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Shorthanded Steelers run out of bullets in 23-16 loss to Denver

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Denver forced a fourth-quarter fumble and turned it into a late touchdown as the Broncos beat the Steelers 23-16 to advance to the AFC Championship Game.

On the 28th anniversary of “The Fumble” by Earnest Byner in the 1988 AFC Championship game, another fumble helped the Denver Broncos advance in the postseason. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Fitzgerald Toussaint—the team’s third-string tailback—fumbled at the Denver 31-yard line midway through the fourth quarter.

The game’s only turnover set up the Broncos’ go-ahead 13-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in a one-yard run by C.J. Anderson that put Denver in front 20-13.

Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning went 21 for 37 for 222 yards. Manning out-dueled Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger, who played with a separated right shoulder, yet completed 24 of 37 passes for 335 yards.

Neither player threw for a touchdown or an interception in the game.

Former Steelers wide receiver Emanuel Sanders caught five passes for 85 yards for Denver, while Anderson had 15 carries for 72 yards to go along with the aforementioned touchdown for the Broncos (13-4).

Steelers wideout Martavis Bryant caught nine passes for 154 yards, and added 40 yards on a reverse. Toussaint had 12 carries for 39 yards and the only touchdown for the Steelers (11-7).

The Steelers outgained the Broncos 396-224, but the Broncos won time of possession 31:33-28:47 and got more first downs (19-16).

The Toussaint fumble is what everyone will be talking about, but the Steelers squandered an opportunity for points on the previous drive.

Pittsburgh drove the ball down to the Denver 24, but tackle Marcus Gilbert was flagged for a 15-yard facemask penalty on a sack of Roethlisberger that put the Steelers out of field goal range. Running back Jordan Todman got stuffed for a five-yard loss on the next play and the drive ended in a punt.

The Steelers—who played without All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown and starting running back DeAngelo Williams—had their opportunities to get out of the stadium with the victory. Poor special teams play, a lack of execution in timely moments, and, of course, Toussaint’s fumble, will lead to a season of “what if?” questions from the fan base and probably the team as well.

The Broncos will host the New England Patriots next Sunday afternoon in the AFC Championship game at 3:05 p.m. on CBS.

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