Elam hit a 47-yard field goal on the final play of the game Sunday to lift Denver past Pittsburgh 17-14, the Steelers’ third straight loss.
“It wasn’t a pretty game, but we didn’t expect it to be pretty,” Broncos defensive tackle Bert Berry said. “We knew it was going to be a battle, and there wouldn’t be a moment where we could have a letdown.”
Denver (5-1) rebounded from last week’s loss to Kansas City and came out on top of a tight game between the AFC’s top two defenses.
Pittsburgh (2-4) tied it at 14-all on Jerome Bettis’ 1-yard dive and an improbable 2-point conversion, but the Broncos got the ball back at their 20 with 2:41 left.
Steve Beuerlein struggled in place of injured starter Jake Plummer, but was 5-for-8 for 44 yards on the final drive. He also got a break when Pittsburgh safety Brent Alexander dropped an interception at the Steelers’ 20 with 44 seconds left.
Elam trotted out four plays later and lined up with 5 seconds left. He hesitated for a bit after the kick, then raised his arms as the ball curled just inside the right upright.
It was his 13th career field goal that won or tied a game.
“I still get nervous on extra points in the preseason, but it’s fun to be put in that situation,” Elam said. “That’s why we play the game.”
Bettis appeared to have ruined any chance for the Steelers when he fumbled at Denver’s 48-yard line. That led to an 11-yard pass from Beuerlein to Rod Smith, who beat Dewayne Washington on the touchdown—and on a 34-yard over-the-shoulder catch two plays earlier.
But the Bus made up for it on the next drive.
Pittsburgh moved 74 yards on 13 plays, capping it with a 1-yard dive by Bettis. On the 2-point conversion, Denver’s Kelly Herndon tripped up Bettis, who fell on the back of guard Alan Faneca’s legs and was towed into the end zone.
The side judge initially ruled that Bettis didn’t get in, but the call was changed after the officials huddled for about a minute. Denver challenged the call, but referee Mike Carey upheld it after a long review.
Under league rules, a player isn’t considered down until he hits the ground. Bettis landed on Faneca around the 2, but Carey ruled he didn’t fall off until after the ball crossed the goal line. Bettis also fumbled as he fell into the end zone, but Carey said it also was after he crossed the line.
“We knew that we had to go down there and score, and we got it,” Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress said.
The Steelers managed just 215 total yards, and their makeshift line had a hard time keeping the Broncos off quarterback Tommy Maddox. Pittsburgh also failed to reach 100 yards rushing (85) for the third straight game and managed just 19 yards on 21 plays on Denver’s side of the field.
Pittsburgh heads into a bye week with its longest losing skid since 2000.
“We have to sit back and look at who we are at the bye,” Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. “We’ve got to play with the same sense of urgency from here on out.”
Maddox avoided throwing an interception for the first time in five games, but was sacked seven times in his first game in Denver since starting his career there. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since Week 3.
“I was trying to make the right decisions,” said Maddox, who spent his first two seasons as John Elway’s backup. “When you are under pressure, you don’t want to throw any ill-advised throws.”
Beuerlein made a few of those.
He threw an interception on his first pass and had another in the second quarter that led to a field goal. Beuerlein did hit Shannon Sharpe on a 10-yard touchdown in the second quarter, but he also had an interception called back because of a penalty.
Plummer didn’t play after aggravating a shoulder injury against Kansas City.
“I wasn’t in a rhythm at all, for whatever reason,” said Beuerlein, 17-for-28 for 172 yards. “Against a defense like that, if you don’t play 100 percent, then they’ll definitely make you pay for it.”
Beuerlein certainly wasn’t the only one who struggled against Pittsburgh’s D, which came into the game No. 1 in the NFL.
The Broncos entered with the league’s third-best rushing offense, but managed just 77 yards on 18 carries. Clinton Portis had 47 yards on 15 carries and lost a fumble at Pittsburgh’s 25-yard line in the third quarter.
Denver had three turnovers and managed just 242 yards.
“We were stymied most of the game,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. ^Notes: Broncos LB Ian Gold tore a knee ligament while covering a punt in the first quarter. … Denver failed to score in the first quarter for the first time this season. … Steelers LB Joey Porter was in Denver for the first time since being shot in the leg outside a nightclub on Labor Day weekend. He had six tackles. … The Broncos are 16-4 following a loss since 2000. … Smith has caught a pass in 67 straight games, one short of Ed McCaffrey’s teamrecord.