DENVER – Emmanuel Sanders likes playing against his former team, but getting a big win against them makes it more enjoyable.
And the former Pittsburgh Steeler was pretty happy Sunday night. Not only because the Denver Broncos pulled out a 24-17 win, but he had a lot to do with it. He made big catches, set up the game-winning touchdown and choreographed the team’s end zone celebrations.
It was quite a week for Sanders, who led the team in receptions (seven) and receiving yards (86).
“It was a big game for E,” head coach Vance Joseph said. “He wanted to win this one really badly.”
Sanders was relatively quiet for the first half but found some success in the second half when Denver rallied from down 17-10. After Chris Harris Jr. intercepted Ben Roethlisberger at midfield, quarterback Case Keenum went to Sanders on the next two plays – a 38-yard catch and a five-yard touchdown pass to tie it up.
The celebration was muted compared to the one he led after Matt LaCosse’s touchdown catch in the second quarter. After the tight end scored his first career TD, the team gathered in the end zone with Sanders in front and did its version of “Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It.”
And all were in sync.
“Emmanuel orchestrated that whole deal and I think it worked out,” Keenum said. “I don’t know how it looked on TV or the Jumbotron but it felt good. It was fun.”
Sanders played a key role in Denver’s last touchdown. With the ball on Pittsburgh’s 19, Sanders caught a 14-yard pass and then another to the Steelers’ 3. Phillip Lindsay ran it in on the next play for a 24-17 lead.
It was enough to give Sanders a big win against his former team.
“I like beating them more than I like playing them,” he said. “We were able to get the job done today.”
BLOCK PARTY: Safety Justin Simmons set the tone for the day when he blocked Chris Boswell’s 48-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter.
It was his second blocked field goal of the season and Denver’s fourth blocked kick of the season, which leads the NFL.
Simmons ended Pittsburgh’s first drive when he leaped over the line between long snapper Kameron Canaday and guard B.J. Finney and got a hand on Boswell’s kick. It rolled innocently to the goal line and the Broncos took over at the Steelers’ 38.
“I just jumped it,” he said. “It was a long field goal so we knew we had to drive it a little bit, so I got my one hand up to find out where his launch point is going to be and get it. And I got it.”
PARKS BIG PLAY: Simmons’ block took away three points, and safety Will Parks denied the Steelers another seven when he hit Pittsburgh tight end Xavier Grimble just before he crossed the goal line.
Grimble fumbled the ball into the end zone and it went out of bounds for a touchback, giving Denver possession at its 20.
“When I was running to the ball I slowed down to see if he was going to try to cut back,” Parks said. “I’ve been working on my angles in practice and it showed up. Either he was slow or he let up, I really don’t care. I just had to make the play for the team.”
SHORT YARDAGE: Denver is the first team in 13 years to have back-to-back wins against teams with at least six straight wins. Pittsburgh did it to Chicago and Minnesota in consecutive weeks in December 2005. … Running back Phillip Lindsay had 110 yards rushing. He now has 780 on the season and set a franchise record for rushing yards by an undrafted rookie. … Linebacker Von Miller extended his sack streak to six straight games.