Week 12 supplied the vociferous NFL fanbase with a surplus of bizarre plays. Chris Carson displayed outstanding balance during an acrobatic run and flip through the Carolina Panthers defense, while Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku crowd surfed into the end zone. However, Week 12's most gripping moment was one of the more conventional variety.
The Denver Broncos matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers had an aura of déjà vu heading into the fourth quarter. One week after toppling the Chargers and halting their six-game winning streak, with 9:18 to play, the Broncos took a 24-17 lead over the Steelers, who had also won six straight coming into the game.
The Steelers' two touchdowns up until that point came courtesy of Juju Smith Schuster’s game-breaking 97-yard catch-and-run and a touchdown pass thrown by kicker Chris Boswell to offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva for a successful fake field goal, which caught the Broncos completely by surprise. However, the methods by which the Steelers scored was evidence of how disruptive the Denver defense was for 60 minutes.
Defensive tackle Shelby Harris’s interior pressure rattled Ben Roethlisberger all afternoon, but on the final play, he deceived the Steelers quarterback with some deceptive pass coverage. Harris is considered the Broncos' passing down alternative to Domata Peko because of his unique proclivity for knocking passes down at the line. Prior to Sunday, he’d never recorded an interception in his pro career.
But with 1:08 remaining, the Steelers found themselves in a third-and-goal situation. Chris Harris' first down defense of a fade attempt in the corner of the end zone to Smith-Schuster led to a 2nd down run by James Conner getting rebuffed at the line like a Best Buy on Black Friday.
However, considering all the late game heroics across the league this season, and with the ball on the 3-yard-line, the Steelers appeared set to punch the ball into the end zone and send the game into overtime. Roethlisberger snapped it from the shotgun and faked a hand-off to James Connor. Instead of surveying the field, Roethlisberger rushed his attempt to hit Antonio Brown on a quick slant across the middle.
However, Roethlisberger failed to identify Harris who was disengaging from center Maurkice Pouncey. Instead of swatting Roethlisberger’s pass attempt down, Harris yanked it from the air with two hands, like a grizzly catching a salmon, and hit the ground to secure Denver's win and his first interception ever. You can't make this stuff up.
It was a simple play, but one that was crucial to Denver pushing themselves back into the AFC playoff picture. One week earlier, defensive end Von Miller baited Philip Rivers into throwing a pick that seemed to revive the Broncos season. Miller was tracked down from behind before he could house if for six, but since then, the Broncos have been on fire.
However, Miller is an All-Pro who is entrenched as a $100 million cornerstone of the franchise. Harris is a four-year veteran who has been waived by three-different teams after being selected in the seventh round of the 2014 Draft. Harris’ interception didn’t feature the same wacky sequence of events as Alec Ogletree’s quick thinking in Week 11, but it was more unlikely and had a more monumental impact on the game, the Broncos season and the AFC landscape.
*Out-of-market games only. Select int'l games excluded.