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The mental state of Denver's shredded defenders was summed up best by end Rulon Jones. "I just can't think of a time when we really knew when they were going to pass," he said. "There were a couple of times when we thought they were, and they burned us. I was never able to tee off. I was always off balance. I was kind of waiting for them to come to me, instead of me going to them."
Pittsburgh had the ball for 70 offensive plays, 34 of them first downs, and that's when Denver was hurt the worst. Three times on first down the Steelers were thrown for losses, four times Malone threw incompletions. But on the other 27 they gained 223 (for an 8.3-yard average) of their total of 381 yards.
Even so, Denver might have pulled the game out. Five times the Broncos drove to the Steeler 22-yard line or closer, but the best they could produce was 17 points. Twice they got as close as the six; the first time an Elway pass was picked off by nose tackle Gary Dunn, the second time Karlis kicked a 21-yard field goal.
The last Denver score came midway through the third quarter, with the game tied 10-10 and Pittsburgh chewing up both the clock and the field, but unable to score. Elway, limping as the result of a pulled groin muscle, sustained earlier in the period, had brought the Broncos to the Pittsburgh 20. Looking at Steve Watson, Elway called "18 Double Out Take Off." That's a double post route on each side. Watson, who finished with 11 catches for 177 yards, put a double fake on cornerback Dwayne Woodruff, eluded strong safety Donnie Shell, caught the ball in the end zone and fell on his back.
So the score was tied at 17, there were still 18 minutes to go, and now the two antagonists began to play as though they would need 18 days to settle the issue.
Elway operates best on the run, but now, further hobbled by a sprained left knee, he was forced to stay inside the pocket. For Denver, an Elway without legs is like trying to race a Ferrari in first gear—you go no place.
All season Denver had lived by the turnover. Now it died by it. Taking over on their own 20 after Anderson's 26-yard attempt sailed wide left, the Broncos picked up five yards on a Winder run, his last of the game. He finished the day with 37 yards, making him the sixth 1,000-yard runner Pittsburgh had held to less than 100 yards this season.