 conversion doomed the ’15 Steelers in the playoffs
With that backdrop, Mike Tomlin’s 2018 Steelers traveled to Mile High Stadium and lost a hard fought game to the Denver Broncos to the tune of 24 to 17. And, like so many defeats before, what stings the worst about this loss is its self-inflicted nature.
Steelers Sketch Game Narrative by Leaving 10 Points on the Board
Every football game tells its own story. In some games, the protagonists spontaneously interact against each other on the field leaving the outcome in doubt until the final bell. Last week’s win over the Jaguars offers a perfect example of that type of game.
- The story of other games is formulaic, evolving like a plotted novel whose finale is predictable from the first page onward.
Pittsburgh’s loss to Denver was an example of that second type of game. The Steelers established the narrative in the contest’s first 16 minutes, and they kept going back to its familiar refrain until the bitter end.
- On their very first possession, the Steelers marched down the field to the Broncos 30 where Justin Simmons blocked a Chris Boswell field goal.
The Broncos have been blocking kicks all season, and Justin Simmons has already blocked a field goal. Danny Smith knew this, but it still happened. Only 9:36 had elapsed in the game, and Steelers special team’s failures had already taken 3 points off the board.
The Broncos didn’t respond with anything spectacular, save for transforming a blown Jon Bostic coverage into a 29 yard gain, but they managed to kick a field goal without anyone from Pittsburgh touching it.
Ben Roethlisberger, mindful of the to need stay out of Von Miller’s sights, nickeled and dimed his way down the field with short passes to Jesse James and Ryan Switzer, until reaching Denver’s 27 where he hit Xaiver Grimble in the middle.
With most of the Broncos defense concentrated on the strong side of the Steelers offense, Grimble had a straight shot to the end zone. However, Will Parks arrived in time to hit him at the goal line and knocked the ball lose where it rolled out of bounds in the end zone. So it was touchback Denver instead of touchdown Pittsburgh.
The game was only 16 minutes old and the Steelers had left 10 points off the board.
Plot Twist: Fake Field Goal and Quick Strike TD Keep People in Their Seats
Even the most serialized Hollywood sitcom manages to provide enough plot twists to keep the audience in their seats, and so it was with the Steelers at Mile High. At the end of the first half the Steelers authored the first of two plot twisting teasers that they executed well enough to convince everyone that this was a game that might go off script.
- After getting on the board with a field goal of their own, the Steelers then gave up an all-too easy 75 yard touchdown drive, putting themselves behind 0-3.
But, with just over 3 minutes left, Ben Roethlisberger got the ball back, and proceeded to hit Vance McDonald and Ryan Switzer to bring the Steelers down to Denver’s 2 where the drive stalled. With little time remaining, Mike Tomlin opted to take the safe route and kick a short field goal going into the half.
- Except the ball went directly to Chris Boswell who tossed a 2 yard strike to Alejandro Villanueva tying the score at 10.
The Steelers fireworks continued in the second half. After Denver pinned the Steelers deep into their own territory, Randy Fichtner opted to risk a pass from his own end zone, where Ben Roethlisberger hit JuJu Smith-Schuster with a 97 yard touchdown pass, putting the Steelers up 17 to 10.
The Steelers defense limited Denver to just two yards on the next drive as Pittsburgh gave every appearance of a superior team that was faithfully playing its role by taking control of the game….
Steelers Stick to Self-Destructive Storyline Set in First Half
…Except that the Steelers of course weren’t the superior team on this afternoon as they quickly reverted to the storyline they’d set for themselves early in the game.
On the Steelers next possession, Ben Roethlisberger targeted but badly missed Antonio Brown. Chris Harris Jr. intercepted, and it only took the Denver Broncos two plays to get Emmanuel Sanders into the end zone for the tying score.
As the third quarter ended, the Steelers again moved into scoring position as James Conner reached the Denver 21 yard line, only to fumble the ball away to the Broncos. Denver fed the ball to Phillip Lindsay who the Steelers were powerless to stop, and the Broncos scored the go ahead touchdown to begin the 4th quarter.
- Every good story has a convincing climax, and the Steelers latest moment of Mile High Misery is no exception.
Javon Hargrave got the end game sequence started with a sack of Case Keenum that forced a punt. Ben Roethlisberger got the ball with 4:26 left to go, and he moved the offense down the field in workman like fashion. The Steelers reached to the Broncos 3 just inside the 2 minute warning.
After an unsuccessful pass and a 1 yard run, on third and goal from the two, almost as if on cue, Ben Roethlisberger tried to force the ball to Antonio Brown and Shelby Harris ended the game with an interception.
The Steelers Mile High Misery is of Their Own Making
Of course a football game isn’t a novel or a TV show. Outcomes are never pre-ordained. Whenever pushed during the season to “speak in broad strokes” about some sort of tendency, Mike Tomlin will respond by insisting that “We are still writing our own story.”
- And so it is, as it has been with the Pittsburgh Steelers at Mile High Stadium.
While the Denver Broncos offense certainly revealed and then exploited a number of weaknesses within the Steelers defense, Pittsburgh’s offense was responsible for the defining plays in this contest.
- And, as it does at Mile High, the Steelers offense provided the game’s defining moments by turning the ball over at critical moments.
This latest loss brings Pittsburgh record at Denver to 5-13. And like so many times before, the Steelers Mile High Misery is of their own making.