Just when the Pittsburgh Steelers looked like they were going to drop their 4th straight game, Big Ben and the Steelers offense showed tremendous mental toughness and went on scoring barrage that allowed Steelers Nation to exhale. Without how much talent this team had, you knew it was only a matter of time before they woke up on offense and with all the criticism headed their way after three straight losses, this comeback win was their biggest of the season. Congrats to the new AFC North champs!
The Steelers continued to be their worst enemy in the first half. As a result of trailing 21-7 at the half against the Colts, Mike Tomlin’s crew has now been outscored 45-7 in the first half in three straight games. Their only score of the half came as a result of a TJ Watt strip sack, which resulted in RB James Conner punching it in from 1 yard out to tie the game. The problem is that this team has only 102 total yards at the half and punted the ball 4 times. They simply couldn’t sustain any drives and were predictable in their play calling. You can only call so many quick passes before teams start taking that away and teams have started to figure out how to stop the Steelers once explosive offense.
Meanwhile, the Colts offense delivered big plays throughout the first half and showed the entire NFL world why they should be feared come playoff time. RB Jonathan Taylor has rushed for 49 yards and 2 touchdowns. His ability to burst through holes, has set up play action deep shots. That big chunk play was delivered by WR Zack Pascal on a 42 yard TD to double their lead to 21-7. They have the Steelers on the run and simply used the Rex Ryan montra of ground and pound to send a gigantic message to everyone who doubts them. QB Philip Rivers took advantage of his dominant running game and passed for 153 yards, while only getting sacked twice. All signs pointed to a blowout win for Indianapolis, but the Steelers weren’t dead yet.
The Steelers took some baby steps in the 3rd quarter by cutting the lead to 24-14. Their defense surrendered just 73 yards and one field goal on three drives, while the offense seemed to finally wake up. However it didn’t start off great, as Pittsburgh’s first drive didn’t end as planned. They had first and goal at the 1 yard line but couldn’t punch the ball in. The drive ended with the Colts’ defense denying a touchdown pass on 4th and goal at the 2 yard line to WR James Washington. However the Steelers showed no fear and simply fought back and their defense gave them a much needed spark.
The Colts went three and out on 2 straight drives, only gaining 8 total yards. The Steelers said thanks and proceeded to score 14 points on just 6 plays to make it a one possession lead. Another Colts punt, gave the Steelers the ball with just over 12 minutes left. A game where the Steelers couldn’t move the ball suddenly turned and the Colts playoff lives were hanging in the balance, while the Steelers had their sights set on a division title. Buckle up sports fans, it’s was going to be a wild finish!
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster picked the 4th quarter to wake up, hauling in a go ahead 25 yard score to give the Steelers their first lead of the game and then the defense delivered it’s second turnover of the game. That new Steel Curtain defense picked off Philip Rivers on the next drive and the momentum continued to live on the Steelers sideline. The Colts defense showed incredible mental toughness to force one last punt and give their offense the ball back with 2:18 left down just four points.
Philip Rivers led a 10 play, 52 yard drive to set up a 4th and 8 play at the Steelers 33 yard line. The Steelers’ pass rush once again showed why they’re the best in football with the most QB hits, by forcing a poor throw that was knocked away to hand the Steelers the AFC North crown for the first time since 2017. Great job by Mike Tomlin’s defense to hold the Colts to 3 second half points and allow the Steelers offense to score 21 unanswered points to shut up their critics for at least another week. I was particularly impressed by JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson, who combined for 17 receptions for 171 yards and 2 scores. After all their troubles getting open and with drops the last three weeks, that performance had to feel great. This team needs to improve their running, which only combined for 20 yards on 14 carries. To compete with the best teams in the league and not wear down their defense, the running game needs to wake up come playoff time.
Their defense overcame a slow start in the first half and held Indy off the scoreboard. Winning the turnover battle (2-0) and holding Indy to just 38% conversion on 3rd down, are great ways to keep your team in the game. Five sacks of Philip Rivers helped too. Regardless of the struggles of the offense, I still would fear the Steelers defense in any game, as they have now forced 2+ takeaways in 11 games this season (most in the NFL). The veteran leadership and playmakers on this team will make this team a tough team to play in the postseason. Next up, they close out their season against the Cleveland Browns (10-5) and the only thing they need to find out is whether they will be the second third or 4th seed in the AFC playoffs (TBD).
The Colts loss knocks them out of the playoff seeding and now they face one win Jacksonville Jaguars, who beat them in week 1. The absence of RT Braden Smith (COVID-19/reserve) and LT Anthony Castonzo (ankle) became very apparent in the 2nd half when Philip Rivers was sacked three times and the Colts were held out of the end zone. Those two injuries especially hurt their running game, which was simply non-existent in the 2nd half. After finding a ton of first half running lanes to build a 21-7 lead through to quarters, only rushing for 50 yards in the 2nd half is disappointing. Everyone in the Colts facility can’t be happy about not being able to control their playoff destiny, but all they can do is win and see what happens.
I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday season and I look forward to seeing how the AFC playoff picture shapes up in week 17. How far do you think the Steelers will go in the playoffs and do you think the Colts will reach the playoffs next week? I honestly don’t know if I can answer either question at the moment because with unexpected injuries and COVID infections that popup every week, the futures of both teams are uncertain. I don’t believe either team will be playing in Super Bowl 55 but anything is possible. Leave your thoughts on both teams in the comment section below or on the CruelFan Facebook page.
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By: Whitney Dowds CruelFan.com