Same teams. Different quarterback. Same result.
Just like a year ago when the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers met, the Steelers secondary made it easy for a Broncos’ quarterback. Only this time, it wasn’t Tim Tebow, but future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
After missing the entire 2011 season and finding himself on a new team for the first time in his career, Manning made his much-hyped debut for the Broncos and let his play do all the talking for him in a 31-19 season-opening victory.
Despite not taking a snap since January 2010, Manning didn’t miss a beat, looking like the same old Manning while throwing for 253 yards and a pair of scores on the night.
It wasn’t necessarily the statistics for Manning, but the precision with which he ran the Broncos’ offense. Making a few big plays along the way helped as well. The quarterback battle between Manning and Ben Roethlisberger lived up to the hype, but every time Roethlisberger and company struck, Manning had an answer.
Two plays after the Steelers took a 13-7 third quarter lead, Manning hit Demaryius Thomas with a 71-yard touchdown pass on a bubble screen to put the Broncos up 14-13.
Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 50 yards in 13 plays, eventually hitting Mike Wallace with a three-yard touchdown to put Pittsburgh back on top, but Manning picked apart the Steelers’ defense in response. He drove the Broncos 80 yards on 10 plays, hitting tight end Jacob Tamme with the go-ahead one-yard touchdown pass and one drive later led the Broncos on a 12-play, 51-yard drive that resulted in a field goal.
Manning went 10-13 in the second half, feeling next-to-no pressure from the Steelers’ pass rush, often finding wide open receivers.
Roethlisberger played very well, finishing the day 22-of-40 for 245 yards and a pair of scores, and had the ball late in the fourth with a chance to lead the Steelers on a game-winning drive, but made his only mistake of the game when Tracy Porter picked him off and returned it for a 43-yard touchdown to put the game away.
The Steelers came out trying to establish the ground game and it didn’t work. In the first half the Steelers were a balanced team, throwing the ball 16 times and running it 15, but gained only 32 yards on the ground. The Steelers had a little more success on the ground in the second half, but still finished the game averaging only 2.9 yards per carry on the night.
Pittsburgh had its only success of the night when they put the ball in Roethlisberger’s hands and he played good enough to win, especially on third down, where Roethlisberger was next to automatic on the night. Fifteen of the Pittsburgh’s 19 first downs on the night came courtesy of Roethlisberger’s arm.
The difference in this one was simple: the Broncos’ defense made plays and the Steelers’ defense did not.
Pittsburgh’s offensive line didn’t have a good showing and in addition to shutting down the Steelers’ rushing attack, Denver sacked Roethlisberger five times on the night. In addition to the late interception, Denver applied continuous pressure to Roethlisberger and did a good job of tackling throughout.
The Steelers defense got off to a good start the first two drives as Larry Foote sacked Manning once and forced a fumble on another drive that Lamar Woodley recovered, but that was about it as far as big plays would go for Dick LeBeau’s unit.
Pittsburgh’s offense did a good job of controlling the ball, holding a 35:05-24:13 advantage in time of possession, but ultimately the Steelers’ defense made it far too easy for Manning.
The 11-time Pro-Bowler got into a groove in the second half and similar to last year’s playoff loss, the Steelers had no answer.
PIT- Shaun Suisham kicked a 21-yard field goal, 10:10, 3-0
DEN- Knowshon Moreno rushed to the left for seven-yard gain (Matt Prater made PAT), 5:16, 3-7
PIT- Ben Roethlisberger passed to Heath Miller down the middle for four-yard gain (Suisham made PAT), 0:28, 10-7
PIT- Suisham kicked a 35-yard field goal, 6:05, 13-7
DEN- Peyton Manning passed to Demaryius Thomas to the left for 71-yard gain ( Prater made PAT), 5:29, 13-14
PIT- Roethlisberger passed to Mike Wallace to the left for three-yard gain (2pt attempt failed), 14:11, 19-14
DEN-Manning passed to Jacob Tamme to the left for 1 yard gain (2pt attempt converted, Manning pass to Willis McGahee), 9:23, 19-22
DEN- Prater kicked a 26-yard field goal, 3:00, 19-25
DEN- Tracy Porter intercepted Roethlisberger for 43-yards (2pt attempt failed) 1:58, 19-31