Denver loss could haunt Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — The Steelers handed a game to the Denver Broncos and may have given away their hopes for a first-round playoff bye in the process.

It was painful to watch the parade of mistakes, which included four turnovers. The Steelers could have overcome that number with some takeaways, but they created exactly zero.

So that made it important that backup tight end Xavier Grimble gave away a touchdown when he needlessly tried to run over a tackler.

It hurt even more when James Conner had an unforced fumble during a good run.

And it was positively deadly when Ben Roethlisberger tried to thread a regrettable pass through two defenders at the end of the game. The Broncos intercepted and sealed the game.

Thus the Steelers lost a game they couldn’t afford to lose, in a season where they still have to face the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots at home with a trip to New Orleans for a game against the Saints pending as well.

Those three teams are a combined 26-7. If the Steelers win two of the three games, they’ll be doing something impressive.

It doesn’t seem likely the Baltimore Ravens can overtake the Steelers for the divisional title, but playoff seeding is important. The Steelers had the bye week last year and still lost to Jacksonville. Still, a team would rather have that week off.

The chances of getting that break took a big hit with Sunday’s loss in Denver.

More Steelers

n Since Le’Veon Bell’s absence became official, it looks like the Steelers are consciously trying to limit Conner’s workload. Do they sense some fatigue, or are they just being protective because the depth behind Conner is so stionable?

n Roethlisberger was especially candid on Tuesday’s radio show. He said rookie James Washington “has to make” the catch on a potential touchdown pass he missed. He also called out Antonio Brown for running the wrong route and questioned the goal line play calling that led to the last interception.

n Vance McDonald is on the injury list again. The style he plays comes with a price.

Pirates signing

The Pirates potentially plugged another hole in their lineup by signing free agent outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall.

When he’s healthy, he’s an acceptable major league player. But that’s the issue: Will he be healthy? He was limited to 29 games last season with calf injuries.

That’s why he was available at the reasonable cost of $2.75 million with a chance to double that amount in incentives.

Teams don’t sign a player without putting him a thorough physical and examining his medical records, so there’s that. Doesn’t mean the injury can’t happen again, of course.

Chisenhall indicated he was anxious to sign. No doubt he noticed the problems non-stars had in getting contracts last off-season. So the match was made.

Chisenhall will presumably fill right field for as long as Gregory Polanco is out following shouder surgery. At 30, he’s not a long-term answer, but that’s OK. The Pirates need a legitimate player to start in right field for as long as Polanco is out in 2019. This also allows them to leave Adam Frazier at second base and not spot him in right.

Funny thing about personnel decisions: The Cleveland Indians didn’t mind letting Chisenhall leave. They recently acquired Jordan Luplow from the Pirates. The Pirates were willing to sign Chisenhall because they believed he’s a better option than playing Luplow in right field, even as a temporary starter.

John Mehno can be reached at