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Failure to Finish: Steelers Fall Short in Tough 23-16 Loss to Broncos in AFC Divisional Playoffs

It was there for the taking, and in the end critical mistakes did in the black and gold, ending their 2015 season.

The result was a tough to swallow 23-16 loss to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, ending the Steelers season with a tremendous effort highlighted by the play of banged up quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The QB, who was playing with a sore shoulder and a reported two torn ligaments, threw for 339 yards and was effective against the NFL’s first ranked defense.

He did it without his favorite wide out, Antonio Brown, and instead turned to Martavis Bryant, who caught 9 passes for 154 yards. Rookie Sammie Coates in his first game even got in on the action without Brown, catching two passes for 61 yards.

Many will point to a critical fumble by Fitzgerald Toussaint with 10 minutes to play that the Broncos recovered and the Steelers up 13-12. Denver with Manning leading the way drove the field and C.J. Anderson scored the winning touchdown with 3:04 left to play.

After going up 20-13 with a two-point conversion, the Steelers had one last shot with Roethlisberger, but after a 17-yard gain on the first play, they were unable to move the ball anymore, and turned it over on a Ben sack on fourth down.

Denver kicked a field goal to make it 23-13, and the Steelers then quickly marched downfield and Chris Boswell kicked a 47-yard field goal to make it 23-16 with 24 seconds left.

An attempt at an onside kick failed, and Denver ran out the clock to advance to the AFC Title game.

It’s the first loss for Roethlisberger in an AFC Divisional Playoff game, dropping him to 4-1 overall. As always, Mike Tomlin had a good attitude after the loss. ‘We came up a few plays short, such is life,’ the coach said.

The Steelers outgained Denver 396 to 324, and in the end it came down to just a couple plays that didn’t go the Steelers way.

Matt Loede has been in the sports media for over 16 years, with experience covering the MLB, NBA, and NFL. On Sunday’s during football season, you can hear Matt on national networks like Fox Sports Radio, Associated Press, and others. Born and raised in Cleveland Ohio, Matt studies and talks football inside and out, and is anxious to share his thoughts and comments with readers on a daily basis.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. DrGeorge

    January 18, 2016 at 9:46 am

    Misplaced blame is rampant in sports. Yesterday, Touissant, a third-string running back, fumbled late in the game; the fumble led to the go-ahead TD for the Broncos. The Steelers lost 23-16. Touissant manfully accepted blame for the defeat. And in truth, he did carry the ball loosely throughout the game and failed to cover the ball with two hands in traffic, a failing the running backs coach has surely called to his attention before. It was the team’s only turnover, for a change. On the plus side, Touissant also scored the team’s only touchdown. He does not deserve all of the blame, or even the lion’s share of it.

    One must ask why an offense so talented could muster only 16 points in the first place, 9 of those points from field goals? Once again, Ben R. and his receivers put up big numbers, and once again, those lofty statistics failed to translate into points. Red zone performance again underwhelmed. Touissant was not responsible for that failing. The coaches were.

    As in previous games, Haley failed to run the ball consistently. The backs gained 95 rushing yards on 19 attempts, a 4.4 average, despite the fact that the plays called were often ill-advised in terms of timing and the defensive set. The backs ran well in spite of those calls and out-performed the Denver backs. The tight ends were under-utilized too; they received very few passes, although they were effective when used. The blame for all that lies with Haley. But he is encouraged in this by Tomlin, who has a penchant for the big play, the splash play, over consistency. Consider the first play of the game, a long bomb by Ben R. to prove his arm was strong enough to throw deep in spite of his injury. Tomlin surely dictated that play, and that low-percentage pass resulted in an incompletion that assured a 3-and-out for our first series and a punt from our own end zone. That is only one example. Throughout the game, Tomlin preferred the pass to pounding the ball, and that too cost the team. Meanwhile Denver rushed the ball 33 times. Indeed, all of the victorious teams – New England, Carolina, Arizona – ran the ball often and well yesterday.

    This morning, the media is praising the Steelers for accomplishing more than anyone had a right to expect, given the team’s many injuries. That is a fair assessment. But the better question is whether the Steelers ought to have won this particular game. In fact, they should. And with a different coach, even with all the injuries, this team was assuredly good enough to score more than one TD. And that under-performance must be laid at the feet of Haley and Tomlin.

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