DENVER – Nose tackle Shelby Harris was in the right place at the right time by chance, and it made all the difference for the Denver Broncos.
Harris intercepted Ben Roethlisberger’s pass into the end zone with little more than a minute left and the Broncos capitalized on four turnovers as Denver hung on to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-17 Sunday.
“I actually didn’t do what I was supposed to, but it ended up working out pretty well,” said Harris, who was pushed off the line of scrimmage at the 2 and into the end zone by a Pittsburgh lineman. But that was right where he needed to be to pick off the pass that Roethlisberger had let fly toward Antonio Brown.
“I never would have thought in a million years that a defensive linemen would get blocked off the ball that far, right into an interception,” Roethlisberger said. “Good play by him.”
It was the culmination of an incredible week for Harris, whose wife gave birth to their daughter on Friday by C-section. After his post-game news conference, Harris joked that he showed he had the best hands on the team and, clutching a game ball, said he was off to the hospital to see his wife and baby Evelyn.
“This week has just been huge,” Harris said. “There were multiple moments in the game I could just burst out in tears. I’m really just living my best life. I’m happy. I have a beautiful healthy family. Just really been running on fumes this last day. I’m truly blessed. I really can’t complain. I’m on Cloud 9.”
The loss snapped Pittsburgh’s six game winning streak and marked their first loss on the road this season. Denver (5-6) won back to back games for the first time since Weeks 1 and 2 this season.
“Defensively, again, we gave up some yards, but at the critical moments we made plays to win. That’s what’s important,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said.
Roethlisberger threw for 462 yards, completing 41 of 56 throws but had two interceptions. Pittsburgh (7-3-1) also lost two fumbles.
“Those are huge, huge plays in the game,” Broncos quarterback Case Keenum said of the turnovers forced by Denver’s defense. “ Just like last week, when Von (Miller) intercepts it (in the win over the Los Angeles Chargers). Those things can turn the tide of games.”
To be sure, Keenum did his part as well. He completed 15 of 28 for 197 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Phillip Lindsay ran 14 times for 110 yards and a touchdown that proved to be the decisive score.
Trailing by a touchdown, the Broncos evened the score at 17-all with a third-quarter drive set up at the Pittsburgh 43 by cornerback Chris Harris Jr.’s interception of a Roethlisberger pass that was intended for Antonio Brown. Keenum completed two straight passes to Emmanuel Sanders, the second a 5-yarder for the equalizing score.
Another turnover led to Denver’s go-ahead score, a 2-yard run by Lindsay with 9:37 remaining to finish off a 79-yard march. The drive began after cornerback Bradley Roby knocked the ball loose from James Conner at the end of a 23-yard reception. Safety Darien Stewart recovered the fumble at the Denver 21.
Pittsburgh responded with a late drive and was on the doorstep of the end zone before Shelby Harris came up with the final turnover to preserve the victory for Denver.
“Honestly, I just saw him float it out there and just caught it,” said Shelby Harris, who fell to the ground for a touchback, allowing Denver’s offense to run out the final minute. “I knew how much time was on the clock but at the moment you don’t even think about it. And then it’s just like, ‘Wow, that’s the game.’”
On the first play after being pinned on their own 3-yard line by a Denver punt, the Steelers broke away from a tie with a 97-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster to move in front 17-10 early in the third quarter. Smith-Schuster got a step on Roby and then shook off an attempted tackle by Stewart with a stiff arm at about the 20 before going in for the score.
The Steelers pulled into a 10-10 tie at halftime with no time left in the second quarter on a fake field goal that turned into a touchdown. Kicker Chris Boswell took a direct snap and lobbed a pass into the end zone to wide open tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who was lined up on the end and an eligible receiver on the play.
The score represented a breakthrough for the Steelers, who had seen the Broncos thwart two previous scoring opportunities. Safety Justin Simmons rushed up the middle to block a first quarter field goal try by Boswell. And on the first play of the second quarter, tight end Xavier Grimes was a step away from crossing the goal line when safety Will Parks barreled into him, forcing a fumble. The ball rolled in and out of the end zone for a touchback, giving possession to Denver at the 20 and leading to a drive ending in a 41-yard field goal by Brandon McManus.
Boswell also kicked a 41-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.
Denver put together a drive that Keenum finished with a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt LaCosse. Lindsay got the drive kick-started with a 32-yard run off tackle to advance the ball solidly into Pittsburgh territory.
Notes: LB Brandon Marshall, listed among the team’s inactive players, missed a fourth consecutive game because of a knee injury. Rookie Josey Jewell has stepped into the starting lineup in his absence. … LaCosse’s touchdown catch was the first of his career. … Justin Simmons has two blocked field goals this season and the Broncos have blocked four kicks overall (two field goals, an extra point and a punt) to lead the NFL. … Lindsay improved his season rushing total to 780 yards, the most in a season by an undrafted rookie running back in the team’s history.