Red zone woes haunt Steelers in loss to Broncos
DENVER — Nose tackle Shelby Harris picked off Ben Roethlisberger’s 2-yard pass to Antonio Brown in the end zone with 1:03 remaining to seal Denver’s 24-17 win over Pittsburgh that snapped the Steelers’ six-game winning streak Sunday.
“I never thought in a million years a defensive lineman would get blocked off the ball that far, right into an interception,” Roethlisberger said. “But, good play by him. A.B. was coming, I just never thought that guy would make that play.”
Why not, wondered Harris.
“I got to prove to everyone that I have the best hands on the team,” he said.
Harris, who missed Friday’s practice for the birth of his daughter, kept the football from his first career interception and was going to take it to the hospital when he went to see his wife and baby afterward.
Roethlisberger said he never saw Harris.
“No, not at all. He’s not dropping. He got blocked right into the play so there’s no way to ever think he’s going to make that play,” Roethlisberger said. “Of all the interceptions I’ve thrown it’s one of the most fluky I’ve been associated with.”
The Broncos (5-6) used four takeaways to counter a 97-yard touchdown toss from Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster.
“It’s going to be a quiet plane ride home,” Smith-Schuster said after the Steelers (7-3-1) lost for the first time since September.
Roethlisberger was 41 of 56 for 462 yards, but he was intercepted twice and the Steelers lost two fumbles.
Phillip Lindsay rushed for 110 yards and the game-deciding touchdown on just 14 carries for Denver, which also ended the Chargers’ six-game winning streak last week and would have snapped Houston’s five-game roll were it not for a missed field goal as time expired.
Cornerback Bradley Roby and safety Darian Stewart were burned on Smith-Schuster’s long touchdown grab, but they made up for it when they teamed up on the final play of the third quarter for Denver’s third takeaway.
Roby forced James Connor to cough up the football after a 23-yard gain and Stewart recovered it at the Denver 21.
The Broncos then went 79 yards in 11 plays with Lindsay taking it in from 2 yards to break a 17-17 tie.
Earlier in the third quarter, Roethlisberger was backed up into his own end zone after the Broncos downed a punt at the 3, and he was knocked down by Harris as he uncorked the pass while backpedaling.
Smith-Schuster, who raced past Roby, hauled it in at the Pittsburgh 35, then evaded Roby and Stewart the rest of the way, stiff-arming Stewart to the ground in front of the Broncos bench.
Roby tripped over Stewart and both watched from the ground as Smith-Schuster scored to break a 10-10 halftime tie.
The Broncos tied it at 17 on Case Keenum’s 5-yard strike to Emmanuel Sanders two plays after Chris Harris Jr. intercepted a pass intended for Brown at the Steelers 43.
Brown, who burned Denver for 189 yards the previous time he played them, finished with just 67 yards on nine catches this time. Smith-Schuster got 189 yards this time, on 13 catches.
Roethlisberger had 25 completions by halftime, the most in the first half in the regular season by a Steelers QB since 1960, but it took a fake field goal for Pittsburgh to reach the end zone.
Kicker Chris Boswell threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to left tackle Alejandro Villanueva to tie it at 10.
Boswell took the direct snap and threw a perfect pass to a wide-open Villanueva — who was a receiver and tight end at Army and became the first Steelers O-lineman to catch a touchdown pass since Ray Pinney did it against the Browns in 1983.
The Steelers frittered away a shot at 10 more points in the first half.
Justin Simmons blocked Boswell’s 48-yard field goal attempt and safety Will Parks punched away the football just as tight end Xavier Grimble was about to score on a 24-yard catch-and-run. The ball went out of bounds in the end zone for a touchback.
Steelers: T.J. Watt left in the first quarter with a wrist injury, but returned after halftime. … TE Vance McDonald left in the third quarter with a hip injury, but returned in the fourth.
Broncos: CB Tramaine Brock hurt his ribs tackling Smith-Schuster in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, TE Jeff Heuerman (back) and OLB Shaq Barrett (hip) left the game.
Steelers: Return home to host the Chargers in a prime-time matchup.
Broncos: Travel to Cincinnati to face the league’s worst defense.
Broncos 24, Steelers 17
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Pittsburgh 0 10 7 0–17
Denver 3 7 7 7–24
Den–FG McManus 41, 6:26.
Pit–FG Boswell 41, 6:29.
Den–LaCosse 10 pass from Keenum (McManus kick), 3:27.
Pit–Villanueva 2 pass from Boswell (Boswell kick), :00.
Pit–Smith-Schuster 97 pass from Roethlisberger (Boswell kick), 10:32.
Den–Sanders 5 pass from Keenum (McManus kick), 5:30.
Den–Lindsay 2 run (McManus kick), 9:17.
TEAM STATISTICS Pit Den
First downs 25 17
Total Net Yards 527 308
Rushes-yards 16-75 23-124
Passing 452 184
Punt Returns 3-6 1-6
Kickoff Returns 0-0 0-0
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 2-15
Comp-Att-Int 42-58-2 15-28-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 2-12 2-13
Punts 3-44.3 6-47.0
Fumbles-Lost 4-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 5-34 6-50
Time of Possession 35:00 25:00
RUSHING — Pittsburgh, Conner 13-53, Roethlisberger 2-18, Switzer 1-4. Denver, Lindsay 14-110, Freeman 6-17, Keenum 3-(minus 3).
PASSING — Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger 41-56-2-462, Brown 0-1-0-0, Boswell 1-1-0-2. Denver, Keenum 15-28-0-197.
RECEIVING — Pittsburgh, Smith-Schuster 13-189, Brown 9-67, Switzer 6-67, Conner 4-42, James 4-35, McDonald 3-27, Grimble 1-23, Samuels 1-12, Villanueva 1-2. Denver, Sanders 7-86, LaCosse 3-34, Heuerman 2-44, Co.Sutton 1-14, Hamilton 1-13, Booker 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.