DENVER -- The Steel Hurtin' defense, playing without three starters, rose up in the mile-high altitude to deliver a crushing victory last night, the team's fifth consecutive win.
The Steelers dominated the Broncos and won, 28-10, despite losing two big turnovers of their own, one for a touchdown and another that prevented one.
The victory lifted the Steelers' record to 6-2 and a tie with Cincinnati atop the AFC North Division. The teams meet at 1 p.m. Sunday in Heinz Field. Denver lost its second in a row to drop to 6-2.
Three times, the Steelers intercepted Kyle Orton, who had thrown just one in his first seven games, and two of them led to touchdowns for the Steelers.
Tyrone Carter, the man who replaced Ryan Clark at free safety in Denver, intercepted Orton twice, the first time in the second quarter when he returned it 48 yards for a touchdown. He intercepted him a second time near the end of the game.
"I'm excited for him," said Clark, who was dressed in a grey sweat suit and cheered his teammates along the sideline. "He did an awesome job. I'm just proud of him."
Last week Steelers coach Mike Tomlin emphasized that Denver and not his team had the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL. That got his players' attention on offense and defense with help from Clark, who did not play in this game because of the health issues he encountered in the high altitude two years ago.
"Mike said all week we're going against the best defense in the world," said end Brett Keisel, who sacked Orton twice. "He kept reiterating that so Ryan just wanted us to remember that, I guess."
The Steelers broke open what had been a close back-and-forth game in the fourth quarter with two touchdown passes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, one set up by their defense.
Clinging to a four-point lead, Troy Polamalu intercepted Orton at Denver's 25 and Roethlisberger delivered with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace with 7:03 left.
It was the second of three Roethlisberger touchdown passes. He also threw two to Hines Ward, both for 3 yards, one in the third quarter and the final one with 1:22 left.
"We're coming together," Ward said. "The defense shut them down and the offense stayed the course."
Rashard Mendenhall shredded the NFL's No. 1 defense, running 22 times for 155 yards as the Steelers leaned on their ground game more than they have recently. They ran 29 times for 173 yards and a 6-yard average.
"I don't think he realizes how good he can be," Ward said of the young running back. "He's a special back."
Roethlisberger completed 21 of 29 passes for 233 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
Denver, determined to run on the Steelers, was impotent on the ground. The Broncos managed just 27 yards rushing.
Defensive starters Clark, end Travis Kirschke and linebacker Lawrence Timmons did not play last night because of health issues but few noticed their absence the way their teammates played on defense.
"It's a team sport and we're probably the ultimate team in the NFL," Clark stated.
If not for two Roethlisberger turnovers in Denver territory, this game might have been a laugher much earlier. The first came when he was sacked and stripped of the ball and rookie linebacker Robert Ayers returned the fumble 54 yards for a touchdown. The second occurred when Roethlisberger threw behind Ward from his 15 into the end zone, where cornerback Andre Goodman intercepted.
What had been a rather dull first half picked up tempo quickly in the second half.
It took the Steelers precisely four plays to respond to Ayers' touchdown with one of their own. Roethlisbeger completed three passes for 56 yards and Mendenhall ran once for 24. Ward caught the touchdown in the back middle of the end zone on first down with Roethlisberger in a shotgun formation from the 3.
"In the first half we were just a little slow, just two teams feeling each other out," Ward said.
Roethlisberger was in position to throw for another touchdown and put his team up by two scores with a first down at Denver's 15, but his pass for Ward sailed behind him and was intercepted by Goodman.
"He said the ball sailed on him, it was behind me just a little bit," Ward said.
Carter's touchdown off his interception was formed back in the film room, he said. He noticed the Broncos liked to run that pass play to their rookie back, Knowshon Moreno, and he played it accordingly. He also got a little help from umpire Garth DeFelice when Moreno ran smack into him over the middle coming out of his cut.
"I saw the quarterback looking at him the whole way," Carter said. "I feel good about the opportunity to be out there any time.
"What more can I ask for but to come away with a win on Monday Night Football with my family watching and getting two picks."
Before Carter's interception, Orton had thrown nine touchdowns and his only interception came on a desperation pass.
The Steelers' victory last night sets up an AFC North showdown Sunday in Heinz Field against Cincinnati, with both teams tied at 6-2.
"It's going to be a war," said Ward.
For more on the Steelers, read the new blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published November 10, 2009 6:15 AM