Failure in Denver; Steelers Lose Chance to Advance in Shocking 29-23 Loss to Broncos

Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) breaks away from Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Ryan Mundy (29) for the winning touchdown

Failure from top to bottom.

The Steelers played a team Sunday in the postseason that they were four games better than in the win column, but in the end, they failed in just about every area, losing to the Denver Broncos 29-23 in OT to wrap up the 2011 season.

The year ends with a 12-5 record, and a rash of injuries that would have made it near impossible to make it far in the postseason. Despite all that, not many people gave Tim Tebow and the Broncos a shot to beat what was the NFL’s #1 ranked defense.

Instead, the #1 ranked D lost both Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel on the D-line early in the game, and while the Steelers held Denver to 8 yards in the first half, after losing the two linemen the Steelers defense was nowhere near as formidable as it was with them.

Tebow and Denver went on a scoring spree in the second quarter, scoring 20 points in the quarter, and 17 points in about 6 minutes. It’s a minor miracle the Steelers made it as much of a game as it was.

They were able to rally and tie it a one-yard TD run from Mike Wallace, and then a Shaun Suisham 37-yard field goal with 9:59 to play. After LaMarr Woodley recovered a fumble, the Steelers tied the game with 3:48 to play when Ben Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery with a 31-yard touchdown.

They had a chance to win it in regulation, but a couple sacks and a strip sack cost them that chance. Instead, they the last offensive play of the year was a sack, as they never got another offensive snap.

With the ball at the 20, Tebow connected with Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown pass where Ryan Mundy came up for help against the run, and Tebow threw a perfect pass to Thomas, who torched Ike Taylor for 204 yards on four catches.

Thomas hauled in a high play-action pass at the Denver 38, stiff-armed Taylor and then outraced Mundy to the end zone. Tebow knelt in his own end zone, pounding a fist in triumph before taking a victory lap in jubilation, ending the season for the Steelers.

Tebow threw for 316 yards on 10-for-21 passing. Roethlisberger was 22-for-40 for 289 yards with a touchdown and a pick.

Issac Redmen filled in more than well for injured Rashard Mendenhall, as he raced for 121 yards on 17 carries. Emmanuel Sanders led the wide out core with 6 grabs for 88 yards.

The blame should go all the way around. The Broncos made adjustments against the Steelers defense, and the Steelers did not. The offense looked great at the start, then failed miserably.

Bottom line, they may have lost next Saturday to the Patriots, but now we will never get a chance to see if that would have happened or not. Instead, it’s another missed chance, just like the two losses to the Ravens, the loss to Houston, and the loss to the Niners.

About the Author

Matt Loede
Matt Loede has been in the sports media for over 16 years, with experience covering Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and of course, the National Football League. On NFL Sunday’s you can hear Matt on National networks like Fox Sports Radio, Associated Press, and other stations around the country. Matt also joined The Washington Post in 2009 as a guest columnist on league hot topics. Born and raised in Cleveland, Matt studies and talks football inside and out, and is anxious to share his thoughts and comments with readers on a daily basis.

24 Comments on "Failure in Denver; Steelers Lose Chance to Advance in Shocking 29-23 Loss to Broncos"

  1. The only good news to be taken from this game is that the Steelers do not need Mendenhall and should not take a RB in the draft until the 6th or 7th round ever again. An undrafted free agent will be our starting running back next year.

    I have been probably the most positive person on this site all year and even i can not make an excuse for that abortion today. Tomlin should be embarrassed with the game plan he signed off on. So frustrating. There will be lots of changes next year: Farrior is gonna be gone, Hampton, Smith, Ward among others. Although i can see them keeping Ward as the fifth wideout.

    The biggest change they need to make is with their game plans. We should NOT go back to running the ball 60% of the time but we need to have a better philosophy on offense. We have receivers that run to close to each other and get congested. Our running attack and blocking schemes are poor and we have a QB that is unwilling to throw it away.

    As long as the Ravens don’t win…

    • Peter, I’ve always been one of the most critical people on this blog –which has caused others to incorrectly accuse me of being from Baltimore, I’ve been a Steelers fan all of my life– but I appreciate those like you who are always positive, although I don’t understand such devotion.

      This game shines a bright light on a problem with the Steelers coaching staff that goes back to Bill Cowher, the fact that their coaches seem incapable of making in-game adjustments. I rank this coaching performance with debacles of the 2001 AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl XLV. In my opinion this calls into question the coaching acumen of Mike Tomlin.

      I had hoped the Steelers were going to heed the words of Art Rooney II and begin running the ball more. They averged 6.0 yards per carry, but only attempted 17 rushes during the game, that’s less than 30% of the time and it’s unacceptable. Its time to get back to a more balanced offense, it protects the defense by keeping them off of the field, and keeps the ball out of the hands of your opponents hands.

      I agree that many changes are coming for the Steelers, my hope is that they start with Bruce Arians. I figure Ward, Smith, Farrior, Batch, Colon and Clark will all be gone, but, for the most part, their replacements will aptly carry on the Steelers winning tradition. I think the transition period will be a short one like the one that preceded this latest championship run. My only question is if Mike Tomlin is going to be Bill Cowher-like, or continue to feed to my fear that he has no real coaching talent and just benefitted from inheriting a championship-caliber team.

    • You’d rather the Patriots win the AFC than the Ravens? Screw that, I hate the overrated Pats. If neither could win obviously that would be best, but I’ll take the Ravens over them.

  2. Loede you’re team got tebow’d bwahahahaha

  3. @Thomas Crowley

    and Tebow and the Broncos will get Brady’d

  4. Once again…. AHH never mind. Why beat a dead horse. Im tired of being right about my Steelers. Is anyone out there going to make a weak excuse on why the Steelers stunk in Denver? I really dont want to hear it. They havent played well in months and tonight it came to a head.

    • From a Ravens fan:

      The Steelers “stunk” because they had enough players injured to start ANOTHER football team.

      Those left on the field played hard-nosed AFC North football, and I, for one, am glad that your team and our team will be knocking helmets for years to come.

  5. Been saying for months that the Steelers have looked bad on the road all season. There was no reason to believe it wouldn’t continue.

  6. All pretty much down hill since they peaked against New England. What may have been a dynamic offense never really panned out due to line problems, the bubble screen obsession, Wallace going MIA and Ben getting hurt.

  7. Why oh why didn’t they choose to close this game out in regulation with a fake extra point and a 2 point conversion?

  8. Long before this game, the Steelers offense struggled to score; then Ben got hurt, and the decline became pronounced. I have said repeatedly that without Ben, Arian’s offense doesn’t work, and Ben was about 60% tonight. Look at our red zone inefficiency. In the playoffs, that isn’t good enough. Despite Redman’s outstanding 7.1 yds per carry, Arians disdained the run once again when it counted. Even when he did run the ball, he ran the most obvious plays, except for the goal line flanker reverse. Our blocking schemes were elementary, as others have noted. Our offensive game plan was again flawed. Offensively, we were simply out-coached, and the ineptitude of the Arians’ offense put added pressure on our decimated Defense. I do hope this signals the end of the Arians’ era.

    On defense, it was another story, due to the many injuries. Hampton, Woodley, Keisel, and Clark watched much of the game from the sidelines, and the D was already weakened by the absence of A. Smith, Chris Hoke, Chris Carter and K. Lewis. Gay was forced to play CB and proved once again why he shouldn’t. Fans can only expect LeBeau to compensate for one or two weak positions, not five or six. Our injuries this year simply reduced this D to an average one. (I’m not impressed with the statistical #1 ranking; we all know that this is not the #1 defense in the NFL, even on a good day, and it certainly did not play like it tonight.) In particular, the young defensive players that I urged to step up all season didn’t shine when the opportunity arose. Where were Hood, Heyward, McClendon, and Worilds? After Keisel went down, the Steelers failed to get any pressure on Tebow, and as a consequence, we made a mediocre QB look much better than he is. And without a pass rush, Taylor, Gay and Polamalu showed once again their deficiencies in man coverage.

    There is a silver lining to this loss, however. We earned a higher draft pick tonight than we would have had by beating Denver and then losing to New England. I agree with Loede: this team was not ready to play New England or anybody good. So better to lose early than late and try to use the better draft position to shore up the many holes in the D.

    As noted at the start of this season, the Steelers took a calculated risk in hanging on to their elderly veterans for one more Super Bowl run. It was a defensible risk that might have worked out, if injuries had not taken their toll on so many. But we crapped out in Denver. Now, we face a wholesale house cleaning. There will be huge holes left by the many big-name departing veterans. Fans should expect to see many new faces in 2012 and be prepared to suffer through a long rebuilding year.

  9. What in the world is Troy doing out there today. No help at all over the top. He looked very slow. Like Ed Reed, I think his best days are way behind him. No safety help at all. Need a Round #1 Saftey or the Raven will be atop the division for a long time.


    • Absolutely right, Steve. I understand that because I am not in the huddle that things might not always be what they appear but it did seem to me that he was never in the right place at the right time. It felt as though as Troy wasn’t even on the field. Kept waiting for him to force a turnover or come up with a big tackle. Then again, this can apply to all eleven players on that side of the ball. See you in April at the draft.

    • Troy was probably trying to do too much to compensate for the rash of injuries. Did not like his results, but loved (and always will) love his passion for the game.

      • Peej, you hit the nail on the head. Troy tends to be over-aggressive, and has had trouble in pass coverage in the past because of it. But I agree with you that against Denver he was also trying to help a wounded defense and simply got himself out of position.

  10. should be an interesting off-season

  11. This game proved once and for all how pathetic, predictable and uncreative Bruce Arians is as a play caller. The Steelers organization needs to shake it up hard. This is a team that has some of the best talent anywhere that consistantly played down to or below competition. They got whipped by a team that crawled into the playoffs in the worst division in the NFL. Sad, sad, sad football. Every chance the Steelers had to make a statement this year, they fell flat. That is coaching. Without some serious change we are headed for the basement of the division.

  12. I have a question for the author regarding “it’s another missed chance, just like the two losses to the Ravens, the loss to Houston, and the loss to the Niners.” Basically what you are saying is that all losses are missed chances or failed opportunities, correct?

  13. Maybe if Wisenhunt gets fired for Arizona he will be inclined to come back to Pittsburgh, but that’s not likely haha

    • Don’t we wish. Wisenhut and Malarkey were both superb offensive coordinators. But once they become head coaches, it’s difficult for them to swallow their pride and come back. LeBeau is one of the few who has done that. Wouldn’t you just love to see this offense run some of Wisenhut’s famed gadget plays during the Cowher era? I mean, after he rebuilt the offense, of course. The present line probably couldn’t execute them. But if Wisenhut had this unit, it wouldn’t be long before they could.

  14. Damn I wanted to see the Ravens beat us 3 times this season, really, that would wake us up.

  15. I think everyone,organization included,just needs to let the dust settle. poor game planning and execution cost the Steelers on sunday. Changes need to be made and the organization will evaluate and make them.I do not think that Ryan Clark and Willie Colon will be amongst the changes. Clark had his best season and Colon will be in season 2 of a five year deal.
    I too would like to see Arians leave but that change may set Ben back a bit so it may be a bit of a catch 22. Draft needs should be OG, NT, and linebacker depth at all four spots. The pain of this loss will subside quickly and then the fun of the off season can begin.GO STEELERS AND STEELER NATION!

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