DENVER — The Steelers stagger into Denver for today's AFC division-round game with ailing Ben Roethlisberger, who won't have his leading rusher or his top receiver against the league's best defense.
The Steelers (11-6) are deep even without All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown (concussion) and running back DeAngelo Williams (foot), and the Broncos insist Big Ben can go deep even with a sprained throwing shoulder.
The Broncos (12-4) swear they won't make the same mistake as last year, either. Denver came off a bye and faced a banged-up underdog. Result? Indianapolis 24, Denver 13.
"I think we were focused on New England," cornerback Aqib Talib said. "There was a bunch of future talk when we didn't even get the Colts yet."
Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas, whose 80-yard touchdown in overtime from Tim Tebow was the dagger the last time these teams met in the playoffs four years ago, said, "All we're worried about now is the Steelers."
Roethlisberger threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-27 win over Denver on Dec. 27; Brown had 16 catches for 189 yards and two scores.
And even with Brown out, the Steelers still have Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and tight end Heath Miller, who combined for 163 catches and 14 touchdowns.
"We've got great wideouts," rookie Sammie Coates said. "We're going to … fill in his shoes and make the plays we know we've got to make."
Thomas has extra motivation of his own — his mother will see him play in person for the first time. Katina Smith was released from federal prison last summer when President Barack Obama commuted her sentence on drug trafficking charges. Smith went to a halfway house, then home, but was restricted from traveling until now. "I'll be excited, she'll be excited," said Thomas, whose mother and grandmother were arrested and incarcerated when he was 11; he went to live with an uncle.