PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger called the interception that ended Pittsburgh’s six-game winning streak fluky.
On the surface, the Steelers quarterback is right.
The only reason Denver defensive lineman Shelby Harris found himself in position to make a leaping grab of Roethlisberger’s pass intended for Antonio Brown was because Harris was mashed off the line of scrimmage by Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey. Yet that didn’t stop Harris from improvising and getting his hands on the ball.
“I just never would have thought that guy would make that play,” Roethlisberger said.
That kind of play seems to pop up with regularity when things go awry for the AFC North leaders.
The Steelers (7-3-1) have turned the ball over 19 times through 11 games, including four in Sunday’s baffling 24-17 loss to the Broncos. Roethlisberger threw a pair of picks, James Conner fumbled deep in Denver territory and tight end Xavier Grimble saw a sure touchdown vanish when he tried to run over Broncos safety Will Parks at the goal line. The ball squirted loose just before crossing the plane and six points vanished.
“We didn’t do a good job of taking care of the ball and we also didn’t do a good job of getting the football,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said.
That may be an even bigger issue for the Steelers. Pittsburgh has 12 takeaways and has only created multiple turnovers in the same game twice, the main reason why its minus-7 turnover differential is 26th in the league. The Steelers had a chance to make a play immediately after Grimble’s fumble when Cam Heyward tipped Case Keenum’s pass high into the air. It fell harmlessly to the ground surrounded by a handful of Heyward’s teammates.
“We have to be more opportunistic,” Heyward said. “We have to keep preaching it, and maybe we have to spend some time with JUGS machine, all of us, just to make sure we are all aware of the significance of when (the quarterback) throws the ball. We got to be the aggressors instead of just letting it hit the ground.”
Getting pressure is not a problem. Pittsburgh sacked Keenum twice and he completed just 15 of 28 passes. Yet the Steelers couldn’t rattle him enough to make a major mistake. Nor could they get their hands on Denver running back Phillip Lindsay, who ran for 110 yards and a touchdown.
“There were some opportunities for us to get the ball and we just didn’t seize the moment,” Heyward said.
It added up to a momentum-sapping loss a week after stealing a victory in Jacksonville. Pittsburgh shut down the Jaguars over the final 20 minutes to roar back from a 16-point deficit. Though the Steelers limited Denver to 308 total yards, they also allowed the Broncos to go 79 yards for the go-ahead score after Conner’s fourth fumble of the season late in the third quarter.
The drive relied heavily on Lindsay, an undrafted rookie free agent who became the first back in over a year to top 100 yards rushing against Pittsburgh. Lindsay ran effectively enough that Pittsburgh couldn’t take aim at Keenum.
“We feel like if we slow their run game down, that will give us a chance to ball search and force the quarterback to throw the ball and give us an opportunity to make plays,” Hilton said. “So we just have to slow it down and try to make plays on the ball.”
That might not be easy this week against the Chargers (8-3). Los Angeles quarterback Philip Rivers tied an NFL record by completing 25 straight passes in a blowout win over Arizona on Sunday.
“He’s one of the top guys in the league and he’s got weapons on the outside making plays for them,” Hilton said. “Their running game is one of the better ones in the league, so it’s going to be a tough opponent. So we will have to be prepared.”
NOTES: OLB T.J. Watt said he was “fine” a day after exiting briefly with a wrist injury. … RT Matt Feiler called the decision to have him serve as a backup because he is dealing with a pectoral injury “precautionary.” Rookie Chukwuma Okorafor made his first start in Feiler’s place and held his own for the most part against Denver star linebacker Von Miller.
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