Steelers notebook: Denver rookie catches Steelers DBs out of position
January 18, 2016 12:00 AM
The Steelers' Jarvis Jones breaks up pass intended for the Broncos' Owen Daniels in the first quarter Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the end, it wasn’t old playoff nemesis Demaryius Thomas who beat the Steelers. It wasn’t old teammate Emmanuel Sanders, either.
Maybe the Steelers might feel a little bit better about their 23-16 loss had either of those game-breakers made the biggest play of the game against the defense. But in the end, it wasn’t the Denver stars that took down the Steelers down.
It was Bennie Fowler.
Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac talk about the Steelers loss to the Broncos
Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac talk about the Steelers loss to the Broncos. (Video by Peter Diana 1/17/2016)
Fowler, a rookie from Michigan State, caught a 31-yard pass on third-and-12 on Denver’s winning touchdown drive.
In addition to heading into the offseason knowing someone with 16 receptions in the regular season made the biggest play of the game, the Steelers didn’t get lined up properly to prevent it.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin was not looking when the ball was snapped. And that split second was all Peyton Manning needed to thread a pass to Fowler, who got past Boykin, broke a tackle by safety Will Allen and made it to the Steelers 33 with 7:31 remaining.
Nine plays later, running back C.J. Anderson ran it in from 1 yard to give the Broncos their first lead of the game.
“Just trying to get the play call,” said Boykin, when asked why he was looking toward the middle of the field when the ball was snapped. “We were trying to communicate. He snapped the ball. Regardless, I was right there. I should have made the play. I didn’t. It’s tough.”
The call was a blitz, but Manning got the ball off before the pressure could affect his throw.
“There was a blitz,” Allen said. “We didn’t execute it. Peyton made the throw. That’s all it was. It wasn’t a miscommunication. It wasn’t Brandon messing up. Peyton made the throw.”
Boykin, who came on late in the season to be a regular in the nickel defense, offered no excuses for the mishap.
“I got the information late, but I still had a chance to make the play,” he said. “I didn’t. That wasn’t what we wanted.
“I didn’t make the play. It cost us a lot of yardage. It [stinks] to be in this position. We were so close.”
“It [stinks] to lose,” Allen said. “But we fought well. We battled all night. I don’t think anyone ever expected to be in this game or be this far. I’m just proud of the fight, the adversity we faced this year. We have a lot of meat left on the bone. If we get a stop we’re in the AFC championship.”
One play before Fowler’s big gain, cornerback William Gay had a chance to intercept a Manning pass near midfield, but Sanders broke the play up before Gay could secure the ball.
Replays showed Sanders might have hit Gay before he touched the ball. An offensive pass interference penalty would have made it third-and-22 instead of third-and-12.
Gay credited Sanders for making the play.
“It was a great play,” he said. “I didn’t get the interception.”
On the previous series, Denver’s first possession of the fourth quarter, Manning slid to the turf after feeling pressure, bounced back up and threw a 34-yard pass to Sanders. Players who slide to the turf feet first, give themselves up and the play is supposed to be blown dead. Referee Terry McAulay, however, never blew his whistle.
Coach Mike Tomlin threw the challenge flag to dispute the play, but it was a judgment call made by the referee.
Gay was in coverage on the play and appeared to give up on the play.
“They don’t owe us an explanation,” Gay said. “They’re here to ref the game and we have to respect their calls.”
Allen added: “The rule is if a guy gives himself up he’s considered down. He looked like he fell to the ground to give himself up. That’s just a judgment call they had to make. We can’t live in that. We still had opportunities to win that game.”
No explanation II
On the final play of the third quarter another call by McAulay went against the Steelers. Leading, 13-12, with the ball at the Denver 24, right tackle Marcus Gilbert was called for a facemask penalty. That made it first-and-25 from the 39 to start the fourth quarter.
The Steelers were never able to get back in scoring range and were forced to punt.
Gilbert didn’t think he grabbed a facemask.
“I have no idea,” Gilbert said. “I honestly can’t tell you. I don’t know. I didn’t grab a facemask. I don’t feel like I did. We have to live with what we have to live with. We had plays we needed to make, and we didn’t do it.”
Outside linebacker Arthur Moats left the game in the first quarter with a pectoral injury and did not return. That was the only major injury the Steelers had in the game.
Tomlin said after the game Ben Roethlisberger, who played with a sprained shoulder, did not have any limitations.
• Roethlisberger established a personal single-game postseason mark with 339 passing yards — the third most by a quarterback in Steelers playoff history. His 339 passing yards marked his third career postseason 300-yard game, tying Terry Bradshaw for the most 300-passing yards games in Steelers postseason history. Roethlisberger lost a playoff game for the first time when he posted a quarterback rating of 80.0 or better. He posted a 94.3 Sunday.
• Second-year receiver Martavis Bryant led all players with personal single-game playoff games bests in receptions (9), receiving yards (154) and yards from scrimmage (194). He set a Steelers postseason record for yards from scrimmage in a game with 194 and joined Lynn Swann (161 – Jan. 18, 1976 vs. Dallas) and John Stallworth (156 – Dec. 30, 1978 vs. Denver) as the third Steelers receiver to reach 150 scrimmage yards in a postseason game. His 154 receiving yards were the third most by a Steelers receiver in a playoff game (Swann: 161, Jan. 18, 1976 vs. Dallas and Stallworth: 156, Dec. 30, 1978 vs. Denver). His nine catches tied for the seventh most by a Steelers player in postseason history.
The Steelers deactivated quarterback Mike Vick, receiver Antonio Brown, running back DeAngelo Williams, cornerback Doran Grant, fullback Will Johnson, offensive lineman Byron Stingily and defensive end L.T. Walton.
The Broncos deactivated quarterback Trevor Sieman, defensive backs Shiloh Keo and Lorenzo Doss, running back Juwan Thompson, offensive linemen Sam Brenner and Robert Myers and defensive lineman Darius Kilgo.
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.
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