The Pittsburgh Steelers have been great moving the football up and down the field so far, leading four promising drives, but they barely managed to get 10 points out of them to tie the game at halftime. One field goal attempt was blocked, and a would-be touchdown pass ended up as a touchback as Xavier Grimble fumbled at the goal line out of the end zone. Ben Roethlisberger has been on the money, but it was Chris Boswell throwing a touchdown to Alejandro Villanueva at the end of the half, 10-10. The Steelers begin the second half with the football.
Starting the half from the 25, Roethlisberger led JuJu Smith-Schuster too much on what would have been a 75-yard touchdown, who beat Tramaine Brock on a double move to get wide open. James Conner cut up the middle for eight yards on second down, but an illegal block in the back brought it back to make it second and 20 instead. Back to the 15, Ryan Switzer caught his fifth pass of the game for 11. On third and nine, a screen to Antonio Brown was stopped for just a yard. It was Brown’s 800th catch, but a rather unexciting one. Jordan Berry’s first punt was fielded at the 22 and returned about six yards.
On the Broncos’ first play of the half, Case Keenum floated a pass to LaCrosse, who scored the touchdown, for what was nearly a completion. Philip Lindsay made a big cut, beating Coty Sensabaugh to the boundary for a first-down run.
Vince Williams perfectly timed a blitz to blow up Keenum for a sack and a loss of six. Back to the 35, however, Lindsay got back that yardage and more for 12 yards. Now third and four, Morgan Burnett was in coverage on Jeff Heuerman, breaking up the pass for an incompletion and forcing a punt. They were able to down it inside the five.
To open their second drive of the half, Roethlisberger dropped back, this time hitting Smith-Schuster on the huge 97-yard touchdown…his second 97-yard touchdown in as many years. Roethlisberger seemed to be injured on the play.
Meanwhile, L.J. Fort was playing on the edge on the ensuing drive. Quickly getting the Broncos into a third and eight, Keenum couldn’t not connect with Emmanuel Sanders after being flushed out of the pocket. Bud Dupree was held on the play. Roethlisberger returned for the ensuing drive, though Joshua Dobbs was warming up on the sideline in the meantime.
Taking over from the 23 with their first lead of the game, the Steelers turned to the ground, Conner rushing for 11 on first down. Following a four-yard gain, he got another head of steam to the boundary for about eight, David DeCastro on the lead pull.
Staying on the ground, Conner was stuffed at the line of scrimmage approaching midfield. Out of an empty set on second and 10, Roethlisberger threw quickly to Brown for seven, setting up a manageable third and three. But one bad pass by Big Ben got the Broncos right into it, throwing an interception on the play that was returned to the Steelers’ 43. McDonald is also questionable to return with a hip injury.
Trailing by seven, the Broncos went deep immediately, Keenum hitting Sanders over the top of Haden for nearly 40 yards down to the five. And then he found Sanders streaking open in the back of the end zone for nearly immediate points off of the turnover to tie the game again at 17-17.
Back on offense, Roethlisberger hit Brown at the left sideline for about 14. A quick screen to Smith-Schuster only got two yards on the right side. Brock was injured on the play, leaving the field holding his ribs. Roethlisberger tossed a long ball to Washington, who tried to make the diving catch, but he lost possession as he hit the ground. Now quickly third and eight, after the Steelers had to burn a second timeout, Roethlisberger looked Brown’s way against a rookie cornerback, but the back shoulder throw wasn’t there. Berry punting once again booted it to the nine.
Keenum continued to take shots down the field to Sanders, but this one on second and eight fell incomplete. Now third and eight, rookie Courtland Sutton could not hold on to the football, but likely would have been tackled short of a first down. Switzer muffed the punt, but the Steelers mercifully recovered, the man getting it back himself in the bottom of the pile.
For seemingly the first time in the game, Chukwuma Okorafor gave Von Miller the edge, but Roethlisberger scrambled out of the pocket for a six-yard gain. A quick shot over the middle to Jesse James got five.
Roethlisberger stood in the pocket before stepping up and finding James for 13 over the middle across midfield to the 40. Okorafor was flagged for a false start before the next snap. McDonald returned to the game for the first and 15 play. Roethlisberger threw behind Brown on the play down the field, but Chris Harris was flagged for defensive holding, grabbing Switzer’s jersey as he went over the middle.
Barrett got the Broncos’ first sack of the game as Roethlisberger held on to the football too long. Conner ripped off a big gain on the screen pass but lost the ball as he tried to evade a tackler, Denver recovering for the Steelers’ third turnover of the game.
Denver took over from the 21. Lindsay found space for a nine-yard gain. On second and one, Freeman added five yards for the first down. After another decent gain by Freeman, Lindsay was stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Now third and five, Keenum from an empty set was chased out of the pocket but hit for a conversion to Hamilton.
His next pass attempt was batted at the line of scrimmage by L.T. Walton, falling incomplete. Lindsay ripped off another big gain of 18 inside the Steelers’ 30, now at 97 rushing yards. He dropped a pass in the backfield on the following play, but the Broncos were penalized for an illegal shift anyway. Keenum found Heuerman over the middle for 16 inside the red zone now.
A quick pass to Sanders set the Broncos up with first and goal inside the five. A short catch on the following play went to the two. Lindsay punched it in for the score, picking up 14 unanswered points off of turnovers and giving Denver a 24-17 lead.
The Steelers began their response drive from the 25 with a nine-yard completion to James. Another Smith-Schuster catch went for 14, toward midfield, as Roethlisberger went over 400 yards for the game. A tiptoe catch attempt by Brown was out of bounds for what would have been a nice gain. Instead it was second and 10. From the 47, Roethlisberger went back to Brown over the middle for a short gain, already facing third and six. The third-down pass was nowhere in sight of a receiver, out of bounds, to force a punt with just over seven minutes to play and trailing by seven. Berry’s catch was short and only reached about the 16.
Lindsay went over 100 yards on the ground on the first play of the drive for eight. He got the two yards for a first, but an illegal formation negated the gain, making it second and seven instead. Lindsay added three to make it third and four. On the critical play, Javon Hargrave got home for the sack, his sixth on the year, to force a three and out with under five to play.
Offsetting penalties on the punt gave Pittsburgh the option to replay the punt. Switzer lining up at midfield fielded a the 38 and returned the ball to about the 44. The offense retook the field down seven with 4:26 to play.
On first down, Roethlisberger was sacked for the second time of the game, this by Von Miller, getting by Okorafor and Conner. Now second and 16, he had time to throw for Smith-Schuster at the sticks, getting out of bounds for the first down.
At the Broncos’ 43, Harris broke up a pass for Switzer. Roethlisberger went back to Switzer but for just four yards, setting up third and six. Big Ben got the ball over the top to Smith-Schuster for the first down to the 20.
A speed out to Brown got about five yards. With the left side of the field open, Roethlisberger scrambled down inside the five-yard line to set up first and goal at the two-minute warning. From the three, a play-action look led to a corner route to Smith-Schuster, too long and incomplete. On second down, Roethlisberger handed the ball off to Conner, who was limited to about a yard. With only one timeout, it’s obviously four-down territory. From the two, Roethlisberger was intercepted by Shelby Harris in the end zone, his fourth red-zone interception of the season and second pick of the game.
The Broncos ran out the clock as the Steelers lost their first game in seven contests.