It was a picturesque day in Denver, CO for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos to do battle in the divisional round of the AFC Playoffs, and the Steelers certainly had the deck stacked against them with Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams out of the lineup due to injury, and Ben Roethlisberger nursing an injured throwing shoulder. Nonetheless, the Steelers lost the coin toss and the Broncos chose to test Roethlisberger's arm first by deferring to the second half.
After a quick three-and-out for the Steelers' offense, a 42-yard punt return put Denver and Peyton Manning at the Pittsburgh 30-yard line to start their first drive, but the Pittsburgh defense was able to stand tall and hold the Broncos to a 28-yard field goal by Brandon McManus to give the Broncos an early 3-0 lead with 11:21 left in the game.
Despite a gamble by Mike Tomlin to go for it on 4th and 1, the Steelers and Broncos exchanged possessions until the Broncos got tremendous field position after a poor Jordan Berry punt which set up another McManus field goal, this one from 41-yards out, to give the Broncos a 6-0 lead with 3:40 left in the opening quarter.
After the field goal, Martavis Bryant took over on the next Steelers drive. A big catch over the middle of the field, followed by a 40-yard end around run put the Steelers inside the Denver 10-yard line. Two consecutive Fitzgerald Toussaint runs equated in the first TD of the day. The Chris Boswell extra point gave the Steelers a 7-6 lead with 1:22 left in the opening frame.
The Steelers defense was able to stop Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense, and on their next drive it was a 58-yard pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey which moved the Steelers into field goal range. Chris Boswell nailed 43-yard field goal attempt to extend the Steelers' lead to 10-6 with 10:19 left in the second quarter.
With the football and just over two minutes remaining in the half, Peyton Manning was able to lead the Broncos into field goal range and the drive was capped off with another McManus 51-yard field goal as time on the first half ran out to make the score 10-9 in favor of Pittsburgh heading into intermission.
The Broncos received the ball to start the second half, but a short drive resulted in another Britton Colquitt giving the Steelers at their own 21-yard line for their first drive of the second half. On the second play, Roethlisberger hit Bryant for a 52-yard pass play to move the ball into Denver territory. However, the drive stalled inside the 10-yard line, and another Chris Boswell field goal, from 28-yards, extended the Steelers' lead to 13-9 with 9:32 left in the third quarter.
Again, after a short Jordan Berry punt, Manning and the Broncos started with phenomenal field position at the Denver 43-yard line. A great mixture of short passes and runs moved them into Pittsburgh territory, but again, had to settle for a McManus field goal. The 41-yard field goal was good, and moved the score to 13-12 Pittsburgh with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
The score didn't change heading into the fourth quarter, and it was a battle of field position going back-and-forth with neither team able to sustain a drive leading to points. When it looked like Pittsburgh was driving for points after big completions to Jesse James and Markus Wheaton, Toussaint fumbled the football and was recovered by DeMarcus Ware of the Broncos.
The Broncos took the ball at the Pittsburgh 35-yard line and Manning orchestrated a terrific drive as they moved into the Steelers' red-zone with 5:00 left in the game. Three plays later it was C.J. Anderson scoring a touchdown for the Broncos giving them an 18-13 lead with 3:00 in the game. The Broncos went for the two-point conversion to make it a full touchdown lead, and it was successfully executed to Demaryius Thomas to give the Broncos a 20-13 lead.
Ben Roethlisberger took over with a chance to prove why he is considered an elite quarterback in the NFL, and was unable to convert a 4th and 5 as he was sacked and turned the ball over on downs, leading to another McManus field goal putting an extra three points on the board for Denver. The Steelers drove quickly into Denver territory and Boswell hit a 47-yard field goal with 9 seconds left to give Pittsburgh a chance to kick an onsides kick and a chance at a hail mary pass. The onside kick failed and ultimately put an end to the Steelers' season.
The Steelers season certainly was filled with ups and downs, twists and turns and plenty of adversity along the way, but in the end it was simply too little, too late.