Rapid Reaction: Broncos 29, Steelers 23

January, 8, 2012
1/08/12
8:19
PM ET

DENVER -- My immediate thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' loss at the Denver Broncos:

What it means: The heavily favored Steelers made a surprising early exit from the playoffs against a team that didn't have a winning record. The first game under the new overtime rules ended after one play -- an 80-yard touchdown pass by Tim Tebow. Pittsburgh had won six of its final seven games. The AFC North, which entered the playoffs with three teams, is now down to one (the Ravens).

Quick finish: It took only one play in overtime for this game to be decided. Cornerback Ike Taylor got beat on a short pass and couldn't pull down Demaryius Thomas on the game-winning 80-yard touchdown. It finished one of the worst games all season for Pittsburgh's pass defense.

Costly turnover: The Steelers came back from a 14-point deficit to tie the game on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery with 3:48 left in the fourth quarter. This came after Ryan Mundy stripped Denver running back Willis McGahee when the Broncos had just driven into Pittsburgh territory.

Crazy quarter: The Steelers had a streak of nine straight quarters without allowing a touchdown before Tebow erupted in the second quarter. Tebow threw a 30-yard touchdown and ran 8 yards for another. The 20 points allowed by the Steelers in the second quarter were the second-most they have allowed in any quarter in a playoff game since the merger, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Painful game: The Steelers entered the game without their leading rusher (Rashard Mendenhall) and leading tackler (Ryan Clark). It only got worse for Pittsburgh when two starting defensive linemen (Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton) and left tackle Max Starks left the game with injuries. The Steelers were down to three healthy defensive linemen for most of the game.

Falling short early: The Steelers moved the ball in the first quarter but had to settle for two field goals to go up 6-0. The first drive ended when the Steelers made a surprising wide receiver screen to the outside on third-and-7. The second one stopped when Antonio Brown couldn't break free after a lot of contact with a Broncos defender.

What's next: The Steelers head to an offseason in which they will face questions about their offensive line, injured starting running back and aging defense.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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