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Five Key Moments: Divisional win over Pittsburgh

Posted Jan 17, 2016

These five key moments led the Broncos' triumph over Pittsburgh in the divisional round.

1. Fighting for short fields early

With a combination of key special teams plays and dominant defense, the Broncos claimed an early advantage over Pittsburgh. After the defense held the Steelers to a three-and-out on the first drive, safety Omar Bolden returned the first punt of the day 42 yards to Pittsburgh's 30-yard line, leading to a 28-yard Brandon McManus field goal.

On the Steelers' next drive, they used a 37-yard pass to Sammie Coates to move into Denver territory, but they turned the ball over on downs when Aqib Talib broke up a fourth-and-1 end-zone attempt from Ben Roethlisberger to Markus Wheaton.

After a Denver three-and-out, the Broncos looked to control field position with a punt to pin the Steelers close to the goal line. With a fortuitous strike and outstanding awareness, cornerback Kayvon Webster knocked the ball out of bounds at the 3-yard line as his momentum carried him into the end zone.

Three plays later, Pittsburgh's Jordan Berry punted from his own end zone and the ball soared out of bounds at the Pittsburgh 31-yard line. Though the offense couldn't get a first down, McManus kicked another field goal to go up 6-0.

What it meant: The Broncos may not have been able to fully capitalize, but these special teams and defensive plays helped the Broncos get two scores when they might have otherwise had none.

2. Defense pushes Pittsburgh out of scoring position in third quarter

After a 41-yard McManus field goal narrowed the Steelers' lead to 13-12, Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh's offense returned to the field with hopes of responding, and when their first play of the drive went for 24 yards, it looked like they had the Broncos defense off-balance. Two plays and a Bradley Roby pass interference penalty later, the Steelers threatened to move into the red zone at the Broncos' 24-yard line.

But their next play proved disastrous. The Broncos' edge-rushing sharks circled Roethlisberger, who was taken down by defensive end Antonio Smith. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who was not properly positioned to defend outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett's rush, got ahold of Barrett's facemask, drawing a 15-yard penalty.

Backed up to the 39-yard line, the Steelers then lost 5 yards on a run by Jordan Todman. Roethlisberger threw incomplete on second down and on third down with 30 yards to go, the Steelers got 10 yards on a pass to Martavis Bryant. By then, the Steelers had changed directions at the start of the fourth quarter, and with the wind In their faces, they opted to bypass a 52-yard field-goal attempt and punt.

What it meant: The Broncos had not only kept the Steelers out of the end zone, but they pushed them out of field-goal range, taking away yet another scoring opportunity.

3. Roby punches the ball out, Ware recovers

The Broncos defense contained Pittsburgh's offense in the second half, but the offense struggled to sustain long drives. A turnover had the potential to shift the tide in favor of Denver, and Roby was able to provide such a momentum swing.

Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint took a handoff and found room to run off left tackle. He had a first down, but saw room for more if he could cut back behind wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. Roby fought through Heyward-Bey's block, and though he could not get his right arm separated from the block, he punched the ball out from Toussaint with his left arm. The ball bounced directly to OLB DeMarcus Ware, who dove on it and controlled possession.

What it meant: Other than ending another Steelers possession in Broncos territory without giving up any points, the play also shifted momentum and allowed the Broncos offense another shot at putting together a complete offensive drive, which it then did.

4. Manning finds Bennie Fowler for 31 yards on third down

Third downs were a struggle for either team, and prior to the drive following Roby's forced fumble, the Broncos had converted just one of 12 third-down attempts.

Needing 12 yards to move the chains, quarterback Peyton Manning saw wide receiver Bennie Fowler had a slight step on cornerback Brandon Boykin on a deep crossing route over the middle. Fowler made the catch, eluded two tackles and provided the Broncos with the play to keep their drive moving. The Broncos would finish the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run from C.J. Anderson, followed by a successful two-point conversion on a pass to Demaryius Thomas.

What it meant: After struggling with drops, the Broncos' receiving corps came up big in the fourth with this drive to put the Broncos on top for the first time since the first quarter.

5. Ware sacks Roethlisberger on fourth down

To keep their season alive, the Steelers needed to put a touchdown on the board after falling behind seven points with the Broncos' touchdown and two-point conversion. They neared midfield, but Denver's defense stiffened to put them in a do-or-die fourth-and-5 situation.

OLB Von Miller's spin move inside of right tackle Marcus Gilbert forced Roethlisberger to abandon throwing the ball, and as Roethlisberger turned to escape Miller's pressure, Ware was there waiting for him for the sack.

What it meant:  The turnover on downs gave Denver the ball with a short field and allowed the Broncos to take more time off the clock, even if they didn't get a first down. The field goal that followed gave the Broncos a two-possession cushion that the Steelers were not able to surmount, and Denver advanced to the AFC Championship Game.

 ***

With the Broncos' win, the following promotions are available:

- Papa John’s is offering the “If the Broncos win, you win!” promotion, which gives fans in Colorado 50 percent off all orders the day after a Broncos win (home or away).
- McDonald's is offering fans in Colorado one-dollar Big Mac sandwiches or one-dollar sausage egg McMuffins on Monday and 30 percent off any jersey in the Broncos team store.

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