PITTSBURGH** – For 30 minutes, it seemed like everything was going Emmanuel Sanders' way.
He was back in his former city, playing against the team that selected him in the third round of the 2010 draft and he was having a night for the record books. In that half hour alone, Sanders had posted 163 yards from scrimmage (139 rec., 24 rush), the most by a Bronco through two quarters since at least 1991.
The Broncos were making the most of their red-zone chances, with quarterback Brock Osweiler converting on all seven of his third-down attempts and, despite a lost fumble in the opening drive, the Broncos looked like a new team.
But sometime between leaving the field at halftime and returning to it, Denver's spark wilted as both the defense and the offense struggled to fire on all cylinders throughout the second half. They watched their 17-point lead fade into their second-straight loss.
"That first half was fun," Sanders said. "We've got to figure out a way to carry that first half over to the second half. Like I said, we're a work in progress and we're going to continuously work."
Amid the loss and disappointment, Sanders remained a bright spot on an otherwise bleak night with a career-high 181 yards on 10 receptions (18.1 avg.), including a 61-yard touchdown. This was Sanders' 11th 100-yard receiving game in his career, which have all come from his time with the Broncos.
With 24 yards rushing on one attempt, Sanders tallied 205 yards from scrimmage, making him just the 25th Bronco in franchise history to top 200 yards and the first since wide receiver Demaryius Thomas racked up 226 receiving yards in 2014 against the Cardinals.
To add to the bittersweet night, Sanders' career game came in front of his former fans at Heinz Field in a town he called home for four seasons.
After the Steelers scored the first touchdown, the Broncos rallied to score four touchdowns in the first half.
"It felt good," Sanders said of his return. "Obviously, the city of Pittsburgh, the Rooney's, [Steelers head coach] Mike Tomlin -- they've been so good to me. They drafted me in the third round [and] I'm forever thankful for that opportunity. It felt good to be back doing it in front of Steeler Nation waving the towels, but I wish the result would've ended a lot better."
While the Broncos may have faced another setback in the hunt for a playoff spot, Sanders firmly believes the team hasn't lost sight of its goals.
"We're a team. We're going to go through a lot. We're going to get tested. But one thing is, we still have all of our goals out there to attain. We can still make the playoffs. We can still win the Super Bowl. So, everything is still alright."