They say good things must come to an end. The Pittsburgh Steelers’s 2018 winning streak ended in spectacular fashion against the Denver Broncos out west, dropping to 7-3-1 at the goal line with Ben Roethlisberger throwing an interception to a defensive lineman while looking for Antonio Brown flashing in the back of the end zone.
It was a disaster of a play and a ball that never should have been thrown, but Roethlisberger, in arguably his worst moment of public speaking in recent memory, blamed not only Brown for the route that he ran, but also, indirectly, Maurkice Pouncey for blocking the lineman too well and into the end zone.
He didn’t take much of any responsibility for the turnover on his own, and it was at this point that he began to really use the ‘gunslinger’ defense to defend his high number of interceptions, coming off of a narrow victory the week before in which he was picked off three times, including one that was also in the end zone.
This was sort of the beginning of the end for the season, even though they were still well-positioned in the standings at the time and the Baltimore Ravens were a distant threat at that point. Starting with the Denver game, the Steelers would go 2-4, finishing 9-6-1, just a half-game shy of earning a playoff berth.
It was a game that they blew, as they held a lead with about 20 minutes left to play, and the game remained at least tied with under 10 minutes left to go. But the defense allowed two unanswered touchdowns and the offense wasn’t able to score again in the final 20 minutes.
That score came on a one-play, 97-yard drive on a connection from Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster, his second 97-yard touchdown in as many seasons—one of just three players in NFL history to have two offensive touchdown that long.
Following that score, the defense forced a three-and-out, but a Roethlisberger interception near midfield set the Broncos up at the Steelers’ 43-yard line, and then Emmanuel Sanders took over on back-to-back plays first beating Joe Haden on a 38-yard catch and then finishing off the drive with a five-yard touchdown to tie the game.
Pittsburgh’s best hope of coming back ended with the final play of the fourth quarter. James Conner took a second-down pass 23 yards to the Broncos’ 23-yard line before he was stripped of the football, Denver recovering, and proceeding to execute a 79-yard, 12-play touchdown drive fueled by the ground game.
The offense last possessed the ball with 4:26 to play, opening on the 44-yard line, but Von Miller beat Chukwuma Okorafor for a sack and a loss of six. JuJu Smith-Schuster had two key 19-yard receptions on the drive before a Roethlisberger scramble set up first and goal from the three.
He threw incomplete to Smith-Schuster on first and goal. Conner gained one yard on second down, and then he threw the interception on third down. On his radio show, he said that he wanted to throw to Smith-Schuster on all four downs if that was what it took.