Ben Roethlisberger had never lost a road playoff game and it looked as if he might continue that streak when he rallied the team from deficits of 20-6 and 23-13 in the second half. He made a number of big plays, including the tying 31-yard TD to Jerricho Cotchery on a busted play to force OT. But, when he had a chance to win the game in regulation, his fumble on a sack forced the Steelers to use a timeout and knocked them from FG range.
RUNNING BACKS A
Isaac Redman had to shoulder the bulk of the work without injured Rashard Mendenhall and was superb in his first playoff start. He rushed for 121 yards on 17 carries and had a couple of big runs in the second half to keep his team in the game. Redman averaged 7.1 yards per attempt and had runs of 32 and 28 yards in the second half that resulted in 10 points. He showed he can be a good complement to Mendenhall.
WIDE RECEIVERS C+
Jerricho Cotchery had a big third-down drop in the first quarter, but he more than atoned with his 31-yard TD catch that forced overtime. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown combined for 11 catches for 151 yards and made several big plays in the fourth quarter. But Mike Wallace continued his indifferent play by dropping a 51-yard pass that could have been a big momentum-changer. He finished with three catches for 26 yards.
OFFENSIVE LINE C-
The unit began the game without All-Pro C Maurkice Pouncey and lost LT Max Starks in the second quarter. Still, the Steelers rushed for 156 yards, including 111 in the second half. But the line broke down in the fourth quarter when Roethlisberger was under pressure and sacked three times on the final drive. A bad shotgun snap by C Doug Legursky cost them a chance at a field goal at the end of the first half.
DEFENSIVE LINE C
The Steelers lost NT Casey Hampton (knee) on the first series and DE Brett Keisel (groin) in the second quarter, forcing DEs Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward and NT Steve McLendon to play most of the game. The Broncos had the No. 1 rush offense in the NFL, but they were held to 131 yards and averaged just 3.9 yards per carry. Heyward had a big forced fumble to create a turnover that the Steelers turned into the tying touchdown.
It was the first time since Week 4 that James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley played a full game together, but it didn't matter. Woodley could not get any push and was mostly a non-factor. Harrison was victimized numerous times on option runs by QB Tim Tebow. ILB Lawrence Timmons was the best player on the field, making two big tackles for losses on RB Willis McGahee in the first half and helping to hold him to 61 yards on 19 rushes.
DEFENSIVE BACKS F
The No. 1-ranked pass defense allowed the worst-rated QB in the league to complete passes of 58, 51, 40 and 30 yards -- all in the first half. CB Ike Taylor ruined what was a good season by getting beat for passes of 51 and 58 yards to Demaryius Thomas in the second quarter and the winning 80-yarder to Thomas in OT. He also had a costly pass interference penalty in the third quarter. Even S Troy Polamalu got beat for a 40-yard completion.
SPECIAL TEAMS B
There was no return game to speak of because Matt Prater's boomed all his kickoffs through the end zone. And the only time the Broncos returned a kickoff, the Steelers stopped Matthew Willis at the 15. Shaun Suisham was perfect on three FG attempts, including a big one from 37 yards in the fourth quarter. And Jeremy Kapinos averaged 46.5 yards on four punts, including a 62-yarder from the 20. No big plays, but no big gaffes, either.
The season ended the same way it began -- with a disjointed performance by the defense in which they were outexecuted, outperformed and outschemed by an 8-8 team. The offense didn't come to life until it was almost too late. Maybe the number of injuries to key players finally caught up to the Steelers. But the mistakes against the Broncos were made by the key players who remained, and that has not been their standard.