September 9, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a touchdown pass during the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
On one hand, the Steelers allowed four less points, and scored 12 more points in this year's opener.
On the other, it's the second consecutive season-opening road loss to an AFC contender, the 2012 version of this story being the Steelers' 31-19 loss at Denver Sunday night.
In 2011, Ravens QB Joe Flacco threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns. This year, Broncos QB Peyton Manning threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns. This one, however, was competitive until Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger finally got burned by Broncos CB Tracy Porter, who took an interception 44 yards for a backbreaking touchdown with two minutes left in the game.
It's the second consecutive season-opening loss for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who had previously won four in a row to start his career in Pittsburgh. His team looked a bit more lively this year, but still had enough holes both offensively and defensively to raise questions about how this season will fare record-wise.
Manning and the Broncos offense carved the Steelers up in a no-huddle approach despite only having the ball for 24:55 in the game.
When Manning threw, he made it count.
Completing 19 of 26 passes, Manning looked mentally as sharp as ever, even if he seemed to have lost the tight spirals he flung all over Indianapolis in the first 12 seasons. Regardless of how they looked, they found the hands of his receivers plenty often, particularly in the second half.
Manning had four completions in his first seven throws, and finished 15-for-19 with his two touchdowns - a 71-yard run-and-catch by Steelers' nemesis Demaryius Thomas, and a one-yard strike to TE Jacob Tamme.
Roethlisberger looked like the player he was at the start of his career; strong-armed, lethal on the move and sometimes a bit too reckless. With a beaten up offensive line and little help in the running game, Roethlisberger dipped into Porter's well once too often. Porter blanketed Steelers receivers all night, and nearly had two other interceptions prior to his pick six.
Pittsburgh rushed 26 times for 75 yards - 2.9 yards per carry. With right tackle Marcus Gilbert out with a knee injury and right guard Ramon Foster out with an eye issue, the Steelers played the entire second half without a back-up lineman. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders went out in the third quarter after being drilled in the head by a Broncos receiver. He would eventually return, but it was another in a troubling list of injuries for the Steelers.
They entered the game down outside linebacker James Harrison, and the Steelers' inability to generate any kind of pass rush in the second half was part of their downfall. The Steelers were dominated at the point of attack in the running and passing games, and looked gassed, despite owning a huge advantage in time of possession.
Oddly, the last time they were in Denver, their defensive line was down to bare bones, and they fought to keep the game close. The Steelers' defense gave up 13 points over the last 9:24 of the game, but the offense didn't fare any better. After Roethlisberger hit WR Mike Wallace for a three-yard touchdown, the Steelers gained 36 yards on eight plays, including allowing three sacks - two to Von Miller - before turning the ball over on downs to end the game.
The Steelers regroup and prepare to take on the New York Jets in their home opener Sept. 16.