The Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos entered Week 12 with very different AFC Playoff potential swirling around them. With a 7-2-1 record, the Steelers had won six games in a row and were hoping to keep pace with the Kansas City Chiefs and secure a first round bye in the playoffs. With a 4-6 record, the Broncos desperately needed to win to stay relevant in the playoff hunt with several other teams hanging around the .500 mark.
The two AFC teams went head-to-head at Mile High in Denver, the Steelers’ second straight road game, and it was the Broncos who started with the football after Pittsburgh deferred their possession to the start of the third quarter.
Denver’s offense failed to gain a first down to open the game, and had to punt the ball to the always lethal Pittsburgh offense. Ben Roethlisberger and company wasted little time moving the ball into Denver territory. Passes to Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jaylen Samuels set up the offense for a 48 yard Chris Boswell field goal, but Justin Simmons blocked the kick, giving the ball back to Denver with good field position.
The Broncos’ offense took over at the 38 yard line, and was able to turn the turnover into three points by way of a Brandon McManus field goal to give Denver an early 3-0 lead.
With the Steelers in need of an answer they got just that when Roethlisberger and company, again, methodically moved the ball into Denver territory. On a 3rd and 1, Roethlisberger pulled off a beautiful play fake to James Conner and hit a wide open Xavier Grimble who was hit at the one yard line, and fumbled the football into the endzone. By rule, it is a turnover, and a touchback for the Broncos.
The Steelers’ defense kept Denver from adding to their lead, and Pittsburgh continued to move the ball well against the Broncos’ defense, but as well as they had played they had little to show for it. On their third drive the offense was finally able to put up points, by way of a Chris Boswell field goal, to tie the game 3-3 with 6:29 left in the first half.
Pittsburgh’s defense certainly loosened on the next drive as Keenum hit several big pass plays, and back-to-back throws to Matt LaCosse, the latter resulting in a 10 yard touchdown. The point-after was good, and gave Denver a 10-3 lead with 3:27 left in the second quarter.
Ben Roethlisberger looked to Ryan Switzer early and often throughout the ensuing drive, and it got the offense inside the 10 yard line with under a minute remaining in the first half. When Smith-Schuster was stopped short on 3rd and goal, Chris Boswell was sent onto the field to kick the field goal, but the team faked the field goal and Boswell threw a strike to Alejandro Villanueva for the game-tying touchdown.
CHRIS BOSWELL— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 25, 2018
(Yes, you read that correctly.) pic.twitter.com/0FtvWfCkCO
Both teams headed into halftime with a 10-10 score.
To start the second half, both teams exchanged punts on their opening drives, but on their second possession, starting at their own 3 yard line, Ben Roethlisberger hit JuJu Smith-Schuster in stride for a 97 yard catch and run for a touchdown. The score gave the Steelers a 17-10 lead.
9— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 25, 2018
After a Denver three-and-out, it looked as if the Steelers were going to add to their lead, instead on 3rd and 3, coming off a timeout, Roethlisberger was intercepted by Chris Harris Jr. — giving the Broncos renewed life.
Two plays later, both from Keenum to Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos tied the game 10-10. The final play was a 5 yard pass to Sanders as Keenum scrambled to his right and hit his favorite target in the back of the endzone.
All knotted at 17, the Steelers looked to be threatening to add to their point total, but another turnover came back and bit them when it mattered most. This time, it was James Conner who was running after a beautiful screen pass who coughed up the ball and watched it be recovered by the Broncos at their 21 yard line.
Patrick Lindsey and the Denver offense moved the ball with efficiency down the field, and turned yet another Steelers’ turnover into a touchdown. Lindsey walked into the endzone for the go-ahead score, and marked 14 points Broncos gained off Pittsburgh turnovers.
Both teams exchanged punts before the Steelers received the ball with just over 4 minutes left in the game, desperately needing the tying score, Roethlisberger hit Smith-Schuster two big plays to move the team inside the 5 yard line in a first-and-goal situation. On 3rd down, Roethlisberger throws a game-clinching interception to a defensive linemen to end the game.
The loss moves the Steelers’ record to 7-3-1, and ends their winning streak at six games. Pittsburgh will host the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night Football in Heinz Field in Week 13.