The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to keep Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning off the field for long stretches Sunday night, but they failed to stop him when he was on the field in their 31-19 opening week loss.
The Steelers offense was able to possess the ball 35:05 minutes in total, but scoring only two touchdowns on 4 red zone trips will always allow a quarterback like Manning to hang around.
On the night Manning was 19-of-26 passing for 253 yards with 71 of those yards coming on a touchdown pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas with 5:41 left in the third quarter. On the play, Manning hit Thomas on a quick 1 yard pass to the short left and the receiver had a huge lane and several blockers out in front to take it the other 70 yards for the score.
That two play drive followed the Steelers 16 play, 64 yard drive on the opening possession of the second half that resulted in just 3 points. The drive ate up 8:55 off the clock, but it was not long enough to ice the veteran Manning.
The Steelers offense was set on running the ball early in an effort to keep the ball away from Manning, but the ground game produced just 75 yards on 26 carries on the night for a dismal 2.9 average. The offensive line also suffered first half injuries to guard Ramon Foster (eye) and tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee), and neither returned to the game.
To make matters worse, the Steelers were flagged 8 times for 52 yards on the night.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 22-of-40 passing on the night for 245 yards with touchdowns to tight end Heath Miller and wide receiver Mike Wallace of 4 and 3 yards respectively. Roethlisberger, however, was sacked 5 times on the night and his one interception was returned for game clinching touchdown by Broncos cornerback Tracy Porter with just under two minutes left in the game.
The Steelers defense could not find a way to consistently pressure Manning across his face during the night and they also had no answer for the Broncos hurry-up offense in addition. Manning was happy to take everything given him underneath and the Steelers tackling after the catch was sloppy, which led to a lot of yards after the catch. The defense also forced just one turnover as linebacker Larry Foote caused Broncos running back Willis McGahee to fumble in the first quarter, which was recovered by linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Unfortunately the Steelers offense could not turn that turnover into points.
The Steelers were without the services of linebacker James Harrison (knee) and safety Ryan Clark (sickle cell trait), but still managed to hold the Broncos to just 94 yards on 27 carries with a long of 12 yards.
Thomas led all receivers with 110 yards, while Antonio Brown led the Steelers with 74 yards on 4 catches.
On the ground, the Steelers offensive line failed to open holes up the middle for starter Isaac Redman and backup Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer led the Steelers with 43 yards on 9 rushes and very well might be considered the starter next week when the Steelers host the New York Jets at Heinz Field.
While the offense attempted 8 passes to the backs out the backfield, it resulted in 6 catches for 29 yards.
The loss Sunday night now makes it back to back seasons that the Steelers have opened 0-1 after also dropping their week 1 game last year to the Baltimore Ravens on the road.