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Bleeding Black and Gold: Peyton's Place

September 10, 2012 - Ray Eckenrode

The score: Denver 31, Pittsburgh 19

The headline: HEEEEE’S BAAAACCCCKK: Healthy Manning runs Steelers ragged in masterful opening performance

The bottom line: The Steelers had the ball with three minutes left and a chance to win and that’s about all you could have asked for in a game where they were undermanned from the start and where Peyton Manning played as well as he ever played at the height of his career.

It was over when: The Steelers came out of the huddle confused on a 2nd-and-10 play late in the fourth quarter, with Antonio Brown going in motion late, and Ben Roethlisberger hurrying the snap, then underthrowing a flat route that Tracy Porter stepped in front of for a 44-yard interception TD.

Play of the day: After the Steelers chewed up more than half of the third quarter with their opening drive, linebacker Chris Carter tipped a blitz by starting a half-step too early, which is all Manning needed to recognize a hot route that Demariyus Thomas turned into a 71-yard, game-changing touchdown.

Hot topics:

+ While Todd Haley’s offense is certainly a work in progress, there were some positive signs. First, there was the commitment to running the football that everyone from the owner on down was screaming to see. Second, there seemed to be a bigger role for Heath Miller, an underrated tight end precisely because he was underused by Bruce Arians.

+ The last thing the Steelers need is more injuries on the offensive line and although both Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster went down in Denver, neither injury seemed season threatening. Mike Adams was serviceable at RT for Gilbert but definitely made a handful of rookie mistakes.

+ After averaging little more than two sacks per game last year, things looked to be improving on the pressure front for Pittsburgh when they got to Manning twice in the first quarter. Unfortunately, those were the only sacks of the evening as the Steelers’ front seven was left on its heels the rest of the night by Denver’s no-huddle offense.

Game (mis)management:

+ Heath Miller’s filthy double move bailed out Roethlisberger, who had inexplicably spiked the ball and wasted a red zone play with a 1st-and-goal spike with 0:36 left in the half. With only three plays available, that’s plenty of time to come to the line and call some kind of fade play, stopping the clock somewhere around 0:24, rather than wasting a precious play inside the 5. Luckily, the TD to Miller made the flub a mute (®, Bob Walk) point.

+ Mike Tomlin, who’s been burned before by going for two too early, showed that he’s learned nothing by doing it Sunday to try and create a 7-point lead with more than 14 minutes left in the game. As always, the 99.5 percent of getting 1-point in a game with likely five possessions remaining far outweighs the 44 percent chance of getting 2 points.

In the booth: Sure, NBC’s telecast fawned over Manning, but that was the story most watching the game outside Western PA cared about and the performance he put on certainly was worthy of the build up.

Zebra hunting: The calls the replacement refs are making are overwhelmingly correct, it’s the way they’re making them (late flags, confused administration) that is creating the impression things are worse than they are.

A word from our sponsors: Y’all realize KFC just keeps cookin’ the same stuff but giving it different names, right? Chicken Littles? Give me a break. (Blogger’s note: I’ll probably try some this week.)

Sweet tweet: @egs2009 (Rob Egan): I got a fevah … and the only prescription is less Caveman. #Uncle #Geico (Blogger’s note: Amen! How long has that Brian Orakpo commercial been running? This has to be the third year.)

Next week: The traveling soap opera that is the New York Jets stops at Heinz Field Sunday for a 4:25 p.m. kick. After a tumultuous preseason, Mark Sanchez and the Jets came out and whipped the Bills in Week 1 of the real games (although it should be noted that had as much to do with Ryan Fitzpatrick’s putrid play as it did with anything New York did in the game). It should also be noted that Sanchez played extremely well in two games at Heinz Field during his rookie season.

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