Denver kicks past Steelers with late FG
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DENVER -- On a night that begged for the Steelers to run, they spit in the eye of practicality, came out throwing and lost.
Ben Roethlisberger overcame a disastrous first half to lead his team to a tie, only to watch as the Broncos drove in the final minute to the winning field goal.
Jason Elam kicked the game's only field goal, from 49 yards, with no time left to give Denver a 31-28 victory.
The Broncos led, 28-14, before Roethlisberger threw touchdown passes to tight end Matt Spaeth and Heath Miller in the fourth quarter to tie the score, 28-28, with 1:10 to go.
"I thought we were going into OT," defensive end Brett Keisel said.
But Denver took over on its 20 and drove to the winning score.
"They moved the ball on us in that last drive, kicked the field goal and that was it," linebacker Clark Haggans said.
Denver offered up the worst defense against the run in the NFL and the No. 1 defense against the pass. So, the Steelers decided to throw early and often.
"We knew they would come in prepared to stop the run," coach Mike Tomlin said of his team's reliance on throwing the ball. "And they were. That's why we moved downfield with success in the first drive of the football game."
The Steelers died by the pass and then lived by it. Roethlisberger threw four touchdown passes, two to Miller, one to Spaeth and one to Santonio Holmes.
He also was intercepted twice in the first half and lost a fumble on a sack that was returned for a touchdown. Roethlisberger completed 24 of 35 passes for 290 yards -- he was 13 of 14 in the second half. Denver's Jay Cutler was 22 of 29 for 248 and three touchdowns. Each quarterback threw two interceptions.
Parker ran 21 times for 93 yards and Travis Henry ran 17 times to lead Denver with 51 yards before he left with bruised ribs in the fourth quarter.
"We said we dug ourselves a hole and we had to stop digging," Tomlin related about what he told his team when it trailed, 21-7, at the half.
The setback by the favored Steelers dropped them to 4-2. They are still in first place in the AFC North Division by half a game over Baltimore, which also lost to go 4-3. Denver snapped a three-game losing streak to even its record at 3-3.
Roethlisberger threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Spaeth, the rookie tight end, that brought the Steelers to within 28-21 with 10:10 remaining. That ended a 94-yard drive.
The Steelers stopped Denver and got the ball back on their 22, trailing by a touchdown with 7:47 left.
"We felt we had time to get back in the football game, provided we got them stopped," Tomlin said.
Operating mostly under center and disdaining the shotgun formation, Roethlisberger drove the Steelers deliberately downfield. He used slant passes expertly and converted two third downs. He threw his fourth touchdown pass of the day -- a 12-yarder to Miller -- to tie the score with 1:10 left.
A comment by Roethlisberger Wednesday became a hot topic of conversation among the Broncos the past week.
"It looks like the handoff might be a pretty nice option on Sunday," Roethlisberger said in obvious reference to Denver's ranking as the worst rush defense in the league.
"I told the wide receivers and Bruce [Arians, offensive coordinator] that I'm going to have to get my throws in before practice, it might be the last throwing I do all week," Roethlisberger said.
Denver coach Mike Shanahan was said to believe that comment was a ruse to make the Broncos think the Steelers were going to run. He wasn't buying it.
And the Steelers did not sell it very well. They trailed, 21-7, after Roethlisberger threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on a sack that was returned for a touchdown. Roethlisberger threw 21 passes and was sacked three other times trying to throw in the first half. They ran only 12 times the first two quarters.
The Steelers, who had not allowed a touchdown in any first half this season, gave up three in the first half last night.
Before their troubles began, Roethlisberger threw passes on the game's first three plays and came up big on the third one.
On third-and-7 at his 43, Roethlisberger threw deep and Nate Washington caught it for a 40-yard pickup to Denver's 17. Two more pass completions to Hines Ward and Miller put the ball at the 4.
After a Willie Parker run for 3 yards, Roethlisberger rolled right in a tight formation and completed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Miller on the goalline for a quick 7-0 lead.
Denver responded with a drive of its own that ended with the first touchdown scored against the Steelers in the first half of a game this season.
On third-and-9, Brandon Stokley beat cornerback Ike Taylor and caught Cutler's 15-yard touchdown pass in the front right corner of the end zone to tie the score, 7-7.
The Steelers had outscored their opponents, 57-6, in the first half of games before last night.
"Defensively, we didn't get off the field tonight," Tomlin said. "We gave up some big plays."
After Dre Bly intercepted Roethlisberger to end the Steelers' third series on a deep pass, Roethlisberger had thrown 10 passes and Parker had only three runs from scrimmage.
Denver took a 14-7 lead when fullback Cecil Sapp caught Cutler's 1-yard scoring pass with 4:01 left in the half. Cutler scrambled for a 31-yard gain on the drive.
The Broncos weren't done -- mainly because the Steelers insisted on passing. On second down, a low snap in the shotgun formation forced Roethlisberger to stoop over to catch the football.
Undersized defensive end Elvis Dumervil squeezed through Marvel Smith and Alan Faneca, and sacked Roethlisberger, who fumbled. Rookie end Tim Crowder picked up the loose ball and ran 50 yards for a touchdown to give Denver a 21-7 lead.
Jeff Reed was short on a 65-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of the first half. It was his first miss on the road since 2005. He had made all 16 of his previous tries in the regular season, 19 in a row including playoffs.
"There were a lot of opportunities in that football game for us to seize the day," Tomlin said. "In reality, we didn't."
They did almost seize the second half. The Steelers pulled within 21-14 in the third quarter on Roethlisberger's second touchdown pass, a bullet that Holmes caught in the end zone on third down from the 13.
That drive was made possible when linebacker Larry Foote intercepted a Cutler pass over the middle on third down and returned it 15 yards to the Denver 41.
The relentless Denver offense, though, got it right back. Denver drove 79 yards on the next series and scored on a 1-yard pass from Cutler to tight end Tony Scheffler. On that drive, the Broncos converted three third downs -- two of them on third-and-14.
Not to be outdone, the Steelers drove 94 yards to pull to within a touchdown. Roethlisberger, scrambling and throwing precisely on the drive, hit Spaeth with a 13-yard touchdown pass over the middle. It brought them to within 28-21 with 10:10 left. They came right back to tie it on their next drive, only to watch as Denver collected the win on Elam's kick.
First Published October 22, 2007 12:24 am