The Denver Broncos came here with the best defense in the National Football League against the rush but the 12th-best in the American Conference against the pass and were bombed, boomed, and entombed under an avalanche of Pittsburgh points tonight, 42-7.
The snap back from a 34-10 disgrace administered by the Cincinnati Bengals a week ago left the Steelers all alone at the top of the Central Division with a 6-2 record and spoiling for a midseason "Super Bowl" on Sunday here against the Dallas Cowboys, 7-1 leaders in the East Division and stacked up as the elitists of the National Conference.
Franco Harris ruined the reputation of the Broncos for defense against the rush by booming 56 yards from scrimmage in the first quarter to set up Terry Bradshaw's first of two touchdown passes; the Steelers defense began blitzing immobile Denver quarterback Craig Morton to hurry his passes, and it was all over shortly after he tied the score in the first quarter on a 64-yard scoring throw to wide receiver Haven Moses.
Bradshaw had said before the game that he abhorred playing at night because he is near-sighted and cannot see the field. But before he was excused to take a rest with 10 minutes remaining in the final period, Bradshaw completed 18 of 24 throws for 267 yards on pin-point bombing.
The Steelers led, 28-7, at halftime and the Broncos were up Three Rivers Stadium without a paddle.
The Steelers produced 530 net yards, 236 to 53 for Denber by rushing. Harris accounted for 121 on 17 runs and scored two touchdowns. Sidney Thornton ran a yard for a touchdown and caught a scoring pass of 17 yards. Kruczek moved the Steelers 52 yards for a touchdown, a 10-yard run by Anthony Anderson.
Lynn Swann celebrated his return from an injury with two catches, 11 yards for a touchdown and 65 on another occasion. Tight end Randy Grossman caught one pass for 54 yards and running backs Harris and Thornton each had four receptions, for 23 and 54 yards, respectively.
Morton was sacked four times and intercepted once but hit tight end Riley Odoms six times for 94 yards and Moses six times for 133 yards, including his 64-yard scoring catch.
The Steelers' regained tempo in their drive for a fourth Super Bowl victory in six seasons was attributed to what running back Rocky Bleier jokingly referred to as Coach Chuck Noll's "Motivations Lecture No. 2" after nine fumbles and two interceptions against Cincinnati.
Denver, now 5-3, dropped from a tie for the AFC West Division lead with 6-2 San Diego.
Bradshaw detailed some of the pressure he was under before tonight, despite the team's record and lofty position in the standings.
"You feel pressure from the fans, the press, and the coaches," he said. I went one place to eat and a guy told the waiter not to serve me because I was no good (as a player). I walk my dog in the morning and there were even a couple of guys who made smart remarks to me then."
There were reports that Noll "drove" the Steelers in practice last week after the loss to the Bengals, but defensive tackle Joe Greene said that was overstating the fact.
"He didn't 'drive' us," Greene said. "He just told us that we were not concentrating in the Cincinnati game. He told us what he thought we had to do to win tonight, without any big fuss. He told us just to go out and play the way we knew how. We had a job to do and we did it."
Denver Coach Red Miller was stingy with his words.
"This was the worst, most humiliating defeat in the 30 years I've been associated with football, and I don't like it. I don't know how anybody could stomach that and live with themselves. That's all. Thank you."
And that ended Miller's interview.