The Pittsburgh Steelers fell behind early, but overcame a fourteen-point deficit in the second half to take the Denver Broncos to overtime.
However, their hopes of advancing to the next round of the playoffs vanished in one play. Tim Tebow found Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of overtime to send the Steelers to an early offseason back in Pittsburgh.
That play was the capper for Thomas, who abused stud cornerback Ike Taylor for 204 yards on four receptions on the afternoon.
Surprisingly, the game’s opening quarter was all-Pittsburgh. The Steelers offense broke onto the scoreboard on their first offensive chance thanks to a 45-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s defense came out red hot in the first quarter, holding Denver to a three-and-out on each of its first two possessions.
It looked like it would be an all-Pittsburgh affair in the team’s first postseason game, even though the offense had to settle for another field goal instead of a touchdown at the end of the quarter, putting the Steelers up 6-0 against a low-scoring Broncos team.
Then the tides turned.
Denver took over and began its domination of the second quarter. Four plays in, the Broncos took the lead on the strength of two big pass plays. Demaryius Thomas soundly beat Ike Taylor for a 51-yard reception that set up a connection from Tim Tebow to Eddie Royal for the 30-yard go-ahead touchdown.
Another long toss to Thomas – this time a 58-yard gain – set up yet another touchdown one drive later. All of the sudden, the Broncos were up 14-6.
Denver would tack on two more field goals in the quarter while their Pittsburgh counterparts floundered. An interception by Ben Roethlisberger and a botched snap between Big Ben and center Doug Legursky squashed two potential scoring drives.
Down 20-6 at halftime, the Steelers needed a big second-half spark to climb back into the game.
Isaac Redman was that spark. The undrafted runner, making his first postseason start in relief of Rashard Mendenhall, broke off a 32-yard run on Pittsburgh’s first possession in the second half to set up a one-yard end around by Mike Wallace.
Denver’s Matt Prater once again made it a two-possession game early in the fourth quarter with a 35-yard field goal, but Shaun Suisham matched him soon after from 37-yards out.
Pittsburgh got the ball back a few plays later thanks to a fumble by Willis McGahee. Ben and the offense were able to capitalize on that mistake, and the quarterback found veteran Jerricho Cotchery for a 31-yard touchdown, tying the game at 23-all.
The Steelers actually had one last chance to score in the fourth quarter, but the possession stalled as a result of untimely mistakes and poor clock management.
That wasted possession would prove costly, as Thomas’ overtime score ensured that the Steelers offense would never get another crack with the football.
Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel both left the game with injuries in the first half, leaving the Steelers with only three defensive linemen for the majority of the game. LB LaMarr Woodley and OT Max Starks both left the game with injuries, but would return.
Through the Air
Ben Roethlisberger’s ankle clearly caused him some issues. Big Ben hit on 22 of his 40 passes for 289 yards and a TD, but took five sacks and had one interception. Emmanuel Sanders led the way with six catches for 81 yards. Antonio Brown (80 yards) and Heath Miller (70 yards) both netted five catches. Jerricho Cotchery caught the team’s only touchdown through the air, a 31-yard score that tied the game.
On the Ground
Isaac Redman was sensational, racking up 121 yards on 17 carries. Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown both chipped in on the ground, with Wallace scoring a one-yard touchdown and Brown picking up 18-yards on an end around.
Pittsburgh’s defense managed to slow down the Denver running game, but Tim Tebow hit big play after big play to eke out the victory. The Steelers, who hadn’t allowed a 100-yard receiver all season, gave up 204 yards to Demaryius Thomas. The Steelers’ pass rush failed to sack Tebow. Ike Taylor led the team with 7 total tackles, but gave up a number of long pass plays.
Shaun Suisham did his job, hitting all three of his field goal attempts with a long of 45 yards. Jeremy Kapinos averaged a solid 46.0 yards on his four punts. Antonio Brown, the AFC’s Pro Bowl returner, never got a chance to make a return.
Redman ran with fire in his postseason start and definitely made a case for a bigger role with the team next season.