PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers
never thought they would already be playing for next year halfway
through a season that began with so many expectations.
The loss likely ended any realistic chance the Steelers had to
repeat their Super Bowl title. Nearly 11 months after halting
Denver's season in the AFC Championship Game, the Steelers may have
seen this season effectively ended by the Broncos (6-2) in
"I would have bet my house before the season started we
wouldn't be 2-6," defensive lineman Casey Hampton said. "I'd be
homeless right now."
The Steelers have lost six of seven to match their worst
midseason record in coach Bill Cowher's 15 seasons and by any
returning NFL champion in 20 seasons. No team has bounced back from
a 2-6 record and a loss in its eighth game to make the playoffs,
and only the Arizona Cardinals (1-7) have a worse record in the
"At 2-6, you have to audition for next year," wide receiver
Hines Ward said. "We'll see now who wants it and who throws in the
Running back Willie Parker wonders if some players already have.
To him, it seems as if some Steelers were satisfied with winning
the Super Bowl, and players may not trust their teammates as they
"I'm not blaming anybody," he said. "That's just the way I
Pittsburgh must sweep its final eight games to get to 10-6, a
record that might be needed to reach the AFC playoffs with five
teams having only two or fewer losses.
"If you're 2-5, you can't afford to lose many more in the
AFC," Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer said.
The Broncos never got anything going offensively until it was
too late in that 34-17 loss to Pittsburgh in the AFC championship
game in January, but this game was just the opposite. They led 14-0
less than four minutes in on Plummer's 16-yard touchdown throw to
Rod Smith following Walker's 38-yard reception and Walker's 10-yard
TD catch that came after Santonio Holmes fumbled a kickoff.
"We were down 14-0 before you could blink," Cowher said.
Not that Shanahan felt any extra satisfaction beating the team
that kept Denver out of the Super Bowl.
"It's always nice to beat a good football team and a well-run
organization, but I don't think you can compare it to that,"
Shanahan said. "They did it when the pressure was on and in our
Walker, the former Green Bay receiver who tore up a knee in his
first game of last season, scored on his long run on Denver's
second play of the second half and added a second 10-yard TD catch,
again with Ike Taylor in coverage, to make it 28-17 early in the
"Sometimes you dig pretty deep for some plays, and the coaches
must have seen something," Walker said of his 72-yard run. "I saw
the cornerback (Deshea Townsend) come up and I glanced to my right
and I saw the cutback lane up the middle."
What surprised Steelers linebacker Larry Foote was, "I don't
know if anybody touched him. When have you see a big play like that
against our defense? That was uncalled for."
Later, Walker -- who had 206 yards receiving and rushing -- got
open downfield on a 61-yard pass play against Taylor to the
Steelers 18 to set up Jason Elam's 32-yard field goal that
effectively closed out the Steelers.
The Broncos took advantage of the kind of mistakes the Steelers
have made all season -- Roethlisberger interceptions, fumbles at key
times and costly penalties -- to rebound from its 34-31 loss to the
Colts last week and stay atop the AFC West.
Roethlisberger threw for a career-high 433 yards by going
38-of-54 a week after having four passes intercepted in a 20-13
loss at Oakland. But he had three more interceptions, two at the
Denver 3-yard line by Champ Bailey -- the first coming with the
Steelers possibly driving for the tying score midway through the
Not only did the Steelers turn the ball over, they did so in the
worst possible place inside the Broncos 5. Ward fumbled at the
Broncos 1 in the final two minutes, after being hit by John Lynch,
and wide receiver Cedrick Wilson lost a fumble at the 6 with the
Steelers trying to come back from the early 14-0 deficit late in
the first quarter.
The Steelers have more turnovers (10) in two games than the
eight they had during their eight-game winning streak that ended
last season and carried through the playoffs. They also have more
(24) in half a season than they did all last season (23).
"We're doing the same thing over and over and over," Parker said. "We're a great team that's 2-6, and it's because
we're not concentrating on the little things."
Parker scored both Steelers touchdowns, on a 15-yard pass from
Roethlisberger early in the second quarter and a 3-yard run late in
the third that briefly cut Denver's advantage to 21-17.
Plummer was 16-of-27 for 227 yards even though the Steelers
held led 499-336 in total yardage. ... Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter was fined $15,000 by the league after he threatened an official following the Steelers' 20-13 loss to the Raiders last Sunday. Porter, angered for an unknown reason, was flagged 15 yards after telling an official that he would come after him. The Broncos won despite
losing two starters to injuries in the first half: linebacker Ian
Gold (hamstring) and safety Nick Ferguson (concussion). Ferguson
was hurt while being blocked by Ward, came back for a few plays,
then left again and did not return. Ferguson's replacement, Sam
Brandon, may have seriously injured a knee late in the game. ...
The Broncos have allowed 54 points in two games after giving up 44
in their first six. ... Game security was tightened after two
college film students tried sneaking into Heinz Field overnight,
apparently to shoot a dance video.
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