The Denver Broncos escaped defeat at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers to advance to next Sunday’s AFC Championship with a 23-13 victory on Sunday at Sports Authority Field.
In a game that was sloppy from the start, it was the game’s only turnover that proved to be the difference maker.
When all hope seemed lost that Denver could muster any kind of offensive momentum, it was the defense that rose to the occasion and gave the offense an opportunity for redemption. Bradley Roby forced a fumble of Steelers running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, which was recovered by Demarcus Ware on the Denver 35-yard line. The turnover, which came with just under six minutes remaining, set Denver up with a final chance to fight for a spot in the AFC title game.
Following Toussaint's fumble, the Broncos offense drove melodically down the field in what was the unit's most inspired drive of the game. The Broncos pounded it to the goal line, which set up C.J. Anderson for the 1-yard touchdown run to give Denver its first lead since early in the first quarter. A successful two-point conversion gave the Broncos a bit of breathing room with a 20-13 lead with 3 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The touchdown marked Denver's first touchdown in its last 23 postseason possessions dating back to last year's AFC Divisional playoff.
While the Steelers seemingly owned a majority of this game, it was the Broncos that surfaced at just the right time scoring 14 unanswered points en route to the 23-16 victory.
The last time these two teams met in the regular season, the Steelers were the first team to put 30-plus points on the Broncos defense in a 34-20 victory. But the Broncos got the sweetest form of revenge as they came out on top of a hard-fought defensive battle to boot the Steelers out of the playoffs.
Despite an ailing Ben Roethlisberger, who hurt his throwing shoulder during last week's wild card win over the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers offense came out firing in a game where they were without two of their top targets in Antonio Brown and DeAngelo Williams. But the Steelers rode a reliable receiving corp and running game to control the game for a majority of it. But the key word there is: majority. Ultimately it was Denver that made the plays at the right time to steal victory from the No. 6 seed Steelers.
Denver's offense didn't play with the fearlessness that the Steelers seemed to for a majority of the game. They were overly cautious, which ended up hurting them more than it did help them, and they committed small mistakes that proved costly, including six dropped balls between the receivers and running backs that halted drives.
It wasn't pretty, but the Broncos escaped an upset from the ailing Steelers to advance to next week's AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots setting up what's sure to be another memorable and final showdown between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. And what better stage than the AFC Championship with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line? The narrative practically writes itself.
Game Balls To...
The Broncos defense -- specifically Bradley Roby and Demarcus Ware, who respectively forced and recovered the fumble of Steelers running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. There's no doubt that that was the moment that changed everything. It gave the Broncos a sense of momentum, confidence, and the ball, and handed the reigns over to Peyton Manning to work his magic. And that's all she wrote.
The No. 1 Denver Broncos will face the No. 2 New England Patriots in what will most likely be the final showdown between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (Brady-Manning XVII). The Broncos and Patriots will kick off championship weekend at 3pm on CBS.