The 2011 season ended in a Mile High heartbreak for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas connected on an 80-yard TD play on the first play from scrimmage in OT in a wild-card game to cut short a Steelers’ season far short of expectations.

The Steelers won’t have to wait long for another crack at Denver – although a very different QB will be under center when the teams meet in Week 1 of the 2012 season.  The NFL released the regular-season schedule on Tuesday, showing that Peyton Manning’s first game in a Broncos uniform will be against the defense that ended the regular season ranked first in total defense and passing defense.

Over the years though, the Steelers have contained Manning fairly well.

Pittsburgh’s biggest win against the future Hall-of-Famer was in the divisional round of the 2005 playoffs, when the sixth-seeded Steelers shocked the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts en route to a Super Bowl championship.

In the 13 seasons that Manning played in Indianapolis, he faced the Steelers just three times in the regular season, going 2-1 (with a loss in 2002, and wins in 2005 & 2008).

In those three games, Manning numbers looked like this:
  • An average of 23-for-38 and 263 yards per game
  • A 6:4 TD:INT ratio
  • 60.2% completion rate
In that 2005 playoff game, though, the Steelers limited Manning to just 1 TD pass, a 57.9% completion rate and 290 yards in the 21-18 upset win.  The Steelers also got to Manning all game long, recording 5 sacks (in comparison, Manning has been sacked just 19 total times in his other 18 playoff starts combined).

In the four career games against Pittsburgh, Manning has surpassed 300 yards just once – the first game in 2002 (a loss), where he totaled 304 passing yards.  But after tossing 3 INTs in that first game against Pittsburgh in 2002, Manning has thrown 6 TDs and only 1 INT in the contests since then.

A huge question for Manning will be how he reacts to the first hit he takes – and chances are pretty good he’ll take some shots against the Steelers.  Manning won’t have to wait very long into the 2012 season to test his surgically repaired neck.

Of course, assuming Mike Tomlin and the Steelers remain consistent in the decision to sit CB Ryan Clark when the team plays in Denver (due to Clark’s health issues playing at altitude), Pittsburgh will again be without one of their biggest hitters.  Clark’s absence was a big factor in the Steelers’ playoff loss in January.

Nothing the Steelers do in Week 1 can make up for a crushing playoff loss, but with a new (superstar) QB in town for the Broncos, the matchup will be filled with intrigue.