Steelers plagued by turnovers, missed chances in loss to Broncos
DENVER — The fourth-quarter magic the Pittsburgh Steelers used to escape with a win last weekend in Jacksonville evaporated in the thin air Sunday afternoon at Mile High Stadium.
Four turnovers, the final one coming with about a minute remaining, were too much for the Steelers to overcome as they had their six-game winning streak snapped with a 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.
The Steelers had 527 yards of offense and a 10-minute edge in time of possession, but they were done in by two Ben Roethlisberger interceptions and two completions that resulted in lost fumbles.
With the Steelers driving for a possible tying touchdown, Roethlisberger was intercepted by Broncos nose tackle Shelby Harris in the end zone to seal Denver’s victory. The loss was just the second for the Steelers in their past 18 road games.
“When you turn the ball over, it doesn’t matter what your stats are,” said Roethlisberger, who completed 41 of 56 passes for 462 yards. “Turnovers are going to dictate football games. We had a lot of yards, but what does it matter?”
Roethlisberger’s late interception wasn’t the only turnover that occurred in the end zone. Tight end Xavier Grimble had the ball dislodged inside the 1 after a 23-yard reception in the first half. The ball rolled past the pylon and out of bounds to deny a touchdown.
A blocked field goal also contributed to the Steelers’ woes. The Broncos converted a Roethlisberger interception and a James Conner fumble — both coming in the third quarter — into 14 points that turned a 17-10 deficit into a 24-17 advantage.
“One thing is, if we’re getting beat tremendously, I’ll take that,” said wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had a 97-yard touchdown catch among his 13 receptions and 189 yards. “I’ll take that to heart that the better team beat us. I felt like we beat ourselves.”
A week earlier, the Steelers overcame three Roethlisberger interceptions and a 16-point deficit to pull out a last-second win against the Jaguars. But with this defeat, the Steelers, at 7-3-1, lost their grip on the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture to the New England Patriots (8-3). They also are a game and a half ahead of the Baltimore Ravens (6-5) in the AFC North standings.
The Broncos (5-6) didn’t have a turnover and got two touchdown passes from quarterback Case Keenum, who threw for 197 yards. Running back Phillip Lindsay, whose 2-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter put the Broncos ahead, had 110 yards rushing on 14 carries.
“They ran the ball well, and they won the turnover ratio,” defensive tackle Cameron Heyward said. “That’s not a formula for success (for us). And we still had a chance to win. If we can clean those up and learn from those mistakes, we can get back on track. We’ve got some work to do.”
Despite the mistakes, the Steelers were in position to force overtime when they got the ball back at their 44 with 4:26 remaining. Smith-Schuster had a 19-yard catch that got the Steelers into Broncos territory. Another 19-yard toss to Smith-Schuster on a third-and-6 put the ball at the Denver 20.
Roethlisberger broke off a 12-yard run, going out of bounds at the 3 with 1:57 remaining. After an incompletion and 1-yard run by Conner, the Steelers faced another third down with 1:07 left.
Roethlisberger bobbled the snap, faked a handoff to Conner and hurried a pass into the end zone for Antonio Brown. Center Maurkice Pouncey blocked Harris into the end zone — the perfect spot for the nose tackle to cradle the ball in front of Brown.
“He knows,” Pouncey said. “He got lucky, too.”
Brown caught nine passes for 67 yards, but had his streak of touchdowns end at eight consecutive games.
Roethlisberger completed passes to eight players, with Ryan Switzer catching six balls for 67 yards. The ninth player to catch a pass was left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who pulled in a 2-yard pass from Chris Boswell on a fake field goal on the final play of the first half.
The Boswell touchdown pass pulled the Steelers even, 10-10, and they took the lead in the third quarter when Roethlisberger heaved a pass down the right side. Smith-Schuster pulled it in at the 30, used a block from Brown as he raced down the field. A stiff-arm at the Broncos 25 was the final challenge for Smith-Schuster, who has 1,055 receiving yards in his second season.
The play had the Steelers primed to keep their winning streak going. That is, until the Broncos got touchdowns following Chris Harris’ interception and Darian Stewart’s fumble recovery.
And so it was that the Broncos won despite running 23 fewer plays and gaining 219 fewer yards than the Steelers.
“For us to drag them up and down the field on them and not put points on the board because of major turnovers, it hurts a lot,” Smith-Schuster said. “It’s going to be a quiet plane ride home.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.