The Pittsburgh Steelers are in Denver for their Divisional round playoff game against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, entering the game worse for wear in terms of injuries. They are without both Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams, and Ben Roethlisberger will attempt to play as usual through a shoulder injury. This is far from ideal circumstances, but crazier things have happened than the Steelers winning this game.
You may be hearing names such as Fitzgerald Toussaint, Jesse James, and Sammie Coates at some point today as things progress, players who are or could be stepping into much more significant roles due to injury. But as far as the quarterback position goes, it seems the team is confident Roethlisberger will be able to play the whole game after choosing not to activate Mike Vick as a third quarterback.
Inactives for the Steelers:
WR Antonio Brown
RB DeAngelo Williams
T Byron Stingily
DE L.T. Walton
FB Will Johnson
CB Doran Grant
QB Mike Vick
Inactives for the Broncos:
QB Trevor Siemian
RB Juwan Thompson
S Shiloh Keo
CB Lorenzo Doss
NT Darius Kilgo
C Sam Brenner
G Robert Myers
The Steelers lost the coin toss but the Broncos deferred to the second half, so Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh’s offense will take the field to start the game. Markus Wheaton caught the kickoff for a touchback.
Opening with two tight ends, Roethlisberger immediately went deep on first down off play action, too deep for Wheaton, but showing that he has his arm strength. Jordan Todman checked in on second down and got the carry off the right edge for two yards, setting up an early third and long. With four receivers on the field, a screen to Wheaton was blown up for a loss of two yards. Jordan Berry‘s punt was returned for 42 yards all the way to the Steelers’ 30-yard line.
On first down, Manning hit Demaryius Thomas for 11 yards. From the 19, he looked for Thomas again, but he dropped it on the same right sideline. Ronnie Hillman avoided a loss by reversing field to pick up five yards, with Brandon Boykin making the tackle. On third and five, Ryan Shazier bounced C.J. Anderson out of bounds on a quick pass short of the first down to hold the Broncos to a field goal, making it 3-0 early.
Denver’s second kickoff also resulted in a second touchback. Roethlisberger returned to the field, with the offense opening the drive in 11. He threw it short to Fitzgerald Toussaint, who bobbled the initial reception attempt and ultimately was tackled for a loss of one. On second down, Todman got the ball again for about three yards, setting up another third and eight. Roethlisberger found Sammie Coates short of the sticks, who was about to maneuver past Chris Harris and find the sideline for a big gain of 37.
Todman was once again the running back, this time on first down, gaining one yard. On second and nine, with five wide, Martavis Bryant dropped the ball over the middle for what would have easily been a first down. On third and nine, Roethlisberger found Wheaton streaking over the middle, picking up about eight and a half to make it fourth and one. After a timeout, the Steelers went for it on fourth down. After the flat route was taken away, Roethlisberger went to the end zone looking for Wheaton, who tried to sky over the defensive back for the catch, but could not bring it in, resulting in a turnover on downs.
From the 32, Manning hit Owen Daniels on a screen off play action for a gain of four. Hillman was tripped up from behind after another four or so. On third and short, a direct snap to Hillman off of Manning stepping away as window dressing was blown up by James Harrison for a loss, forcing a punt. The Broncos were able to down the ball inside the 10, however.
Backed up to the three, Toussaint got the carry on first down, taking it up the middle for five yards. Roethlisberger seemed to throw the ball away on second down. On third and nine after a false start, Roethlisberger attempted to zip one over the middle to Coates, but the pass was defended. Roethlisberger seemed unhappy about the route. Berry’s punt carried the ball sharply out of bounds at just the 31-yard line.
On first down, Hillman crashed through the middle for a nine-yard gain. On second down, however, he was stopped by Stephon Tuitt for a loss of one. On third and two, Manning’s pass was incomplete, resulting in the Broncos attempt and making third second field goal to take a 6-0 lead with just over 11 minutes gone in the game.
Yet another touchback began the Steelers’ fourth possession of the game already in the first quarter. Out of the 12, with Heath Miller out wide, Toussaint was stopped after a yard on the ground. On second down, Bryant caught his first pass of the game in space to pick up 22 yards, the Steelers’ second first down of the game, and second explosive play.
From the 44, Bryant took the ball on the end around after a fake handoff for another chunk run, down to the 16. Toussaint showed some nifty moves, breaking tackles all the way down to the one. With two extra linemen, and Doug Legursky in the backfield, with Toussaint punching it in for his first career touchdown. The Steelers took the lead 7-6.
Chris Boswell‘s first kickoff of the game resulted in touchback. On first down, Will Allen did a nice job of coming in to break up a downfield pass for Andrew Caldwell. Manning picked up the first down to his tight end on second down, just their second first down of the game as well.
From the 31, Thomas got over Ross Cockrell for about 15. On the next play, Cody Latimer fought off Shazier for another first down to take the ball across midfield to end the first quarter. A deep incompletion started the second. On the following play, Anderson was swallowed up for a loss of one, setting up a third and 11. Emmanuel Sanders was not able to hold on to the leading third-down pass, but Robert Golden would have been there to make the stop short of the sticks. The Broncos’s second punt was fielded at the 10 by Wheaton and returned five yards.
On first down, Toussaint was able to keep his feet through contact in the backfield and instead found a crease for a four-yard gain. On second down, he was limited to just a yard. On third and five, five wide, Darrius Heyward-Bey was somehow left wide open, running after the catch and fighting through a defender for a 58-yard gain to the 22.
On the next snap, Toussaint powered his way for four yards into the red zone. On second and six, however, Roethlisberger took a sack after tucking the ball, brought down by Antonio Smith for a loss of seven. On third and 13, Roethlisberger’s pass to Miller bounced off the ground for what should have been a catch. Boswell’s 43-yard attempt was good, adding to a now 10-6 lead.
After a five-yard carry on first down after a touchback, Manning handed off again to Hillman, but Jarvis Jones got to him at the line of scrimmage to set up third and medium. Manning threw to a wide open Anderson on third down, but the running back dropped the ball with room in front of him to run. Wheaton fielded the punt from the 27 and returned it 12 yards out to near the 40-yard line.
Off play action, Roethlisberger had to settle for a check down to Matt Spaeth for a gain of a yard. Toussaint was limited to a yard on second down. On yet another third and eight, this time at the 40, resulted in a second down, with Roethlisberger going down for a loss of about 10. Berry’s punt was yet again taken by the wind, traveling less than 30 yards before sailing out of bounds, unable to flip the field, as the Broncos take over at the 41.
Manning was able to hit Sanders on first down for 15 across midfield in tight coverage. From the 44, Manning’s pass was tipped at the line and redirected to result in an incompletion. On second down, another Broncos receiver was another to hold on to the ball. Now third down and 10, Manning hit Anderson, but he was stopped well short of the first down by three yards. On fourth down, however, the Broncos went for it, with a big hit by Mike Mitchell resulting in Sanders unable to make the catch.
Taking over at the 37, Toussaint received the screen pass on first down, but lost his footing early and was tackled after a short gain. On second and nine, Bryant picked up seven yards with a short pass over the middle, finally setting up a third and short. On third and two, another end around this time failed with Bryant, with even Roethlisberger throwing a solid block, for a quarterback with one shoulder. This time, Berry’s punt was a good one, going out of bounds at the five after 50 yards.
On first down, Shazier did a nice job of sticking his nose in the gap to meet Anderson in the hole for a short gain. On second down, however, Anderson was able to find a crease for a big gain, with Jones having to make the tackle way down the field at the 40. Shazier made the tackle on Hillman after a one-yard gain leading into the two-minute warning. Shazier briefly came to the sideline after the tackle but returned before the next snap.
On second and nine from the 41, Daniels pulled in a six-yard catch with Lawrence Timmons in coverage making the tackle. On third and three, against five wide, Manning found Thomas for about 10 yards. At the 43, Fowler caught Manning’s pass for four yards before he was tagged down by Boykin, with the Broncos using their second timeout with 47 seconds remaining in the half.
On second and six from the 39, Anderson carried Jones forward for a eight-yard run. Now at the 31, Manning threw the ball away with nothing open. With 16 seconds remaining, on second and 10, Allen hammered Manning from behind as he threw, shooting out of bounds. Now third down with 12 seconds to play, Manning fumbled the snap, force to call a timeout just to have time for the field goal, which was good to set up a 10-9 game heading into the second half, with the Broncos starting with the ball.