Ben Roethlisberger shredded the NFL's best defense, passing for 380 yards and three touchdowns to lead the (9-5) Pittsburgh Steelers to a 34-27 victory over the (10-4) Denver Broncos in Week 15. Here's what you need to know:
- Roethlisberger completed a whopping 39 passes, highlighted by a sublime 23-yard laser to Antonio Brown that put the finishing touches on a comeback from an 17-point deficit late in the first half. The matchup between the league's most explosive wide receiver corps and the stingiest trio of cornerbacks lived up to the billing, with Chris Harris primarily following Brown, Aqib Talib trailing Martavis Bryant and Bradley Roby covering Markus Wheaton.
Brown was the clear victor, beating the sticky Harris for his first two touchdowns allowed since Week 12 of the 2013 season. An easy All-Pro selection as the NFL's most precise route runner and most dangerous open-field threat, Brown is up to 116 receptions, a league-leading 1,586 yards and 10 total touchdowns. He has also joined Wes Welker as the second player in history with three consecutive 110-catch seasons.
- It was a tale of two halves for Brock Osweiler, who led four consecutive touchdown drives to close out the first half. In the opening two quarters alone, he joined John Elway and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks in franchise history with three touchdown passes and one rushing score in the same game. The Steelers' defense fixed their blown assignments in the second half, forcing six consecutive punts. Battling through an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, Osweiler couldn't move the offense and forced a game-changing interception to Ryan Shazier in the middle of the fourth quarter.
The second-half dysfunction wasn't Osweiler's alone, however. Vernon Davis and Demaryius Thomas were guilty, once again, of huge drops in important moments. The coaching staff should take their share of heat for getting outscored 33-0 in the second half during December. If Peyton Manning is capable of practicing without a setback to his injured foot, the two-game skid might result in a quarterback switch. Either way, this team is trending in the wrong direction as the postseason approaches.
- In fact, Denver is far from a lock to take the AFC West crown after a 10-2 start. If the Broncos lose at home to the 11-3 Bengals and the Chiefs win out versus the Browns and Raiders, the division title belongs to Kansas City. The Broncos could get a first-round bye or fall out of playoffs without anything too crazy happening. Next week's clash looms large for Gary Kubiak's squad.
- The win pushed Pittsburgh into the AFC's No. 6 seed due to a better winning percentage in the "common games" tiebreaker over the Jets. A historically hot Steelers offense draws the beleaguered secondaries of the 4-10 Ravens and 3-11 Browns in the next two weeks. This is a team no AFC contender wants to face in January.
- Denver's season-high 377 yards allowed overshadowed a disruptive performance from defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who is enjoying a Pro Bowl season. Between Jackson and the increasingly productive Derek Wolfe, the Broncos have a pair of defensive linemen making strong contract-year pushes.