Steelers vs Broncos: 5 Things We Learned About Denver in 29-23 OT Win
You may have guessed the outcome of this game, but nobody truly expected it. In the first non-sudden death overtime game in NFL history, the Broncos made the new rules inconsequential with an 80-yard touchdown reception by Demaryius Thomas.
The game, that some thought could be a laugher, proved to be the most compelling playoff game of the Wild Card weekend.
There will be a lot people making apologies for Pittsburgh's loss and blaming things like injury in allowing Denver to stay in, and eventually win, the game.
However, Denver does not need to apologize to anyone. Not for making the playoffs and not for winning a game that was there for them to win.
Here are five things we learned about Denver, as they prepare for a rematch with New England.
Joe Mays Is Not the Middle Linebacker of the Future
Joe Mays has done an admirable job in spots throughout this season at middle linebacker. Still, his inability to fill the gaps and stop Isaac Redman nearly cost Denver this game.
In obvious running situations, Mays could be seen filling the wrong gaps and being pushed completely out the plays, allowing Redman to run wild into the Broncos secondary.
The Broncos are still searching for a replacement to Al Wilson, which are admittedly large shoes to fill, but the hope for Mays being that player are all but dashed.
Denver might want to look at veteran Mario Haggan to come in against New England to shore up the middle of the defense.
Demaryius Thomas Is a Star
The player who many called the next "Calvin Johnson" while at Georgia Tech is starting to blossom into the true first-round talent that he was drafted to be.
Thomas made a usually steady Ike Taylor look silly in many situations, and even though his catches were not as spectacular as his Steeler counterparts, his routes and yards after catch were the difference in the game.
The loss of Eric Decker will sting next weekend, but Denver may have found their legitimate No. 1 receiver that opposing defenses have to keep tabs on all the time.
Denver Refused to Lose Confidence
There is a single play that seems to exemplify why the Denver Broncos may still be in the playoffs, and the Detroit Lions are not.
The Denver Broncos were clearly "procedured" out of a fumble recovery that resulted in a Pittsburgh score, just like the Detroit Lions were against New Orleans. However, the Broncos were able to pull themselves back together and go down and score immediately after. Detroit gave up 17 unanswered points and never got the lead back.
There were plenty of breaks for Denver in terms of personnel lost by Pittsburgh and a few generous penalties here and there. Still, there were plenty of favorable calls for the Steelers as well, on top of an almost crippling turnover by Willis McGahee.
Both teams were engaged in a slug fest tonight, and it just so happens that Denver threw the knock out blow before Pittsburgh. The important part for Denver is that they were still around to punch.
Denver's Pass Rush Stepped Up Late but Needs to Crank It Up
It must have been frustrating for Denver fans to see a one-legged Ben Roethlisberger dodging the rush, delivering timely passes and even scrambling for a few first downs against Denver.
Until late, the Denver pass rush was not delivering the pressure as often as they should have been able to against a hobbled Big Ben. Credit to Roethlisberger and the Steelers for good play calling, and generally good protection from a patch work line, but Denver needs to fine tune its rush before the Divisional Round.
Tom Brady is not known as a big scrambler, but he is far more mobile than Roethlisberger at this point, and if Denver wants to get pressure on Brady, it will need to be harder and faster than it did most of today.
Confidence Is Everything for No. 15
"Pull the trigger."
Simple words from John Elway that might have saved the Broncos in their game against Pittsburgh. Not only did Tebow "pull it," but he wound up being deadly with it as well.
Nobody should get ahead of themselves...Tebow is not going to the hall of fame solely on the merits of this game. However, a performance like that means that Denver can be competitive against any team in the AFC playoffs.
Tebow delivered mostly accurate and timely passes, with a few ducks sprinkled in, but in the plays where Tebow was asked to deliver with his arm, there are more examples of times that he did than times that he didn't.
Clearly the success of the second quarter stayed with Tebow and the offense the entire game, and were it not for the fumble in the fourth quarter, Denver may have salted away that game before overtime.