If you talked to virtually anybody outside of Pittsburgh, and even many Steeler fans, this one was going to be an easy win for the Broncos. Peyton Manning was back, the Steelers would be without James Harrison and Ryan Clark, insert any other reason you wish. While the Steelers did manage to keep it close with 3 minutes to go, ultimately Peyton Manning did what Peyton Manning does, and that was enough to send the Steelers home from Denver again with a loss, 31-19.
This game was a tale of two halves. In the first 30 minutes, both teams went back and forth on offense, but it was the defenses that were able to set the tone. For the Steelers, they were able get Peyton Manning on the ground twice with sacks from Larry Foote and then Jason Worilds. They followed those up with a Lamarr Woodley fumble recovery and Lebeau’s defense was seemingly up to the challenge in primetime. You had to be encouraged by the good coverage overall by the secondary and the front 7 showing the ability to hold their ground and get after Manning.
The Steelers took a precarious lead into Halftime, up 10-7 but you had some hope because the defense was playing well and their were showing signs of life on offense with the no huddle offense. The scoring drive just before 2nd quarter was over was a thing of beauty, 14 plays, 79 yds, and finished off with a Heath Miller 4 yd Touchdown pass. So while you’re not exactly comfortable with the game so far, you know the Steelers are very much in it and have a chance to add to the lead in the 2nd half.
Pittsburgh held the ball for all but 36 seconds in the 3rd quarter but only managed to come up 3 points on Suisham’s 35 yd FG to put them up 13-7. The drives were filled with personal fouls and other various penalties to keep things rolling for Ben Roethlisberger and his group, but they were moving the chains none the less.
Things went down hill in a hurry for the defense as Manning took over, going to the no huddle almost exclusively in the 4th quarter and able to march down the field for 2 TD’s and a FG in the 2nd half. Manning dissected the Steeler defense like a surgeon, pretty much what you’d expect from him regardless of the last time he played. When you consider that they were able to rest for nearly 50 minutes, counting halftime, it makes it even harder to swallow. There’s no blaming the thin air, you have to find a way to make plays and the Lebeau’s boys could do none of that.
Nearly all of Manning damage to the Steelers came in 15 minutes and 36 seconds of time in the 2nd half.
When you watched him read the Steelers defense, it was a beautiful as it was frustrating. He took everything they dished out and gave it right back to them.
Ike Taylor had his issues again with Thomas (110 yds and a TD), but Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis each gave up too much as well. Troy Polamalu was able to makes some plays but Manning had his eye on #43 all night long, adjusting out of the situations that Polamalu was aiming to capitalize on. 95% of the Quarterbacks in the NFL can’t pull that off, but love him or hate him, that’s been Manning’s M.O. his entire career.
Even after all of that, the Steelers had a chance, down by 6 with 3:00 minutes to go but a Tracey Porter’s pick 6 courtesy of Ben Roethlisberger sealed the fate of the Steelers and their 0-1 start to the season. Rather than Ike Taylor getting burned in overtime, this one stung nearly as much but came at the hands of the Denver defense.
Are things different with Ryan Clark and James Harrison in there? You’d like to think so but no one can say for sure. Take nothing away from the Broncos but more importantly Peyton Manning, he’s got the Steelers number.