DENVER — There was an inordinate number of yellow Terrible Towels twirling in the backdrop of a game that featured one team wearing an unusually garish all-orange football uniform.
During one critical play, celebratory yellow became a last laugh for the orange. The orange-clad Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers and their devoted, well-traveled fan base, 24-17, giving Denver its second consecutive victory against an opponent that started play with a six-game winning streak.
Both wins -- against the Los Angeles Chargers last week and then the Steelers -- were improbable, but made possible by takeaways.
"It's finally turning and the reward for believing, it's happening right now," said Vance Joseph, the Broncos' head coach.
Twice the Broncos' defense saved touchdowns against the Steelers on takeaways in their own end zone. The game's biggest play may have occurred on the first play of the second quarter. The Steelers were at the Broncos’ 23-yard line when a well-executed misdirection pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a wide-open Xavier Grimble had Grimble heading the end zone for an apparent go-ahead score.
The Terrible Towels were circling.
Just as Grimble was reaching the goal line, though, he was met by Broncos safety Will Parks, who popped the receiver just so. Grimble lost control of the ball just before the goal line and it bounced out of the end zone sideline.
Touchback. The Broncos faithful had a stunning, split-second, game changer.
"I was in the post and my main objective this week was to double 84 (Steelers' receiver Antonio Brown),'' Parks said. "And I seen the dude (Grimble) open and I took off and my speed got there. And when I got there I said, 'I can hit him.' And I hit him right on his chest. He had the ball up here (at his chest) and I hit him on the ball.
"I definitely knew I hit him before the goal line. I heard the crowd going crazy and I thought, 'he must have fumbled.' And I looked back and they said, touchback. And I say, "Hell, yeah, let's go!''
It was the signature play of the half as the Steelers in each of their four offensive possessions traveled to at least the Broncos’ 30-yard line, but they got zero, zero and 3 points, and would have settled for 3 more if not for a well-executed fake, field goal pass by for a touchdown on fourth down and the final play before intermission.
The Chargers had two interceptions to no turnovers for the Broncos, and the Steelers gave away two fumbles deep in Broncos' territory and Roethlisberger also threw two interceptions to spoil an otherwise prolific passing performance while Denver again didn't turn the ball over.
Six turnovers versus none explain why the Broncos are six-game winning streak busters.
"When you turn the ball over that many times," Roethlisberger said. "It is hard to win those games. Give them credit. They made the plays and forced the turnovers."
Roethlisberger threw for a staggering 462 yards, but there was the Grimble fumble that took away a 23-yard touchdown; a James Conner fumble forced by Broncos' cornerback Bradley Roby after a 23-yard gain that would have gave Pittsburgh a first down at the Denver 23; a Chris Harris interception that gave the Broncos excellent field position and set up a touchdown; and finally the most bizarre turnover of all.
The Broncos were up 24-17 at the 2-minute warning of the final quarter but the Steelers had first-and-goal at the 3. Two plays later, it was third-and-goal at the 2 and the clock was down to 1:07. Roethlisberger faked a handoff, then tried a hop pass over the middle to Antonio Brown.
Harris, who was in Roethlisberger's lap much of the afternoon on pass plays, picked off the throw a couple yards into the end zone. It did appear that Harris was blocked back a couple yards on the play -- right to where he needed to be.
"I never would have thought in a million years a defensive lineman would get blocked off the ball that far right into an interception," Roethlisberger said. "Good play by him. "AB" was coming. I just never would have thought that guy would make that play."
Shelby Harris said it wasn't so much he was blocked back, as he was unsure.
"I did not know if it was a run or a pass," he said. "It worked out. I was going to be in the same place but kind of going more forward. I was just sitting there staring at what he was doing. But it worked out."
The Broncos are now 5-6, one game behind 6-5 Baltimore and Indianapolis for the AFC's No. 6 and final playoff spot. The Broncos play at 5-6 Cincinnati next week, most likely against Bengals' backup quarterback Jeff Driskel as starter Andy Dalton suffered a thumb injury Sunday in a loss to Baker Mayfield's Cleveland Browns.
"It was a great team win," said Broncos pass rusher Von Miller. "On to Cincinnati."
Miller was asked six questions at his postgame press conferences. In an attempt at humor, he imitated Bill Belichick's infamous postgame press conference following a Monday night whipping by Kansas City in 2014. Miller ended all six answers with, "on to Cincinnati."
The Patriots wound up winning the Super Bowl that season. For the Broncos, can they rally for a playoff spot?
"No, our focus hasn't changed," Joseph said. "It's going to be small focus. We totally understand what's out there. Small focus, but big-picture awareness. Our deal has been (to go) 1-0 every day."
It was 10-10 at halftime -- the Steelers scored on a faked field goal pass from kicker Chris Boswell to tackle-eligible Alejandro Villanueva for a 2-yard touchdown as the Broncos were caught with 10 men on the field as time expired.
"We thought Brendan Langley was going to be the 12th man,'' Joseph said. "So we had come off. It was a great call by Mike (Tomlin, the Steelers' head coach).
In the third quarter Roethlisberger hit JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 97-yard touchdown pass and Broncos' quarterback Case Keenum answered later with a 5-yard scoring throw to Emmanuel Sanders.
Keenum wasn't as spectacular as Big Ben but for the third consecutive game, he didn't throw an interception. He was 15 of 28 for 197 yards and two touchdowns.
“Just doing a better job of being smart with the ball," Keenum said. "Making better decisions. ... we're finding, I don't want to say finding identity, but just getting comfortable with how (Bill Musgrave is) calling plays and what his mindset is and where he's attacking."
Broncos rookie Phillip Lindsay continued his terrific season with 110 yards rushing on just 14 carries. Lindsay now has 780 yards rushing on the season -- a record among Broncos undrafted rookies as he surpassed Selvin Young's 729 yards in 2007 -- on a remarkable 5.8 yards per carry.
Keenum and Lindsay led the Broncos on a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter to give Denver a 24-17 lead with 4:36 left.
It was 3-3 with 6:29 left in the half when the Broncos put together a 75-yard, touchdown drive in just six plays. A 32-yard burst by Lindsay got it started and back-to-back completions from quarterback Case Keenum to tight end Matt LaCosse for 17 yards and 10 yards for the score finished it.
After LaCosse scored, the Broncos' offense broke into an 11-man celebration dance that was choreographed by Sanders, who had a big game against his former team with seven catches for 86 yards and a touchdown.
"We practiced that at the walkthrough the other day," Keenum said. "Emmanuel orchestrated that whole deal and I think it worked out. I don't know how it looked on TV or the Jumbotron but it felt good."
With the Broncos donning their annual all-orange uniforms, it was difficult to look at 11 guys gathered together without adjusting the TV screen.
But at least no yellow Terrible Towels were waving.
After going through a skid of six losses in seven games, and written off at 3-6 during their bye week, the Broncos may not be willing to talk playoffs, yet. But they are giving themselves permission to have fun.
A players day off Monday. And then what Von said.