DENVER, COLO. - For the Pittsburgh faithful, last season ended in shocking fashion as Tim Tebow stunned the football world by leading the Broncos to an overtime victory over the Steelers in the wild-card round. Tebow has since been shipped to the Jets and replaced with future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning, who continued the streak of mile-high disappointments for the Steelers in the NFL's opening weekend.
The Steelers, battling the injury bug early, were missing two of their most important starters on defense, and their starting halfback. Linebacker James Harrison sat out with a knee injury and safety Ryan Clark missed the game due to concerns over his sickle-cell trait in Denver's high altitude. Running back Rashard Mendenhall, still recovering from ACL surgery, wasn't quite ready to take the field, leaving Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer to split carries. The Broncos were without the services of two starters; guard Chris Kuper, who suffered a broken forearm in training camp, and suspended linebacker D.J. Williams. Their injuries would cost the Steelers dearly.
Nevertheless, the Steelers struck first, taking the opening kickoff and following it with an 11-play drive that was capped by a 3-yard touchdown rush by Redman. The Broncos immediately followed that with a 10-play opening drive of their own, culminating in a touchdown when Peyton Manning threw his first touchdown pass as a Denver Bronco, hitting Demaryius Thomas in stride on an 11-yard slant into the end zone.
The two teams continued to battle back and forth for the rest of the first quarter, and after Von Miller sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to halt the first drive of the second quarter, the Broncos were driving. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu took care of that, taking an aggressive line and intercepting a Manning pass over the middle to halt the Denver offense. Polamalu returned the pick to the Broncos' 48-yard line to put the Steelers in excellent field position.
They capitalized on it; inhaling yards through the air before Roethlisberger hooked up with wideout Mike Wallace for a short touchdown pass, giving the Steelers a 14-7 advantage.
The Steelers pressed that advantage, blitzing Manning with regularity and rushing many of his throws, but later in the second quarter, Manning made them pay. Safety Ryan Mundy, starting for Clark, allowed Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme to slip behind him -- and Manning's perfectly thrown deep ball found his former Colts teammate for a 52-touchdown pass.
The Broncos would have another big play before the half was through. With less than a minute to go, Broncos second-year safety Rahim Moore intercepted a Roethlisberger pass in stride and streaked down the right sideline, returning the ball to the Pittsburgh 4-yard line. One play later, Willis McGahee carried the ball for the remaining distance and a Denver touchdown, and the Broncos went into halftime with a 21 to 14 lead.
The Steelers rallied at halftime and came out swinging, scoring first in the second half and tying the game on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown, and after Manning threw another interception on the Broncos' next drive, the Steelers took a 24-21 lead on a 47-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham.
Both teams featured a pass-first offense in the opening half, but in the second half, the Broncos went to the ground game during a 12-play drive that featured 10 runs by Willis McGahee and backup Knowshon Moreno, taking advantage of the hard-hitting Harrison's asbence. A 3-yard touchdown scamper by McGahee put the Broncos back on top, 28 to 24.
The Broncos' tough running game continued to pay dividends in the fourth quarter. A 32-yard field goal by Matt Prater put the Broncos up, 31 to 24, midway through the final frame, and as the Steelers' offense continued to stall in the fourth-quarter, the Broncos added a 48-yard field goal by Matt Prater to extend their lead to ten points.
Roethlisberger tried to lead the Steelers back as time ticked away, but as Miller pursued him again, the quarterback's desperation pass downfield was intercepted by Denver cornerback Tracy Porter, effectively ending the Steelers' chances. Manning took the field in the "victory formation" to run out the clock and secure his first win as a member of the Broncos, in front of 78,000 delighted fans.
As the players shook hands at the center of the field, McGahee was named player of the game thanks to his 93 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns, while the Steelers were left shaking their heads at another missed opportunity in the Mile High City.
The Madden 13 Futurecast is simulated using 11-minute quarters with a 20-second accelerated clock and modified sliders that result in final game statistics within standard NFL norms. Every effort has been made to adjust for current depth charts and injury statuses, taken directly from the teams themselves.