In the pilot episode of Burn Notice, the old USA Network show about burned spy Michael Westen, Westen talks about how the bad guys expect the good guys to just sit back and wait for them to attack "like those are the rules or something."
In the days leading up to the Steelers very important Week 15 tilt against the Broncos and their top ranked defense that also included an impressive number one rating against the pass--allowing just 188 yards a game and no 300 yard passer all year--it was generally assumed that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would have his hands full.
After all, the general consensus is that great defense trumps great offense all the time (like those are the rules or something).
It would be disingenuous to state that Denver's defensive backs and linebackers didn't look quite impressive and technically sound Sunday evening, as they tried to cover Pittsburgh's plethora of receiving targets. However, in what ultimately became a 34-27 come-from-behind victory for the Steelers, Roethlisberger indeed looked like he might be the most physically gifted quarterback in the NFL right now (an honor that was bestowed on the 12-year veteran last week in a column by Andy Benoit of SI.com).
The Broncos defense, despite missing its two starting safeties, came as advertised for the majority of the first half, limiting Pittsburgh to 10 points--including a 21-yard touchdown drive that came on the heels of a fumble by running back Ronnie Hillman on Denver's first offensive series.
Denver built what looked like an insurmountable 27-10 lead on a six-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brock Osweiler to receiver Demaryius Thomas with less than two minutes remaining in the first half.
With Denver's offense having its way with the Steelers defense and the Broncos defense effectively stifling Pittsburgh's offense, it looked like it would be a very forgettable final regular season home game at Heinz Field.
However, from the 1:50 mark of the second quarter on, Roethlisberger passed for 239 yards and three touchdowns, as the Steelers scored 24 unanswered points--including 21 in the second half--to complete a memorable comeback that lifted Pittsburgh into the sixth spot in the AFC playoff race with only two weeks to go.
All-in-all, Roethlisberger attempted 55 passes against Denver's vaunted defense and somehow managed to complete 40 of them for 380 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Obviously, he became the first quarterback to top 300 yards against the Broncos this season and showed everyone that it's not a foregone conclusion that great defense always trumps great offense.
It wasn't a perfect day for No. 7, considering his second interception was an ill-advised sideline pass to DeAngelo Williams when he was out of the pocket and could have very easily thrown it into the stands instead of trying to force the issue to his well-covered running back. That pick came at the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter, right after Pittsburgh's defense held the Broncos' offense on downs and it looked like victory was secure for the home team.
Had the Broncos managed to come back to win the game on Sunday, the Roethlisberger narrative may have been a bit different. However, that didn't happen, and today it's okay to celebrate the true physical gifts of the Steelers quarterback, who, like a veteran actor that finds Oscar gold late in his career after not getting any love for his earlier work, is playing like and finally getting the true recognition he deserves as maybe the game's best.