Earlier this season, the San Francisco 49ers became the first team since 2015 to outgain its opponent by at least 200 yards, have the ball for at least 35 minutes, and still lose the game. Now they have company.
The Pittsburgh Steelers finished a Week 12 matchup against the Denver Broncos with 527 yards of offense, exactly 35 minutes of possession, and scored only 17 points. That left the door open enough for the Broncos — who only put up 308 yards — to steal a 24-17 win.
So how did the Pittsburgh offense do so much, but score so little? Because the Steelers blew just about every trip they made into Broncos territory.
It started early, when a trick pass from Antonio Brown to a wide-open Jaylen Samuels was off the mark on the Steelers’ first drive. Three plays later, Boswell’s field goal attempt was blocked. The only touchdowns of the day for Pittsburgh were a 97-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster and a fake field goal touchdown pass from Chris Boswell to offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva.
But their biggest problem was taking care of the ball.
Four drives for the Steelers that crossed the 50-yard line ended with a turnover. Those mistakes kept points off the scoreboard, and the fourth turnover of the day hammered the nail in their coffin.
Let’s take a look at all four.
1. Xavier Grimble fumbled on the goal line
On the drive after Brown’s missed throw and Boswell’s blocked kick, the Steelers had another golden opportunity to get their first points of the day. They should’ve come when Ben Roethlisberger found his tight end Xavier Grimble WIDE open on the left side of the field. But Broncos safety Will Parks beat Grimble to the goal line and delivered a hit that jarred the ball loose and out of bounds.
Fumbling out of the end zone turns into a touchback for the defense. Many complain that it’s one of the worst rules in football. But the counterpoint is simple: Don’t fumble. Grimble lost control of the ball and there are negative consequences for doing so.
In this case, it left the Steelers scoreless and preserved the Broncos’ early 3-0 lead.
2. Roethlisberger lobbed an easy interception near midfield
After taking the lead in the third quarter with a 97-yard touchdown to Smith-Schuster, the Steelers had a chance to really take control on their next drive. Instead, it ended with a turnover just after crossing the 50.
The interception thrown by Roethlisberger never had much of a chance and set up the Broncos with good field position. Two plays later, Denver tied the game 17-17 with a touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Emmanuel Sanders.
3. James Conner fumbled after a big gain
A couple drives later, the Steelers had a chance to grab the lead back, but disaster struck again. James Conner busted free on a screen pass for a gain of more than 20 yards, but fumbled when he attempted to hurdle a defender.
The Broncos recovered and again took advantage of the turnover with a touchdown drive to go up 24-17.
4. Roethlisberger’s second interception finished it
With just over four minutes left on the clock, the Steelers needed to drive 56 yards for a game-tying touchdown. They got 54 of those yards before Roethlisberger threw another atrocious interception on third-and-goal with just over a minute left:
If Broncos defensive tackle Shelby Harris hadn’t gotten there first, it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t have been picked off by cornerback Chris Harris instead. That’s how terrible the pass was.
That pair of bad interceptions came a week after Roethlisberger had three against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11. Roethlisberger even appeared to throw a game-clinching interception in a similar situation against the Jaguars, but it was nullified by a defensive penalty and the Steelers scraped together a come-from-behind win. This time they weren’t so lucky. The mistakes were too much to overcome in Denver.
The loss dropped the Steelers to 7-3-1 and into the No. 4 seed in the current AFC playoff picture. That could prove especially important because there’s been a stark difference between Roethlisberger’s play at home and on the road. this season
Big Ben at home:— Kay Adams (@heykayadams) November 26, 2018
14 TD, 3 INT
Big Ben on the road:
10 TD, 9 INT#splitsville
The Steelers will be back at home in Week 13, and that’s good for them because they need to get back on track. They started the 2018 season with a 1-2-1 record due to sloppy play with turnovers and penalties. The Steelers can’t afford to regress to that form with a tough slate of opponents ahead and the Ravens on their heels in the AFC North.
First up in December will be a matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, who have seven wins in their last eight games. Pittsburgh still has games against the Patriots and Saints on the schedule too. If the Steelers keep shooting themselves in the foot the way they did against the Broncos, their promising season won’t amount to much.