Denver Broncos: Heroes and Zeros vs Pittsburgh Steelers

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Denver Broncos: Heroes and Zeros vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19 on Sunday night in Denver. 

It wasn't always pretty. 

The offense started off slow and then got rolling.

The defense started off strong and then faded before closing the game out with a powerful finish.

So who stepped up in the opening-night win?

And who didn't?

Here are the heroes and zeros from Week 1.

HERO: Knowshon Moreno. 

Moreno was a player who many thought would be cut prior to the season. However, Knowshon had a very good preseason, and he ran hard on Sunday night. He scored the Broncos' first touchdown and while he had only five carries, he managed to eke out 13 yards, and many of them were important.

ZERO: Joe Mays.

Mays is a great player against the run, but he is not always so good against the pass. He bit on an early move by Steelers tight end Heath Miller and gave up an easy touchdown.

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

HERO: Demaryius Thomas

He dropped the first pass that quarterback Peyton Manning threw to him, but after that, Thomas turned it on. He is so strong in the open field that Steelers safety Troy Polamalu took to twisting Thomas' arm to bring him down. Thomas finished the game with five catches for 110 yards and one touchdown. The sky is the limit for Demaryius Thomas.

ZERO: The replacement officials.

Bad enough that they missed a call here and there. But when Eric Decker caught a pass at the Steelers' 3-yard line and dove forward, he lost the ball after his knee clearly hit the ground. It's a reasonably common play. But what isn't common was what followed. The Broncos hurried to the line and snapped the ball running a dive play that gained perhaps a yard. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin threw his challenge flag just after the snap. But the officials allowed the replay and just pretended the Broncos' offensive play never took place. The challenge failed, and the Broncos got the play over again. It isn't that it changed the game. Just that it is against the rules. Can we get the real referees back already?

HERO: Tracy Porter.

Teams are going to pick on Porter. You either throw at Champ Bailey or you throw at Porter. Ben Roethlisberger had some success going at Porter when the coverage was soft. Porter fought back, breaking up multiple passes before making the play that sealed the game. Porter stepped in front of Pittsburgh wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and picked off the pass returning it 43 yards for the game clinching touchdown.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

ZERO: The Denver pass defense.

They made the plays when they had to, but the Denver pass defense really struggled. They allowed the Steelers offense to control the game and keep Peyton Manning and the Denver offense off the field for far too long. The Steelers converted 11 of 19 third downs. They held the ball for over 35 minutes. The Broncos seemed to struggle to generate any pressure on Ben Roethlisberger until very late. The defense has to improve after Week 1.

HERO: Peyton Manning.

Who else could it be? Manning started slow but then heated up and outdueled Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger while looking as good as advertised. Manning ran the hurry-up offense with precision and kept the Pittsburgh defense off balance. He showed no ill effects from his neck injury and looked strong throughout the game. He finished the game 19 of 26 with 253 yards and two touchdowns. Manning threw the 400th touchdown pass of his career, and the Broncos got the win.

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