It was a rough start, to say the least, for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their Week 15 meeting against the Denver Broncos. The good news? It's not about how you start a game, but how you finish it in the NFL. And the Steelers most certainly figured out how to finish off the Broncos on Sunday, grabbing a 34-27 win and the sixth seed in the AFC's playoff picture.
It didn't look like a victory was looming by halftime. The Steelers were trailing, 27-13, and had given up 295 yards of total offense to Denver, including 214 total passing yards—or 207 after a sack on Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler by Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
The Broncos offense was moving down the field seemingly at will. Denver receiver Emmanuel Sanders caught eight passes on nine targets for 139 yards, including a 61-yard score. Fellow receiver Demaryius Thomas had two first-half touchdowns and the run game netted the team 88 yards on 17 carries.
|The Steelers' Second-Half Difference|
|DEN 1st Half||DEN 2nd Half||DEN Total||PIT 1st Half||PIT 2nd Half||PIT Total|
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's vaunted offense couldn't do much in terms of scoring points. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was held without a touchdown pass in the first half, though he was picked off once and sacked twice. The team's only touchdown was a two-yard rushing score by running back DeAngelo Williams. On two other drives, the team had to settle for Chris Boswell field goals.
Again, the poor coverage we've seen at times throughout the season doomed Pittsburgh's defense in the first half, while the offense was being stymied by Denver's defense, the best in the league in both points and yards allowed. Without significant halftime adjustments, the Steelers looked to be stuck on the outside of the postseason.
But for all the things that didn't go the Steelers' way in the first half, they had a major second-half turnaround. Denver's 27 first-half points were the only ones it scored. The Broncos gained just 90 yards of total offense in the second half—74 passing and 16 rushing—as Pittsburgh's defense stiffened both up front and in the secondary.
At the same time, the Steelers offense woke up. Roethlisberger threw three second-half touchdowns, two of which were scored by receiver Antonio Brown, who went from 79 yards on seven catches in the first half to 189 yards on 16 receptions by game's end. Brown's second touchdown also came on a drive which followed linebacker Ryan Shazier picking off Osweiler.
Sanders had only two additional grabs in the second half, for just 42 yards. And after the Broncos converted all eight of their third downs in the first half, they converted just one of nine into first downs in the second, reached Steelers' territory only twice and had no more red-zone scoring attempts in the game.
|AFC Playoff Picture, Post-Week 15|
Pittsburgh needed to play better on both offense and defense in the second half, and it's a testament to the Steelers' coaching, preparation and focus that they were able to look like a completely different, and nearly unstoppable, team in the final two quarters.
This is why any team staring down the Steelers, whether to close out the regular season or in the playoffs, needs to be scared. That the Steelers not only rebounded from an ugly first half, but that they did it against a 10-win team and the league's best defense is a good sign that they won't be intimidated by any team they face ahead.
These games are four quarters for a reason. The Steelers refused to be beaten based on their first-half performance and played the most inspired 30 minutes of football they have all season. And just like this game, Pittsburgh's season is ending on a strong note. Because, in the NFL, all that matters is how you finish.