It was improbable at best. After a dismal first half which saw the Pittsburgh Steelers trailing by 17-points, the second half was a full on fireworks display. The game of football is largely a giant mass of plays, but sometimes a few can decide the outcome of the game. A key catch on third down, a blitz run to perfection or a goal line stand which denies the opposition points.
The Steelers had a bit of everything in this game, and we are going to break down three plays which truly changed the outcome of the game in Pittsburgh's favor.
When the Steelers played the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12, Richard Sherman took Antonio Brown out of the game. No, he wasn't completely shut out of touching the ball, but he didn't have as big of an impact as he normally does on any given Sunday. When fans saw Chris Harris shadowing Brown on the field, it was up to Brown to prove his worth, and he did.
Harris hadn't surrendered a touchdown pass in over two years, until Brown torched him for two scores in Week 15. On this first play, it is all Brown and his chemistry with Roethlisberger which makes the play work. The Broncos' defense is good. Look at the other players on the field, completely blanketed.
However, watch Brown's shoulders when he crosses the goal line. A slight hitch towards the quarterback has Harris thinking back shoulder throw, when Roethlisberger goes to the back portion of the endzone for an easy touchdown. Poetry in motion between quarterback and wide receiver.
Cameron Heyward should be buying Stephon Tuitt a nice steak dinner, or maybe just an adult beverage, after this play which resulted in a Heyward sack. There are times when a player doesn't get credit for a play, but is the one who makes the play work. This is the case for Tuitt here. Watch how Tuitt draws two linemen on his pass rush, which gives Heyward a one-on-one assignment. At this point in the game, that matchup is like shooting fish in a barrel for Heyward.
Tuitt's drive to the quarterback equates in a sack -- for Heyward. This tandem of defensive linemen could be a force for years to come for the black and gold.
Side Note: For those looking to nit-pick the play, it would be nice to see Jarvis Jones' stunt be a lot smoother and clean coming from the outside linebacker position. If he would have gotten depth around Heyward, he would have had Brock Osweiler one-on-one with nowhere to go.
Putting pressure on the quarterback makes the entire defense look better. Just look at the Denver Broncos. Their front 7 is as tenacious as any in the league, and they are the top ranked team, in terms of sacks, for a reason. On this play you see Osweiler scrambling for his life. With Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree and Steve McLendon giving chase, Osweiler squares his hips and sees Emmanuel Sanders sit down in a zone. Osweiler thinks he has a window, but the window closes quickly due to the speed and athleticism of Ryan Shazier.
People want to criticize Shazier for his injury history in his first two seasons, but these are the plays he, and maybe no other inside linebacker in the league, makes when he is on the field. Watch the closing speed of Shazier at the end of the play. Great closing speed and phenomenal ball skills to complete the huge interception for Pittsburgh.
Side Note: Osweiler takes a major league shot by McLendon as Dupree is closing in on him from behind.
The game of football can be won or lost in just a handful of plays. These plays illustrate those plays which were able to boost the Steelers to victory in Week 15, even when most fans thought the team had long given up. If the team can continue to make these timely plays by scoring touchdowns in the red-zone, putting pressure on the quarterback and taking the football away, they will be a team no one wants to see in the playoffs.