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Steelers notebook: Harrison not ready to decide on future

| Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, 10:03 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker James Harrison is not fooled on a direct snap to Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman in the first quarter of their AFC divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Denver.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' James Harrison drops Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman for a loss in the third quarter of their AFC divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Denver.

DENVER — James Harrison couldn't say Sunday whether he had played his final NFL game.

But the veteran outside linebacker knows who — and what — he'll be looking at when making that call.

“What plays into my decision, a big part of it, is my kids,” Harrison said after the Steelers' 23-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in an AFC divisional playoff game.

“Another big part of it is just how I feel. I'm 37 years old. I may make things look easy, but at the end of the day it's hard. I'm older. I've been doing this for 13, 14 years now, so it's not something I can easily give a ‘yes' or ‘no' answer to right now.”

Harrison finished with seven tackles. Three went for a loss, including a sack of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning.

Harrison missed only one game during the regular season. He finished with five sacks, two forced fumbles, four passes defended and an interception. He has one year remaining on his contract.

Not so special

The Steelers tightened up on special teams after a sluggish start. But the Broncos capitalized on poor coverage and an ugly punt to take a 6-0 lead in the first quarter.

Denver punt returner Omar Bolden picked up a 52-yard Jordan Berry punt, then found a seam along the left side for a 42-yard return to give Manning a short field. The defense surrendered a field goal for a 3-0 deficit.

The Broncos were gifted another short field when Berry's punt was caught in a swirling crosswind. The ball traveled only 27 yards to give Denver possession at the Steelers' 31. It led to another field goal.

Wide receiver Markus Wheaton returned punts with Antonio Brown out with a concussion and averaged 5.0 yards. But he muffed two punts — once leaving the Steelers at their 6 and a second fumble resulted in a touchback.

Moats injured

When outside linebacker Arthur Moats left with a pectoral injury midway through the first quarter, it changed the Steelers' depth chart. Jarvis Jones, who starts on the right side, flipped to the left side to spell rookie Bud Dupree. Jones was pushed on the other side, too, because Harrison played perhaps his best game of the season.

Defense stretched

In a twist of irony, it was Steelers defense looking for help from a usually potent offense. But the offense was handicapped without Brown.

“We played our hearts out, but they made the big plays at the end,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. “They just got the momentum, and that was really it.”

The defense got little relief as Manning engineered a game-winning 65-yard scoring drive. The Steelers held Manning to 222 yards passing, including 99 in the first half.

“The coaches had a great game plan, and we executed it well,” safety Will Allen said. “One series, they executed and we didn't. Peyton saw things we were in, and he executed a high level. That's what veteran quarterbacks do.”

Quick hits

Linebacker L.J. Fort was activated for the first time this season because running back Will Johnson was held out with a hamstring injury. ... Martavis Bryant rushed for 40 yards in the first half on two carries, more than Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint combined (38). ... Denver linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware didn't have a sack or tackle in the regular-season meeting, but they teamed up to sack Roethlisberger on fourth down to set up a field goal that gave Denver a 23-13 lead.

Rob Rossi contributed to this report. Ralph N. Paulk is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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