The Pittsburgh Steelers rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Denver Broncos

The Steelers must've brought a new team out of the locker room in the second half to beat the Broncos, 34-27.

PITTSBURGH -- If it were a high school game, a coach would've gotten credit for lighting a fire under his team at halftime.

Arthur Moats just laughed at the thought. "None of that was needed," he said. "We understood what was at stake."

Moats is one of the Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers. No one reamed him or anyone else out at halftime, but the defense came back from an awful first half to play one of its best halves of the season and defeat the Denver Broncos, 34-27.

It was the first time this season anyone scored 30 points on the Broncos, or passed for 300 yards on the NFL's No. 1 defense, but the Steelers defense -- the second-half Steelers defense -- was the top story of this game.

Of course, to tell the story of the second half, the story of the first half must be told in gory detail.

"We were kicking our own butt," Mike Tomlin said not once but three times.

In fact, Tomlin became so tired of watching Denver wide receivers running free through his secondary, he called Will AllenMike Mitchell and Will Gay together in the second quarter, "when things weren't going well," Tomlin said.

"I told them we weren't going to change anything we were doing. We can't stop communicating. Don't allow the young guys to go mute. And those three guys, specifically, led the charge from a secondary standpoint."

Miscommunication allowed Demaryius Thomas to catch an easy 18-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7. And miscommunication that caused a double cornerback blitz allowed Emmanuel Sanders to run unabated for 61 yards and the go-ahead touchdown on the Broncos' next snap.

Denver scored another touchdown on its third consecutive possession when quarterback Brock Osweiler ran seven yards on third down through a wide-open right side of the Steelers defense.

A fourth consecutive touchdown gave the Broncos a 27-10 lead after Thomas stiff-armed Antwon Blake to the ground and coasted six yards for the score.

The Broncos had converted all eight third-down attempts in the first half and outgained the stunned Steelers by 110 yards in taking a 27-13 lead into the locker room.

That the Steelers won 34-27 says the second half went a bit differently for their defense.

What changed?

"I don't know if it was schematics," said Cam Heyward. "I thought we just competed, got a lot more energy. That first half, there was a lot of lackadaisical play. We gave up a quarterback run for a touchdown, and they broke some plays in the passing game. But in the second half we stopped the run, and they had to pass and we forced them to catch some combative balls and they weren't successful."

Heyward was asked if the coaching staff was upset at halftime.

"I think everybody was pissed off," he said. "We all knew we played like crap in the first half, and I think we really just had to wake up. You give them credit when credit is due, and they did a good job in the first half, but we didn't play our best brand of football in the first half."

The Broncos were only 1-for-9 on third downs in the second half. The Steelers were also helped by some shoddy passing by Osweiler and a handful of drops by the Broncos receivers. Brandon Boykin in the nickel and Rob Golden in the dime were also contributing factors for the Steelers, as was a run defense that allowed 16 yards in the second half after allowing 88 in the first.

Ryan Shazier's interception with 4:20 left, though, was the crowning moment for the defense.

With Stephon Tuitt in pursuit, Osweiler tried to throw to Sanders, but Shazier stepped in front of him and wrestled the ball away at the Denver 37. Three plays later, Antonio Brown was in the end zone with the game-winning touchdown.

Shazier felt it was redemption for his play in the first half. He, like Allen and probably most of the veterans on defense, took the poor play personally and took the blame. Shazier said he was at the hub of the miscommunication issues.

"Everybody just had to calm down," he said. "Everybody was antsy. We were all just trying to do too much. We all just needed to focus on our job and I think that's what we did in the second half."

The defense wasn't quite done. After Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted at the Pittsburgh 41 with 2:01 left, the Broncos had a chance to tie the game. But four incompletions into tight coverage put the comeback in the books for the 9-5 Steelers.

"We realized that we needed this win to be in the playoff hunt," said Allen. "We can't make those mental errors in big games like this, games that matter the most. We did but we corrected them. We made adjustments, and once we got hot there was no stopping us."

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