’Big’ Ben put on the “bumblebee” throwback stripes and took the Indianapolis Colts back in time.
I’m referring to how the Steelers quarterback made the Colts look as defenseless as in last year’s playoffs, when they allowed 87 points in two games.
It was as ugly for the Colts as, well, those God-awful 1934 throwback uniforms the Steelers were wearing.
Just like that, the supreme confidence gained from a five-game winning streak flat-lined. The Colts defense couldn’t get any semblance of a pass rush on Roethlisberger, who obliterated the visitors with 522 yards passing and six touchdown passes, both franchise records.
You knew it was going to be tough when the Colts lost cornerback Vontae Davis early to a knee injury. But nobody could have envisioned this kind of Steelers smackdown.
When the Colts blitzed, Roethlisberger made them pay. When the Colts defense tried to play zone, he had all the time in the world to find open receivers. Nothing worked for the Colts. Roethlisberger wasn’t sacked once. This wasn’t the same blitzing Colts’ 3-4 scheme that had produced 20 sacks the previous five games.
As we’ve seen in the Colts’ three losses this season — in which they’ve managed only one sack in those games — no pass rush exposes the secondary. And when that happens, anything is possible.
The Colts couldn’t cover Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who makes a weekly habit of humbling defenders. He had 10 catches for 133 yards and two TDs. But the Colts also couldn’t stay with guys we didn’t know much about — Steelers rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant also had two scoring receptions.
It didn’t matter who did the damage. Roethlisberger was in complete control. He completed 40-of-49 passes. Yeah, that’s not a misprint. He had just nine incompletions in a 49-pass day. About the only thing he screwed up was a pooch punt in the fourth quarter that got blocked.
And the Colts offense helped out the Steelers at times, too. Andrew Luck threw a pick-six early in the second quarter. He took an intentional grounding penalty in his own end zone for a safety in the final quarter. And Luck also took a pounding from a Steelers pass rush that was rumored to be “soft” in recent weeks because of its lack of pressure.
Luck still passed for 400 yards and threw TD strikes to Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton and rookie Donte Moncrief, but it wasn’t going to be nearly enough. His second interception in the fourth quarter gave the Colts 15 turnovers this season, one more than they had in all of 2013.
But this one still boils down to a defense that seemed incapable of getting stops. The NFL’s No. 1 defense in stopping third downs allowed the Steelers to convert 8-of-13. And Roethlisberger even made good on a fourth-and-1 throw for his final TD pass, an 11-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller in the fourth quarter.
While both teams departed 5-3, the winners had every reason to be confident while the losers didn’t. it was a rude wake-up call for anyone who thought the Colts defense had arrived. Just like that, skeptics have plenty of ammunition to question if the Colts can stop guys like Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning. Yeah, they should have beaten Philadelphia’s Nick Foles in Week 2, but not because there was enough pressure on the Eagles quarterback.
So the Colts return home battered and a bit banged up. The Davis knee injury is paramount in their concerns because he’s obviously their best cover guy and was having the best season of any of the defenders. But even before Davis departed, the defense was getting worked over.
To get outplayed is one thing. That inevitably happens from time to time to even good teams in a long NFL season. But when a defense gives up 639 yards to anybody, that’s a major red flag.
The Colts will try to regroup with an extra day before their next game, a Monday Night Football road trip to face the New York Giants. They will need to figure out something to get pressure on Giants quarterback Eli Manning, or we know what can happen.
It’s really that simple. If the Colts defense doesn’t show up and fails to get stops, we’re back to square one with Luck and the offense asked to outscore opponents. The offense is good enough to win their share of those shootouts.
But we know from recent history, that doesn’t get you far in the playoffs.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.