After taking a 24-6 lead into the fourth quarter, the Steelers withstood a furious rally by the Broncos to hang on for a 27-19 victory. The Steelers clinched their second win of the year when defensive back James Pierre picked off Teddy Bridgewater's pass in the end zone intended for Courtland Sutton.
Pittsburgh received Ben Roethlisberger's best outing of the season, as the embattled quarterback took care of the ball while engineering five scoring drives. His second touchdown pass of the game gave Pittsburgh a commanding 18-point lead late in the fourth quarter.
Denver closed the gap behind Bridgewater, whose two fourth-quarter touchdown passes made it a five-point game with 5:46 left. After Chris Boswell's second field goal stretched Pittsburgh's lead to eight points, Bridgewater drove the Broncos 72 yards before committing his fateful first interception of the 2021 season.
The Steelers received big offensive performances from receiver Chase Claypool and running back Najee Harris. Claypool caught five passes for 130 yards and a score, while Harris ran for 122 yards and a touchdown despite missing most of the second half with cramps.
Here's a closer look at what transpired in Pittsburgh
Why the Steelers won
The Steelers vastly outplayed the Broncos for the game's first 45 minutes, then made just enough plays to preserve the win. Pittsburgh's offensive line had its best collective game of the season. Roethlisberger was sacked just once and went 15 of 25 passing with 253 yards. Similar to last Sunday's game against the Packers, he started the game with a deep touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson on the game's opening drive.
The Steelers' running game gained a season-best 147 yards on 35 carries. The Steelers were an efficient 7 of 12 on third down, while Pittsburgh's defense held the Broncos to just 2 of 12 third-down efficiency.
Pittsburgh's defense came up with three big plays. After being put on a short field following Malik Reed's strip-sack of Roethlisberger, T.J. Watt's jarring tackle for a loss of Javonte Williams forced the Broncos to settle for a field goal at the end of the first quarter. Williams broke loose for a 49-yard run before Devin Bush's sack of Bridgewater forced the Broncos to settle for another Brandon McManus field goal as the Steelers led 10-6 in the second quarter.
The last big defensive play was turned in by Pierre, who won a spot on the Steelers' initial roster after winning a tightly contested position battle. Pierre received more playing time on Sunday with starting cornerback Cam Sutton out with an injury.
Why the Broncos lost
Bridgewater (who finished the game with 288 yards on 24 of 38 passing) waited too long before taking advantage of his receivers against one-on-one coverage. After falling behind by double digits, Bridgewater looked more to Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick. Sutton caught seven passes for 120 yards that included a 39-yard touchdown that made it a five-point game late in the fourth quarter. Patrick caught seven passes for 89 yards. Unfortunately, it was a little too late for the Broncos, who (sans Williams' big run) struggled to run the ball while going 1-for-3 in the red zone.
Defensively, the Broncos – who entered the game as the league's second-best unit in points allowed – allowed the Steelers to score touchdowns on both of their trips to the red zone. Von Miler was a nonfactor after tallying 4.5 sacks in the Broncos' first four games. Speaking of nonfactors, tight end Noah Fant was targeted just four times with three catches for 20 yards.
Denver appeared to be building momentum after Williams' 49-yard run made it a four-point game late in the second quarter. The Steelers regained momentum after Claypool turned a 5-yard slant pass into a 59-yard gain with 5:10 left until halftime. The big play set up Harris' 1-yard touchdown, as the Steelers went into the locker room with a 17-6 lead. Claypool then stretched the Steelers' lead to 18 points with his 18-yard touchdown catch on Pittsburgh's first drive of the second half.
Play of the game
Pierre got a measure of redemption at the end of Sunday's game. Three weeks after giving up the game-clinching touchdown pass in Pittsburgh's loss to Las Vegas, Pierre stepped in front of Sutton to seal the Steelers' second home win over Denver in as many seasons. Pierre also saved a touchdown with his tackle of Williams on Williams' 49-yard run that ultimately led to a Broncos field goal.
"All of us running backs can tell the difference about how much they are improving. This whole press conference should be more about them. They did an amazing job. I told them that every time we got on the sidelines, even in the game in how good they were doing." -- Harris on the improved play of Pittsburgh's offensive line, via 93.7 The Fan.
"There's a very high percentage of those runs today -- especially from the shotgun -- were RPOs. And we probably had some of the throws, but why take it out of his hand when you're grinding it and you're getting it. It was fun to watch him kind of excel and take over. ... I'm happy for [Najee]." Roethlisberger on Harris, who had 60 more rushing yards on Sunday that he did during his previous season high, which was gained during last Sunday's loss in Green Bay.
"We can't wait until the game is out of hand to have a sense of urgency. We can't wait until we're down. We've got to just come out shooting the way we played in that fourth quarter and we'll give ourselves a chance to win a lot of games." -- Bridgewater on the Broncos' second consecutive loss.
"Just one of those plays where the defender covered it well. Just tried to back shoulder [Sutton] to give him a chance at least to make a play. The defender covered it so well that there wasn't a window to throw a high ball outside. It sucks to end a game like that, but the fight that we saw in this team in the fourth quarter, it was impressive." -- Bridgewater on Pierre's interception on his fourth-down pass attempt to Sutton.
The Steelers will play host to the Seahawks on "Sunday Night Football" in Week 6. Seattle is 2-3 and will be without Russell Wilson for several weeks after he sustained a finger injury that required surgery in the Seahawks' Week 5 loss to the Rams. The Broncos will return home to play host to the Raiders, who were 3-1 on the season entering their Week 5 matchup against the Bears.