Jussel: Broncos need some magic to top Steelers

The Denver Broncos have the Pittsburgh Steelers right where they want them — surely feeling overconfident and looking ahead to their next matchup against New England or Baltimore.

How could it be otherwise after a week of preparing for a team that can’t pass the football and has seemingly misplaced the magic wand that was so powerful in October and November?

How could the Steelers not be downright arrogant today as they travel into Denver to take on a Broncos team that scored 3 points — that’s right, 3 — against the awful Kansas City Chiefs in a game that had huge implications on the playoff scenario?

If you are a Bronco fan, overconfidence on the part of the Steelers may provide your only glimmer of hope today.

The messages and body language coming out of Denver in the past week have been gloomy at best after the Broncos backed into winning the AFC West despite what is becoming the norm — three losses to end the season.

Thanks to the Chargers winning over the Raiders to make it three 8-8 teams in the AFC West, there is more reason to hope than meets the casual eye.

First, there is the injury report:

The Steelers are dinged up enough to where it significantly affects the way they try to move the football.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been nursing a high ankle sprain for the past three weeks and is not the big, mobile Ben that teams have learned to fear. He is slowed and relegated to the pocket.

Perhaps most importantly, star running back Rashard Mendenhall is out for the rest of the season after tearing an ACL last week. He had rushed for more than 900 yards on the season and gained more than 3,200 yards over the past three seasons. Also going down was third-down running back specialist Mewelde Moore, who sprained an MCL and is likely not available today. Isaac Redman will be the starter and, although experienced, is mistake-prone and not nearly the threat Mendenhall represented.

One other factor on the injury front is the case of Steeler starting safety Ryan Clark, who suffers from sickle cell trait and does not play at the mile high altitude.

OK, I admit it: I’m probably grasping at straws with this injury thing.

After all, the Broncos did lose starting guard Chris Kuper to a nasty broken leg last week and starting safety Brian Dawkins won’t play again after missing the past three weeks because of a neck injury (do the Broncos miss his leadership? Duh!).

Let’s move on.

Why else might Denver have a chance today?

Let’s look at recent Steeler play. They have not exactly resembled the New Orleans Saints, scoring 13, 14, 3, and 13 points in four of their past six games. Last Sunday, they defeated Cleveland 13-9 in what has been a typical game of late.

If the Denver defense can hold the fort, the Broncos may well be in position to regain some of that magic as the game wears down. Certainly that’s the hope of Denver coach John Fox.

However, the Broncos have to score some points — certainly somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to have a shot at winning and advancing.

How in the world to they do that?

Let’s assume they aren’t going to make a quarterback change and put in Brady Quinn. Too late for that.

It will indeed take some of that old magic: a Roethlisberger sack and fumble return for a touchdown, an Eddie Royal punt return for a score, the embattled Tim Tebow actually buying some time from the always blitzing Steelers and finding Demaryius Thomas open deep for a score, maybe a couple of long field goals from Matt Prater.

The Broncos as we now know them won’t suddenly crank up the passing attack. Tebow is not going to throw for 300 yards, likely not 200. And the Broncos aren’t going to rush for more than 200 yards against this defense.

No, it will take magic, lots of it.

I’ll take my overly optimistic attitude of late that has produced an 8-8 record picking with or against Denver, and play realist here: Pittsburgh is the better team and won’t sleepwalk into New Mile High today. Mike Tomlin’s crew advances all too easily, 27-10.

And Denver moves on … toward next season.

Over the next several months, we’ll certainly be following the Tebow situation, reading between the lines every time Fox and/or John Elway utter a sound.

No matter what happens today, remember it’s been one heckuva ride and keep in mind, no matter what happens in the immediate future, the Broncos are the class of the AFC West.

Rick Jussel is the former sports editor at The Daily Sentinel. Email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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