Colts remain perfect

Roethlisberger's return not enough for Steelers as Indianapolis hits 11-0

Colts 26, Steelers 7

Pro Football

November 29, 2005|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN REPORTER

INDIANAPOLIS -- If this was a statement game for the Indianapolis Colts, their defense said it best.

Yes, they can play the Pittsburgh Steelers' brand of physical, intimidating football, not just the high-wire act of a big-play offense.

Even though the night started with a home-run pass by Peyton Manning, it was the Colts' defense that inspired a 26-7 victory over the Steelers before an RCA Dome crowd of 57,442 and a national TV audience last night.

The Colts stuffed the Steelers' running game, intercepted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger twice and kept a tight grip on the field-position game.

It was enough to help them become the 11th team in NFL history to start a season 11-0. Suddenly, the daunting task of an undefeated season got a shade less daunting. Their toughest remaining games figure to be a home game against the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 18 and a road game against the Seattle Seahawks a week later.

Although the game opened with a thunderous RCA Dome welcome to Monday Night Football and some big-play fireworks by the Colts, it quickly settled into a Steelers style of game.

Except for a first-play touchdown pass to Marvin Harrison, the Steelers kept Manning out of the end zone in the first half.

After Pittsburgh went three-and-out on its first series, Manning play-faked to Edgerrin James and heaved a deep ball for Harrison, who had streaked 80 yards past cornerback Ike Taylor for the longest touchdown of his career.

The Steelers had not allowed a touchdown pass of longer than 20 yards this season.

That score set the tone for some serious by-play between Harrison and Taylor in the first half. Harrison was flagged for shoving his hands into Taylor's face on the Pittsburgh goal line on the Colts' second series and they had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Mike Vanderjagt and a 10-0 lead.

Then, on the next Colts' possession, Taylor was called for pass interference when he rode roughshod over Harrison on slant pattern.

One play after that, the Steelers turned the game's early momentum. When Manning left a deep ball for Harrison in the air too long, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu picked off the errant pass and returned it 36 yards to the Colts' 7.

Two false starts in the din of the dome and two short runs by Jerome Bettis left the Steelers facing third-and-goal from the 12. It turned out to be a good time for Pittsburgh's first successful offensive play, and Roethlisberger delivered a 12-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward, who found a seam in the Colts' zone defense.

Even though it was a three-point game, the Colts had rolled up 154 total yards in offense to the Steelers' 17 in the first quarter.

The second quarter was mostly about defense, as Pittsburgh unveiled a front with two down linemen. Manning struggled against the look, completing just three of nine throws for 61 yards. He even was called for delay of game once when he tried to make his normal adjustments at the line.

But the Steelers wasted a chance to tie the game early in the second quarter when Jeff Reed was wide left on a 41-yard field-goal try.

The Colts' Dexter Reid played a prominent role on special teams in the first half, when he drew two unnecessary roughness penalties and then atoned for them by covering a Hunter Smith punt at the Pittsburgh 2.

From there, the Colts got good field position on an ensuing punt and without benefit of a first down, got a 48-yard Vanderjagt field goal. That made it 13-7.

The Colts squeezed out another field goal in the final 15 seconds after safety Mike Doss intercepted Roethlisberger. A 15-yard low-block penalty on Jeff Hartings and a 14-yard pass to Harrison pushed the ball to the 26, where Vanderjagt converted a 44-yard try for a 16-7 halftime lead.

The first half also marked the first punt return by Harrison since his rookie year in 1996. He got 10 yards and, more importantly, did not get injured.

The Colts opened the second half with some more fireworks when Matt Giordano recovered an onside kick at the Pittsburgh 37.

Manning's featured receiver on that series was tight end Bryan Fletcher, who caught a 15-yard pass to spark the series and a 12-yard touchdown to finish it. The touchdown came on a skinny post on third-and-goal, and gave Indianapolis a 23-7 lead.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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