Injuries work over offensive line of Steelers
DENVER — Shuffling the offensive line has been a constant for the Steelers this season, and that did not stop Sunday.
Left tackle Max Starks did not play in the second half after injuring his right knee. Starks was hurt late in the second quarter, and he returned to the game briefly. Jonathan Scott took over at the position.
With All-Pro Maurkice Pouncey out for the third game in the past four weeks with a high-ankle sprain, Doug Legursky started at center, and Chris Kemoeatu was at left guard. Legursky, returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the regular-season finale, had been slated to start at left guard before Pouncey experienced a setback.
Asked what impact their injuries had, coach Mike Tomlin said: "We don't live in that world. We don't make excuses in regards to injuries. The guys we put on the field were capable of doing the job, and the reason we didn't do the job is because we didn't perform."
> > One of the best seasons of safety Ryan Clark's career had one of the worst endings. Clark, not in uniform because of a medical condition that led to a near-death experience following a game in Denver in 2007, had to watch from the sideline as Tim Tebow torched the Steelers' secondary.
"Other than last year's Super Bowl. it's the worst loss I've had," said Clark, who led the Steelers with 100 tackles during the regular season. "For it to be a game that's heavily weighed on the secondary, you wish you could have been out there with your guys."
Ike Taylor gave up three pass plays that exceeded 50 yards to Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas, but Clark defended his teammate.
"That's not his fault," he said. "He's the one true guy I know who plays man (defense) all game."
> > The Steelers had their defensive line depth pushed to the limit. Nose tackle Casey Hampton left the game after the first series with a knee injury and did not return. Defensive end Brett Keisel went down with a groin injury early in the second quarter; he also did not return. The Steelers played most of the game with Ziggy Hood and rookie Cameron Heyward at end and second-year man Steve McLendon at tackle. Heyward made one of the biggest plays of the game when he helped cause a fourth-quarter fumble by Broncos running back Willis McGahee that outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley recovered.
> > Woodley started at left outside linebacker, but the Steelers rotated the fifth-year veteran with Jason Worilds — sometimes during the same series. Woodley finished tied for the team lead in sacks with nine despite missing seven of the final nine regular-season games with a hamstring injury. He finished a game for the first time since Oct. 23, but he was not much of a factor until he recovered the late fumble.
> > Steelers running back Isaac Redman became the fourth undrafted player in NFL history to rush for 100 or more yards in a playoff game. Redman, who had 121 yards on 17 carries, accomplished the feat a day after Houston's Arian Foster (153 on 24) did the same in a victory over Cincinnati.
> > Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger exceeded 3,000 passing yards in postseason play, throwing for 289 to give him 3,150 in 14 games. He joins Terry Bradshaw (3,833 in 19) as the only quarterbacks in Steelers history to reach that mark.
• Steelers linebacker Mortty Ivy, tackle Jamon Meredith and defensive end Al Woods were the healthy scratches.
> > Broncos receiver Damaryius Thomas quietly finished the regular season with a bang. With so much attention focused on quarterback Tim Tebow, Thomas racked up some impressive numbers over the past five games — 25 catches, 448 yards and three touchdowns. So, hardly anyone was surprised when he caught the game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass in overtime — save Taylor and Ryan Mundy.
"The way they were playing us, the corner was off and the safety (Mundy) was down," Thomas said. "When the safety crept down, I said 'If I beat this corner, it's a touchdown.' When (Taylor) missed me at the line, I knew that was all she wrote."
> > Thomas, a former Georgia Tech standout finished with seven catches for a career-best 204 yards. The Steelers were so focused on stopping the league's top-ranked running attack they were vulnerable to play action.
"The coaches coached him up well this week on how to attack the corners and giving him a lot of a different looks," Tebow said.
Thomas averaged 51 yards per catch, including a 58-yarder to set up Tebow's 8-yard scoring run for a 14-6 advantage.
"I felt they wanted to make a statement to stop the run," Thomas said. "I don't know if they forgot about the passing game."
> > The most potent ground game in the NFL was slowed some by the Steelers defense. The Broncos rushed for 131 yards. However, the run game was efficient enough to set up play-action passes — including Tebow's 80-yard throw to Thomas in overtime.
"It's a play that we ran earlier in the night," Denver coach John Fox said. "We had a pretty good tendency of running on first-and-10, and they utilized some zero-blitz stuff. I think we executed in that situation."
> > Cornerback Champ Bailey wasn't bragging, but he won his battle with Steelers' big-play receiver Mike Wallace. Roethlisberger threw 10 times to Wallace, and Bailey checked him to three receptions for only 26 yards. Wallace did score on a 1-yard reverse. Bailey also dropped an interception in the end zone that could have thwarted a Steelers' fourth-quarter scoring drive. But he tormented Wallace, who dropped a long ball early in the fourth quarter with Bailey in pursuit.
"It was a key to the game holding him down because every time they've won games this year they get a big play," Bailey said. "To limit them from throwing over our heads was big for us."