Could've. Would've. Should've. These words define those who fall short of their goals. Such is the case of this series, which will examine the ebbs and flows of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 season and how specific individual plays may have shaped the year.
It’s hard to believe that at one point during the 2018, that the Steelers went from being a 1-2-1 team to ripping off six straight victories.
That rollercoaster ran off the tracks with a stop in Denver, one of several locations the Steelers have traditionally struggled to win football games. The same fate would strike this year’s team, but no one knew it yet at this point.
Despite turning the ball over three times, as well as giving the Broncos the ball on their 38 after missing a field goal in the game’s opening possession (netting Denver an easy three points), the Steelers were still in the game. They would tie the game 17-all before the Broncos took a seven-point, 24-17 lead with Ben Roethlisberger and company taking over at their own 44-yard line with roughly four and a half minutes remaining in the game.
We’ve seen this script before: Big Ben drives Pittsburgh down the field and to victory... except this wasn’t the same story this time.
The Steelers quarterback drives his team to the doorstep of Denver’s endzone, lining on 3rd-and-2, for what they hoped was an opportunity to at least tie the game. However, this play may single-handedly be responsible for derailing the Steelers entire 2018 season.
This sloppily executed play looks like a run-pass option (RPO) but everything from the snap, to the play fake, to the result was off. Ben hurries a pass right into the waiting arms of Broncos DT Shelby Harris, who easily scoops it up for the interception, sealing a win for Denver and a loss for Pittsburgh.
Aside from snapping a six-game winning streak, Roethlisberger’s comments two days later on his radio show would spark controversy. When asked about this play specifically, Ben threw several of his own teammates, including center Maurkice Pouncey and Antonio Brown under the bus. Ben mentions that Pouncey blocked Shelby “too far” and he should’ve thrown it to the Steelers other receiver, and not AB, “all four times”.
It’s possible this was the unraveling of the current situation between Brown and the team, as the receiver was well-covered by Broncos CB Chris Harris regardless of where Shelby was.
Roethlisberger caught a lot of criticism for his comments and accepted such as a “team leader”. However, the team would fall into a rut, losing their next three games and going winless against the entire AFC West.
A win in Denver would’ve helped them win their fourth AFC North division title in five years. Instead, they would miss the playoffs and fail to win at least ten games for their first time since 2013 (8-8).
This play alone may not have been what was needed to defeat Denver. Yet, it can be pointed at for the other reasons listed above as a turning point in the Steelers 2018 season.