By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
January 9, 2012
Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos looks to pass the ball to Demaryius Thomas #88 of the Denver Broncos to score an 80 yard touchdown in overtime of the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Sports Authority Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Mile High on January 8, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Denver Broncos defeated the the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime 23 - 29. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
DENVER -- One by one, Steelers front-office people, coaches and players stopped by to console cornerback Ike Taylor. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was first. Owner Dan Rooney and general manager Kevin Colbert. Players Ryan Clark, Casey Hampton and Keenan Lewis. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the last. He practically lifted Taylor out of his chair and hugged him.
"I just told him I loved him," Roethlisberger said later. "I know he's beating himself up. I told him not to do that. I told him he's still one of the best cornerbacks in the league to me."
Too bad the players didn't do more to support Taylor on the field. If they had, maybe the Steelers still would be in the AFC playoffs instead of home this morning trying to figure out how they lost to the Denver Broncos Sunday night, 29-23, in overtime.
"People are going to blame it all on Ike," linebacker James Farrior said. "But it was all of us. There were 11 of us out there on defense and all of us are responsible for what happened."
It's not exactly a mystery why the Steelers' season is done. Their defense -- ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed and yards allowed coming in -- made the worst quarterback in the league look like John Elway. Tim Tebow, who completed just 46.5 percent of his passes in the regular season, completed just 10 on this gorgeous winter day in the Rockies, but they went for a staggering 316 yards. The Steelers defense had allowed just two completions for 40 or more yards in the 16-game season. It allowed four in this loss. It also allowed Tebow to throw a 30-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Eddie Royal over cornerback William Gay in the second quarter.
By now, you've probably seen the replay a hundred times of the winning touchdown in overtime. On the first play from the Denver 20, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas beat Taylor with an inside move, caught the ball at the Broncos 38, fought Taylor off with a stiff arm at the Broncos 48 and outran him and safety Ryan Mundy to the end zone. It was stunning on a couple of fronts. It took just 11 seconds. It was the Broncos' fourth win in overtime.
You might say the Steelers were Tebowed.
Farrior is right, everyone will blame Taylor. His big mistake was not making the tackle after the catch. "The run after was significant," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Taylor declined to talk to the media after the game. A club official stood guard at his locker to make sure no one approached.
Taylor's teammates were left to talk for him and said LeBeau had called a run defense. That left Taylor in one-on-one coverage with no help.
"We had [shown] a pretty good tendency of running on first-and-10," Broncos coach John Fox acknowledged.
Not this time.
"When I saw [Mundy] creeping up, I knew if I beat the cornerback, I had a touchdown," Thomas said.
So he did.
Taylor also was beaten by Thomas for 51- and 58-yard passes in the second quarter, leading to two touchdowns. In the second half, he was called for a 5-yard holding penalty and a 32-yard pass interference penalty.
"Ike is one of the big reasons we're here," Farrior said. "He's been great for us all year. There were a lot of times when he didn't have any help out there tonight. We called a lot of run-stopping defenses."
The problem is the defense didn't do enough to stop the Denver run. The Broncos had 131 rushing yards, 50 by Tebow.
"When you have a guy in single coverage like Ike, you had better get to the quarterback," Farrior said. "We didn't do that nearly enough."
Tebow wasn't sacked.
Part of that might have been the result of losing Hampton to a knee injury on the first series and defensive end Brett Keisel to a groin injury in the second quarter. But where were outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley? Did anyone notice them all day?
The Steelers offense also could have done more to bail out Taylor. Pro Bowl-starting wide receiver Mike Wallace dropped what should have been a 52-yard gain to the Denver 28 early in the second quarter. Roethlisberger threw a bad interception moments later that led to a Denver field goal. A bad snap over Roethlisberger's head in the shotgun by center Doug Legursky -- in for injured All-Pro Maurkice Pouncey -- late in the first half probably cost the Steelers a field goal.
But the most painful blunder might have came on a first-and-10 play from the Denver 45 with 29 seconds left in regulation. One completion by Roethlisberger, who led the Steelers to 17 points in the second half, could have set up kicker Shaun Suisham for a possible winning field-goal attempt. Instead, defensive end Elvis Dumervil blew in and knocked the ball out of Roethlisberger's hand. Roethlisberger recovered, but the 11-yard loss all but ended their drive.
"We were moving it and we had a shot," Roethlisberger said. "Someone got, it felt like a finger, on the ball and knocked it out."
Roethlisberger figured the Steelers would win it in overtime. Tebow and Thomas made sure they never got the ball back.
Taylor took the brunt of the blame, but, clearly, there was more to this loss than just him.
"I just talked to him corner to corner," LeBeau said when asked what he said to Taylor.
LeBeau played cornerback for the Detroit Lions a lifetime ago and was good enough to make the Hall of Fame.
"I know how he's feeling," LeBeau said of Taylor. "But that's part of playing corner. Ike will be back. He's down right now, but he'll be back."
Next season, sure. Not next weekend, though.
None of the Steelers will be playing in New England Saturday night. They'll be watching the Broncos.