DENVER -- An erratic day ended with an awful play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose brilliance on offense couldn't overcome a litany of mistakes.
Putting up 527 yards on a good defense should be more than enough to win.
“It’s going to be a quiet plane ride home,” said wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who finished with 189 yards.
The Steelers moved meticulously downfield only to trip over their own momentum. From the 3-yard line with two minutes left, the Steelers ran a fade play for an incompletion and a James Conner run the Broncos stuffed. On third down, Roethlisberger pulled back a handoff as Antonio Brown crossed the middle, throwing the ball into a sea of defenders in orange.
Roethlisberger said he ran a run-pass option and threw to the spot where Brown was going to be.
“I never thought a defensive lineman would get blocked right into the interception,” he said. “Good play by him.”
Through three quarters, the Steelers had twice as many yards as Denver (446 to 223), held on to the ball for about twice as long (29:30 to 15:30) yet found themselves tied at 17 thanks to two lost fumbles and an interception.
Roethlisberger's 12th career 400-yard game fell flat. Roethlisberger finished with 464 yards, which he says feels empty right now after the four giveaways, two at the goal line. “When you turn the ball over, it doesn’t matter what your stats are,” Roethlisberger said.
Whether it was Roethlisberger's firing a 97-yarder from his own end zone or kicker Chris Boswell's firing into the Broncos' end zone for a trick-play score, the Steelers found creative ways to put up points.
But the win streak dies at six. And it shouldn't have been difficult.
Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay needed 13 rushes to surpass 100 yards. Former Steeler Emmanuel Sanders was largely unguardable. Denver's 11-play, 79-yard drive early in the fourth was too easy. The secondary lacked splash.
The physical Broncos showed fight uncommon in a 4-6 team. The Steelers had trouble matching that fire at times.
James Conner, whose crucial late-third-quarter fumble set up a Broncos touchdown, was visibly upset after the game, apologizing to the media for short answers. “I’m a competitor,” he said. “I’m not in a good mood.” Brown was similarly clipped, reducing the game to this: “A loss is a loss.”
The offense moved the ball well on its first three drives but had three points to show for it. Eight different Steelers caught a pass in the first half, and when the Steelers fooled the Broncos with a well-timed misdirection play for 23 yards to tight end Xavier Grimble, a big Will Parks hit forced a fumble at the 1-yard line for a touchback.
That play loomed large. One cut to the inside probably would have sealed the touchdown. Instead, the Broncos got a touchback. In a one-touchdown game.
Deep in his end zone and with Shelby Harris closing in for the hit, Roethlisberger took the five-step drop and delivered a dime to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 97-yard score early in the third quarter. Smith-Schuster -- now the proud owner of two 97-yard receptions dating back to last year -- caught the ball around midfield, broke toward the sideline and stiff-armed Darian Stewart. Antonio Brown threw a helpful block on Chris Harris along the way.
That score should have punctuated a winning performance but instead simply looks good on the stat sheet.
Now, the Steelers have five games to respond.
“We’ll be ready to go,” Conner said. “We have more opportunities.”