Friday, November 30, 2018

Jim O'Brien - "Pittsburgh Proud"

Remembering the good old days of the colorful, innovative American Basketball Association

By Jamie Vaught
February 9, 2018

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Dan Issel, Kentucky Colonels

If you have followed my sports column over the years, you may have read some of the stories about the old American Basketball Association.
I was a huge fan of ABA which included the Louisville-based Kentucky Colonels.  The colorful league had featured a couple of radical innovations – a three-point field goal (which at the time did not exist in the NBA or college basketball) and the red-white-blue “beach” ball. The Colonels were my favorite pro basketball team. And I loved them even before two UK stars — Dan Issel and Mike Pratt — joined the franchise in 1970.  I didn’t like the well-established NBA very well with that ugly black-looking ball on a black-and-white TV set.
My interest in the Colonels and ABA began when I was in the sixth or seventh grade. Ex-Wildcat Louie Dampier starred with the Colonels during the pre-Issel era, pumping those long three-point jumpers. While Issel was reaping All-American honors during his senior year at UK, my parents, my friend and I traveled to Louisville — a three-hour trip one way — to see the Colonels, who were hosting the Miami Floridians at the 6,000-seat Convention Center.  I remember that 1969 game well because it was the first time I had seen the Colonels play in person. Before a crowd of 3,000, Kentucky defeated the Floridians 115-111 behind 6-9 forward Gene Moore’s 28 points and 22 rebounds with Dampier getting 24 points.
After that matchup, my friend and I had my parents waiting in the car in the downtown arena’s parking lot for about an hour while we obtained autographs from several Colonels players, including Wayne Chapman, whose two-year-old baby, Rex, would be a future UK and NBA star. I could tell that my mom and dad weren’t too thrilled about it. Fortunately, they didn’t fuss about it on the way home.
As you can tell, I was really crazy about the Colonels.
Since then, we made two or three trips to Louisville from our rural hometown of Science Hill in Pulaski County to watch the Kentucky Colonels every season during my high school years. Occasionally, I even sneaked to the hardwood floor a couple of times with my cheap Kodak camera (with basic print film) and sat with other photojournalists to take pictures of my beloved Colonels. Each time though, after sitting for around 10 minutes or so on the floor, a media relations official from the team or a security guard would catch me, forcing me to return to my seat since I didn’t have a proper photo or media credential.
The photos, of course, were very poor quality and dark, but I managed to get decent shots of 7-2 star Artis Gilmore of Kentucky and San Diego coach K.C. Jones of the Boston Celtics fame.
Sadly, our annual trips eventually stopped when the struggling ABA folded in 1976 and sent four of its teams — Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, and New York Nets (now Brooklyn Nets) — to the NBA.
However, ABA thankfully still hasn’t been forgotten ever since.  Occasionally, there have been books (such as “Loose Balls” by Terry Pluto, first published in 1990) and numerous newspaper articles written about its former players and the visionary league.  In addition, there is a popular website about the former league – – that is filled with photos, fascinating stories, facts and team logos.
That’s not all. Even after its death over 40 years ago, the ABA memories remain alive with a couple of recently-published books.

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Remember veteran journalist and Pittsburgh native Jim O’Brien who wrote a weekly ABA column in The Sporting News, a national publication?  He was called by some as the “Mr. ABA” as he covered the league for seven years.  I visited with him at PNC Park in Pittsburgh last summer when the Pirates played the Milwaukee Brewers and he told me about his new hoops book that was coming out soon.
Now published about three months ago, his basketball memoir titled, “Looking Up: From the ABA to the NBA, the WNBA to the NCAA” (James O’Brien Publishing, $28), is loaded with many ABA stories and tidbits. In addition to profiles on well-known ABA personalities such as Bill Sharman, Connie Hawkins, John Brisker, Julius Erving, Dan Issel, and Lou Carnesecca, he also includes chapters on UK coach John Calipari, Jerry West, “Bad Night in Louisville,” Press and Pete Maravich, Charlie Scott, among others.
I have read most of the 480-page paperback and it’s an enjoyable read. I love it.
“The ABA was the most transparent sports league of them all. Writers were welcomed. People wanted to talk to you,” O’Brien told this columnist several years ago. “The league had a lot of colorful owners, coaches and players and they were available to interview.  The league needed recognition and it was a sportswriter’s dream.
“The Kentucky Colonels and Indiana Pacers were my favorite teams to cover. They were first class from top to bottom.  I loved coming to Freedom Hall and staying at The Executive Inn nearby. (Kentucky coach) Babe McCarthy once said of Wendell Ladner, ‘He doesn’t know the meaning of the word fear…as well as a lot of other words.’ (I) had a lot of fun.”
If you’re interested, you can order an autographed copy of the book via O’Brien’s website at
There is another remarkable volume titled “Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis” (Halfcourt Press, $29.95) that discusses the story of the birth and first two seasons of the Indiana Pacers, who became one of ABA’s few solid franchises.
Veteran sportswriter Mark Montieth is certainly the right person to write a book about the Pacers’ early days as he grew up in Indianapolis and attended some of their games during the club’s first two years, and later covered the Pacers as a writer for the Indianapolis Star for 12 years. In addition to tons of research he compiled over the years, the author interviewed nearly every player from the first Pacers squad in 1967-68. (Many years ago, Montieth also wrote a book, titled “Passion Play,” which covered coach Gene Keady and his 1987-88 Big Ten champion Purdue Boilermakers.)
As you may recall, the Colonels and the Pacers – separated by 1.5 hours on I-65 — were big ABA rivalries and their intense games drew large crowds.
Former Wildcats like Cliff Hagan (who was a player-coach for the Dallas Chaparrals) and Louie Dampier are mentioned several times in the “Reborn” hardcover, which has over 400 pages, including around 50 photos, many of which have not been published before. If you are an Indiana Pacers or ABA fan, you wouldn’t be disappointed.
More information about the book can be found on author’s website at and you probably could ask about getting a signed copy.
It’s sure an awesome feeling to know that ABA is still alive in memory. Those were the good old days.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor of magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter@KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at

'Looking Up' : 'The Basketball Diaries' of Jim O'Brien

By Craig Meyer
October 7, 2018
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There’s a certain point in Jim O’Brien’s “Looking Up: From the ABA to the NBA, the WNBA to the NCAA: A Basketball Memoir” that the reader realizes there’s a fundamental truth spread across the book’s 480 pages — that in most of the basketball tales being told, there’s almost always a connection to Pittsburgh, however large or small it may be.
In a sports-obsessed region, one whose teams and colors are as central to the civic identity as anything else, basketball can exist as something of a forgotten stepchild. With no professional team and a deteriorated pool of local talent, basketball in Pittsburgh can, at best, seem overlooked and, at worst, exist as an object of derision.
But through Mr. O’Brien’s experiences and anecdotes, collected over decades covering the sport in depth, a different world is illuminated.
The book isn’t specifically about basketball in Pittsburgh. Hundreds of pages and dozens of chapters are devoted to some of the most decorated figures in the sport’s history who had no connections to Western Pennsylvania.
In a book that’s personal to some extent — it is a memoir, after all — Mr. O’Brien, who became the first Pittsburgh native inducted into the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, deftly connects the sport he loves with the city he loves.
What results from it is an enjoyable and insightful read. For a basketball fan, particularly one who appreciates the nuances of the sport and its history, it’s an immersive experience, even if it may not be that way for those who don’t have a passion for the game.
Click on the link below to read the rest of the article:

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Chargers' Philip Rivers getting better with age; Steelers await

By Joe Rutter
November 28, 2018

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Quarterback Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers passes in the first quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at StubHub Center on November 25, 2018 in Carson, California. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Until he threw a combined five interceptions over the past two weeks, Ben Roethlisberger was playing some of the best football of an NFL career that has spanned 15 seasons.
And despite his recent hiccups, Roethlisberger remains on pace to set career marks in yardage and touchdown passes.
These days, however, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback isn’t even the most productive member of his 2004 draft class.
That honor would go to the Los Angeles Chargers’ Philip Rivers, who was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday after establishing multiple NFL records in a 45-10 victory against Arizona on Sunday.
Rivers set standards by completing his first 25 passes and finishing with 28 completions in 29 attempts for a historic 96.6 completion percentage.
Rivers has helped the Chargers craft an 8-3 record that will be tested Sunday at Heinz Field against Roethlisberger and the 7-3-1 Steelers.
“He’s an MVP-caliber player, and he’s playing at an MVP level right now,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “What he did last week was pretty spectacular.”
It’s a continuation of what Rivers has done all season. His 3,119 yards rank eighth, but his 9.1 yards per completion is fourth and his 115.7 passer rating is a career high and ranks third behind Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes.
Rivers has a 69.5 percent completion percentage that is tied for the highest of his career. He also has thrown just six interceptions against 26 touchdown passes.
“You can tell from his energy that he loves the game,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt said, “from the way he’s throwing the ball and the way he’s doing some of the things he’s doing is kind of awesome.”
Like Roethlisberger, Rivers is putting up his eye-popping numbers at an advanced age. He will turn 37 in two weeks.
“Forty is the new 30,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s fun to watch a guy like that play. You sit there and say (he’s) 37, but then you look at guys older than him, (Tom) Brady, Brees, that are still playing at a high level, too.
“It tells you that if you take care of yourself, you can still be successful later in your career.”
Brady is chugging along at age 41, leading the Patriots to an 8-3 record and top spot in the AFC East. Brees, at 39, has directed the Saints to a 10-1 record that is tied for best in the NFC.
Roethlisberger, 36, isn’t surprised some of the NFL’s oldest quarterbacks, himself and Rivers included, have guided their teams to first-place records or potential wild-card berths.
“You see a lot, the game does slow down a little bit, you understand your offense, you understand defenses, you’ve been in different situations,” Roethlisberger said. “You go through wins and losses, highs and lows.”
From the celebrated 2004 draft class, only the New York Giants’ Eli Manning is experiencing the lows this season as evidenced by his team’s 3-8 record. The 37-year-old Manning, though, has two Super Bowl wins on his resume as does Roethlisberger.
Rivers, of course, is still searching for his first appearance in NFL’s showcase event.
Thanks to Rivers’ increased ball security, he might lead the Chargers to their first Super Bowl appearance in 24 seasons. Under coach Anthony Lynn and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, Rivers has cut his interceptions drastically.
He has thrown 16 interceptions combined in the past two seasons after throwing a career-high 21 in 2016.
“He’s always played winning football, and he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the game,” said Lynn, who is in his second season. “We emphasized a formula to win. Taking care of the football is one of the pieces of that.
“He’s done a heckuva job of doing that. He carried it over from last year.”
The game Sunday will pit two of the best late-season quarterbacks of their generation.
Roethlisberger has a 46-15 record (.754 winning percentage) in December and January regular-season games in his career. Since becoming a starter in 2006, Rivers is 39-19 (.672).
“We try to peak at the right time,” Lynn said. “You should get better as the season goes on. That’s a great example and that’s what I want every player on the team to do, get better each week. Phil’s a great example of that.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Xavier Grimble's fumble cost Steelers more than a TD

By Mark Madden
November 26, 2018

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Will Parks forces a fumble by Xavier Grimble at the one-yard line in the Steelers' 24-17 loss in Denver on Sunday. (CBS Denver)

Ben Roethlisberger threw two interceptions Sunday at Denver, the second especially regrettable.
If that damages the Steelers’ season, so be it. Roethlisberger has earned wiggle room and two Super Bowl rings.
James Conner had a big fumble. For the second time this year, Conner putting the ball on the ground arguably cost the Steelers a win.
Conner, too, gets some leeway. He’s filling big shoes with success and aplomb.
Xavier Grimble gets no such latitude.
Grimble is the No. 3 tight end. He’s lucky to be on the Steelers, or in the NFL. He plays just 16 percent of the offensive snaps. Grimble went undrafted. He’s borderline.
Grimble admits to intentionally taking on Denver safety Will Parks at the goal line when Grimble was about to score a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter: “I could have cut back and scored, but I wanted to run right through him.”
Grimble couldn’t even be bothered to switch the ball to his left arm to better shield it from impact.
If Grimble veers even slightly right, Parks’ tackle would have carried Grimble into the end zone.
Grimble outweighs Parks by nearly 70 pounds, but Parks jarred the ball loose and it went through the end zone for a touchback. The Broncos got the ball. The Steelers got no points.
The Steelers lost by a touchdown. Common sense dictates it was by that touchdown.
Grimble’s faux pas changed the game.
If Grimble scores, the trickle-down almost certainly renders moot mistakes made by Roethlisberger and Conner. That Grimble’s fumble was borne of ego dipped in machismo makes it all the worse. It set a tone for Steelers sloppiness.
It’s a mistake the No. 3 tight end can’t afford to make. It might earn a pink slip if you work for Bill Belichick.
The No. 3 wide receiver contributed a less-heralded absurdity: James Washington went unnecessarily airborne for a third-quarter pass that he dropped. If he just keeps running, the play is more easily made and he likely scores a touchdown.
I don’t want to say the Steelers are stupid. But if their brains were Crisco, they might not grease too big a pan.
But Grimble is the biggest of Sunday’s black-and-gold fools. A player of Grimble’s low stature can’t make that mistake.
The Steelers’ receiving game is in flux. Washington’s failure to develop into a legit No. 3 receiver is only part of the story.
JuJu Smith-Schuster had 13 catches at Denver, gaining 189 yards and scoring one touchdown. Antonio Brown had nine catches for 67 yards. Smith-Schuster has six games of 100 yards or more receiving this season. Brown has three. Brown’s yardage per catch is down almost three yards from 2017.
Is Brown now the Steelers’ No. 2 receiver? That’s what the statistics say, though every foe treats Brown as the No. 1 receiver in its defensive game plan. (Maybe that’s part of the problem.)
Brown is 30. Not young for a wide receiver. He frequently was seen sucking on oxygen during Sunday’s game at high-altitude Denver.
Brown is often double-covered, but that’s happened for at least five years and never kept his numbers down before.
Brown is still contributing mightily. He has 11 touchdowns, including at least one in eight consecutive games prior to Sunday’s. Brown threw a big block on Smith-Schuster’s 97-yard touchdown reception. Somewhere, Hines Ward smiled.
That loss at Denver might prove quite costly.
It’s easy to imagine the Steelers losing at least two of their last five games: At New Orleans Dec. 23 seems a certain “L” — unless that contest is meaningless to the Saints — and home games with the Los Angeles Chargers and the New England Patriots are dicey.
If the Steelers win three of their remaining five, 10-5-1 wins the AFC North but doesn’t get a bye, let alone home field. 11-4-1 might get a bye.
Getting a first-round bye might have been as simple as Grimble taking one step to the right. You can’t spell “fumble” without “Grimble.” (That’s obviously not true, but it sounds catchy.)
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays at WXDX-FM (105.9).

Monday, November 26, 2018

Old road habits return in Steelers' familiar-feeling loss to Broncos

By Tim Benz
November 25, 2018

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James Conner fumbles in the second half of Sunday's 24-17 loss in Denver.

Here's a tweet I sent out during the second quarter as the Steelers were struggling to come back from a 3-0 deficit in Denver.

Trick play gone wrong, blocked kick, cant catch the tipped pass for an INT, Grimble screw up. Watt hurt....Steelers laying an early foundation for a loss

It was met with the predictable reaction of, "What!? Didn't you see last week's game in Jacksonville?"
I did.
Similarly, I wonder if many of those who tweeted such responses saw any of the all-too-common losses — or ties — by the Steelers on the road to inferior competition in the Mike Tomlin era.
The Chicago loss last year. This year's tie in Cleveland. The slew of such games in 2009, 2012, and 2013 that went a long way toward keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs in those seasons. And, of course, the loss to Tim Tebow and company on the same field in the 2011 postseason.
Before we go any further, the point of this isn't to rewrite the narrative about favored Tomlin teams faltering on the road. Yet, the Steelers tendency to play down to competition does bite them almost every year when it comes to making the playoffs, or at least having an easier road through them.
To be fair, the Steelers have been solid on the road lately. The stumble in Denver is their only road loss this season. They dropped just one road game last season. And they closed out 2016 by winning their last four regular-season road games and a playoff matchup in Kansas City.
Rather, the point of this entry is twofold.
First, if you thought the Jacksonville game was some type of defining moment that made the Steelers foolproof against lesser teams on the road, you were kidding yourself.
Second, the Steelers familiar formula for defeat in this Denver game must be avoided in the future.
Like in Oakland two weeks from now.
So many of those unfortunate Steelers losses away from Heinz Field follow the same script I alluded to in the above tweet.
Overly fancy play calling. Painful turnovers. Allowing lesser teams to hang around early in games so belief builds in the fourth quarter. Special teams miscues. Red-zone screw-ups. Stat-sheet dominance that isn't reflected on the scoreboard.
Those items have frequently been at the root of the Steelers undoing in games such as this 24-17 loss to the 5-6 Broncos. They were all on display Sunday in Denver.
I'll be honest. Despite my looming-storm-cloud way of thinking in that first half, I still felt as if the Steelers were good enough to come back.
As it turns out, they were. The Black and Gold turned a 10-3 hole into a 17-10 lead.
However, all the early errors gave the Broncos enough cushion to sustain the body blows of Chris Boswell's fake field goal touchdown pass to Alejandro Villanueva and JuJu Smith-Schuster's 97-yard touchdown.
"They just executed better," defensive end Cameron Heyward said. "We have to look in the mirror and see where we made mistakes. They ran the ball well and won the turnover ratio."
Heyward is right there. The Steelers allowed 124 yards rushing after yielding 179 a week ago. Denver probably could've had more. Phillip Lindsay averaged 7.9 yards per carry en route to 110 yards and a touchdown. He only rushed 14 times.
And as far as the turnovers go? Yeah, as was the case last week, the Steelers were guilty of too many. They had four versus the Broncos.
Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions against the Jaguars and had two more called back via penalty. He had two more interceptions Sunday in Colorado, including a third-down killer in the end zone with just over a minute remaining the game.
But how about creating one or two? This was the fourth straight road game where the Steelers failed to generate an interception. And they forced just one fumble.
If this club can statistically dominate a game like they just did in Denver and still lose, then it's possible to do so in Oakland.
Remember the losses in "The Black Hole" to 4-12 editions of the Raiders in 2012 and '13?
Have I mentioned 2012 and '13 yet in this post?
Will failing to win road games in Cleveland and Denver cost the Steelers a playoff spot? Unlikely.
Will failing to beat those teams hurt playoff seeding? Absolutely. Especially when the schedule still holds dates with New England, the Los Angeles Chargers and New Orleans.
The Jacksonville game was a fun comeback. It wasn't a cure all. And it easily could've had a less favorable outcome. Along with this Denver defeat, both games should simply prove to be a reminder of what symptoms still plague the Steelers on the road against sub-.500 competition.

Four turnovers in Denver snap Steelers' six-game winning streak

By Jeremy Fowler
November 25, 2018
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Will Parks (14) forces Xavier Grimble (85) to fumble at the one-yard line. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER -- An erratic day ended with an awful play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose brilliance on offense couldn't overcome a litany of mistakes.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's curious goal-line toss over the middle into the arms of Broncos defensive tackle Shelby Harris with 1:03 left sealed Denver's 24-17 win Sunday.
Putting up 527 yards on a good defense should be more than enough to win.
“It’s going to be a quiet plane ride home,” said wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who finished with 189 yards.
The Steelers moved meticulously downfield only to trip over their own momentum. From the 3-yard line with two minutes left, the Steelers ran a fade play for an incompletion and a James Conner run the Broncos stuffed. On third down, Roethlisberger pulled back a handoff as Antonio Brown crossed the middle, throwing the ball into a sea of defenders in orange.
Roethlisberger said he ran a run-pass option and threw to the spot where Brown was going to be.
“I never thought a defensive lineman would get blocked right into the interception,” he said. “Good play by him.”
Through three quarters, the Steelers had twice as many yards as Denver (446 to 223), held on to the ball for about twice as long (29:30 to 15:30) yet found themselves tied at 17 thanks to two lost fumbles and an interception.
Roethlisberger's 12th career 400-yard game fell flat. Roethlisberger finished with 464 yards, which he says feels empty right now after the four giveaways, two at the goal line. “When you turn the ball over, it doesn’t matter what your stats are,” Roethlisberger said.
Whether it was Roethlisberger's firing a 97-yarder from his own end zone or kicker Chris Boswell's firing into the Broncos' end zone for a trick-play score, the Steelers found creative ways to put up points.
But the win streak dies at six. And it shouldn't have been difficult.
Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay needed 13 rushes to surpass 100 yards. Former Steeler Emmanuel Sanders was largely unguardable. Denver's 11-play, 79-yard drive early in the fourth was too easy. The secondary lacked splash.
The physical Broncos showed fight uncommon in a 4-6 team. The Steelers had trouble matching that fire at times.
James Conner, whose crucial late-third-quarter fumble set up a Broncos touchdown, was visibly upset after the game, apologizing to the media for short answers. “I’m a competitor,” he said. “I’m not in a good mood.” Brown was similarly clipped, reducing the game to this: “A loss is a loss.”
The offense moved the ball well on its first three drives but had three points to show for it. Eight different Steelers caught a pass in the first half, and when the Steelers fooled the Broncos with a well-timed misdirection play for 23 yards to tight end Xavier Grimble, a big Will Parks hit forced a fumble at the 1-yard line for a touchback.
That play loomed large. One cut to the inside probably would have sealed the touchdown. Instead, the Broncos got a touchback. In a one-touchdown game.
Deep in his end zone and with Shelby Harris closing in for the hit, Roethlisberger took the five-step drop and delivered a dime to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 97-yard score early in the third quarter. Smith-Schuster -- now the proud owner of two 97-yard receptions dating back to last year -- caught the ball around midfield, broke toward the sideline and stiff-armed Darian Stewart. Antonio Brown threw a helpful block on Chris Harris along the way.
That score should have punctuated a winning performance but instead simply looks good on the stat sheet.
Now, the Steelers have five games to respond.
“We’ll be ready to go,” Conner said. “We have more opportunities.”

Broncos Analysis: Denver beats Pittsburgh Steelers behind four turnovers

By Ryan O'Halloran
November 25, 2018
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Shelby Harris (96) celebrates his interception that sealed the Broncos' 24-17 win over the Steelers.(Joe Amon, The Denver Post)
Even after four consecutive losses appeared to derail their season, the Broncos kept saying the right things. More importantly, they kept believing the right things.
They would start to win close games. Takeaways would come at critical times. Their running game would serve as an offensive foundation. And they would absolutely not give up hope even while everybody around them was debating who should replace coach Vance Joseph and which player should be targeted in the first round of next year’s draft.
All of their optimism, confidence and resolve were rewarded Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Broncos’ fourth takeaway, an end zone interception by defensive tackle Shelby Harris with 1:03 remaining, sewed up a 24-17 upset win, giving them their first winning streak since Weeks 1-2.
“Most teams would lose their minds (during the rough patch) and not play hard and not work every day but this is a reward for sticking together and having great chemistry,” Joseph said.
The win moved the Broncos to 5-6. As hard it was to fathom just a few weeks ago, Denver will play meaningful December football.
“We’re rolling now,” nose tackle Domata Peko said. “(Beating) two of the best teams in the AFC (Pittsburgh and the Chargers) just shows what type of team we have.”
What type of team the Broncos have continues to crystallize.
It is an offense that can lean on undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay to carry the running game (110 yards), is integrating players like tight end Matt LaCosse (first career touchdown), prioritizing receiver Emmanuel Sanders (seven catches) and getting more-than-serviceable offensive line play.
But if this team is to get hot, it will follow the formula that worked, barely, against Pittsburgh.
Give up a ton of yards … but get turnovers. They have 12 takeaways in the last five games, and had four on Sunday.
Give up a ton of yards … but make the occasional third-down stop. Pittsburgh failed to convert its last six third-down chances.
Give up a ton of yards … but not on the ground. The Broncos held a fourth consecutive opponent under 100 yards rushing.
Did we mention get takeaways?
The four turnovers helped the Broncos overcome 524 yards allowed (most in franchise history during a win) and a 97-yard touchdown catch (longest opponent’s completion in team history).
None were bigger than Harris’ improbable interception.
The Steelers drove to the Broncos’ 3-yard line at the two-minute warning. On first down, cornerback Chris Harris had solid coverage on receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on an incomplete pass to the corner. On second down, James Conner was held to a 1-yard gain.
On third down, the shotgun snap was low and wide to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who collected it and then briefly collided with running back James Conner. Harris was pushed back by center Maurkice Pouncey, which turned out to be beneficial. Antonio Brown ran a quick slant but Roethlisberger’s pass went right to Harris, who made the catch as he fell to the turf.
“I would have never thought in a million years that a defensive lineman would get blocked off the ball that far — right into an interception,” Roethlisberger said. “Good play by him.”
Before Harris’ good play, the Broncos got takeaways from safety Will Parks (forced a fumble that resulted in a touchback), Chris Harris (interception that led to a Broncos touchdown) and safety Bradley Roby(forced a fumble that safety Darian Stewart recovered).
“We need to be better in terms of all the yards (they gained),” safety Justin Simmons said. “That being said, if we’re getting turnovers, we’re going to be in good shape.”
The Broncos appeared to be in bad shape after Smith-Schuster’s 97-yard score — he beat Roby, caught the pass in-stride at his 30 and stiff-armed Stewart at the Broncos’ 20 for a 17-10 lead.. The Broncos went three-and-out and Pittsburgh moved past midfield.
But cornerback Chris Harris changed the coverage call before the snap, switching from man to a zone look. He retreated and was on the spot when Roethlisberger overthrew Brown to get the interception. Two plays later, Case Keenum threw a five-yard touchdown to Sanders to tie the game at 17.
Lindsay’s two-yard touchdown with 9:17 remaining proved to the difference and was set up when Roby forced Conner to fumble after a 23-yard gain to the Broncos’ 23.
Having survived the landmine portion of their schedule — things now get interesting.
The Broncos still have a long climb to make the playoffs. They exited Sunday 11th in the AFC, but only one game behind Baltimore/Indianapolis (6-5). They can’t afford to lose at the free-falling Bengals Sunday. They can’t afford any slip-ups against San Francisco, Cleveland and Oakland.
But there is at least a legitimate opportunity for a December to remember although the Broncos’ locker room has embraced Joseph’s “Let’s go 1-0 this week,” mantra.
“It’s just two wins in a row,” Sanders said. “We’ve got Cincinnati next week. That’s where my mindset is right now. I just want to get three wins in a row.”