Mike Tomlin appreciates a good halftime tweak as much as the next coach. The one he and the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers staff made trailing Denver by two touchdowns through two quarters on Sunday had less to do with strategy and more to do with common sense.
"We stopped kicking our own butt and oftentimes, if you're mentally tough enough to do that, you have a chance to right it," Tomlin said.
Having Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger tends to help.
Roethlisberger and Brown lit up a depleted No Fly Zone secondary to spark a second-half rally as the Steelers moved into the second AFC wild-card spot with a 34-27 victory. Roethlisberger passed for 380 yards and three scores against the NFL's best defense. Brown caught 16 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 3:24 to go.
"There's no stopping me," Brown said.
Not once the Steelers (9-5) slowed Denver's Brock Osweiler and started doing what it's done all season: lighting up opposing secondaries regardless the quality of the opponent.
"We feel like we're pretty good on offense," Tomlin said. "That's not taking anything away from them, but if we take care of the ball we feel like we can go up and down the field on anyone."
That includes a unit that came in giving up just 188 yards passing on the season. Roethlisberger more than doubled that number while completing 40 of 55, though he also threw a pair of picks, including one with just over 2 minutes to go that gave Denver (10-4) one last shot.
"I was trying to make something happen," Roethlisberger said. "You just have to be smart. Our defense bailed us out."
A defense that rediscovered its swagger after allowing Osweiler to stake Denver to a 27-10 lead late in the second quarter. Osweiler threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in the opening 28 minutes but the Broncos were shutout in the second half for a third straight week.
"You play 60 minutes, not 30 minutes," Osweiler said. "This is something that we will work on and we will fix."
Other takeaways from Pittsburgh's biggest comeback since rallying from 21 down against Baltimore in 1997.
OSWEILER HURTING: Osweiler completed 14 of 18 passes in the first half but was just 7 of 26 after the break. He bruised his left (non-throwing) shoulder in the second quarter but refused to blame the injury for his erratic performance.
"We are doing some X-rays tomorrow to find out," he said. "But the shoulder did not affect my playing in the second half."
WHAT ABOUT PEYTON: Manning was inactive for a fifth straight week but is on the mend from torn plantar fascia in his left foot. He signed autographs during pregame and briefly met with Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney and president Art Rooney II. The NFL's all-time passing leader will practice this week, with coach Gary Kubiak shooting down speculation that Manning wasn't interested in taking on a reserve role should the Broncos decide they want to stick with Osweiler.
"He's working his tail off to get back on the field," Kubiak said. "That's what he's doing.
HOMECOMING: Denver wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders went off for a career-high 181 yards receiving on 10 receptions in his first game against the team that selected him in the 2010 draft. Sanders caught a 61-yard touchdown and even added 24 yards on a jet sweep. Still, he would have preferred a victory.
"It felt good to be in front of Steelers Nation waving the towels, but I wish the result had been better," Sanders said.
REDEMPTION: Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier blamed himself for some of Pittsburgh's first-half breakdowns. Tasked with communicating calls in certain packages, Shazier blew a coverage that led to a Demaryius Thomas touchdown. Shazier atoned with the interception that set up Roethlisberger's winning throw.
PLAYOFF SCENARIOS: The Broncos are still a game up on Kansas City in the AFC West with two weeks to go. Denver ends the regular season with home games against Cincinnati and San Diego. The Steelers can clinch a playoff spot next week with a win at Baltimore and New York Jets loss to New England.