PITTSBURGH (AP) – Sure, all those touchdowns and all those yards and all those big plays were nice.
Yet the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 51-34 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday left the man who conducted it wanting more. A lot more.
“We showed flashes of being really good,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “But I missed some throws and we turned the ball over, so we still left stuff out there.”
The scary part might be that he’s right. If that’s the case, the Steelers (5-3) might want to have a dry erase board double as their team record book.
On a day Roethlisberger set new club marks with 522 yards passing, 40 completions and six touchdowns, he insists it could have been even better. If not for a couple of drops and a pair of fumbles that allowed the Colts to hang around longer than any team that trailed by as much as 25 points has a right to, it could have gotten really ugly.
“There are still a lot of things we need to improve on,” he said.
Just not nearly as many as it appeared a few weeks ago following a mystifying loss to Cleveland.
The red zone issues that plagued Pittsburgh vanished against the Colts. The Steelers scored five touchdowns in six trips inside the Indianapolis 20, the only mistake coming when running back LeGarrette Blount was stripped while trying to fight for extra yardage midway through the fourth quarter.
The emergence of rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant has certainly helped. Stashed on the inactive list for the first six weeks, Bryant now has three touchdowns in two games. His 35-yarder in his season debut against Houston sparked a second-quarter deluge and his two scores on Sunday showcased the value of having a 6-foot-4 target for Roethlisberger to work with in tight spaces.
“The plays that he makes are pretty special,” Roethlisberger said. “He does some great things. The better he plays, the more (Antonio Brown) is going to benefit from it, because he is a threat.”
The Steelers spent the first seven games relying heavily on Brown to make something happen. It’s a role he’s thrived in even as Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley stressed it was time for the guys behind the Pro Bowler on the depth chart to make an impact.
Consider it done.
Brown didn’t even catch a pass until the second quarter on Sunday. By that time the Steelers already led 21-10, a testament to Roethlisberger’s decisiveness, the preparedness of role players Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore and an offensive line that gave its quarterback all the time he needed to become the first player in NFL history to top 500 yards passing in a single game twice.
Roethlisberger dropped back to pass 49 times. He got the ball away 49 times.
“The (line) did a great job protecting him,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “Ben did a great job of making quick, correct decisions. The wideouts did a nice job of winning and winning quickly. It was an 11-man job.”
One that will get tougher on Sunday night when rival Baltimore (5-3) comes to town. The Ravens mauled the Steelers 26-6 in Week 2. Funny how long ago that seems now. Pittsburgh looked every bit the part of contender while ending Indianapolis’ five-game winning streak. And they believe it was just the beginning.
Roethlisberger, Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell were already in the midst of career years. Now it seems like they’re starting to get help as the second half of the season begins, and their coaches are starting to get confident.
The proof came with just over 5 minutes to go and the Steelers up by 10. Facing fourth-and-1 at the Indianapolis 11, Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley opted to go for it. Roethlisberger checked to a pass, rolled right and found tight end Heath Miller for his sixth and final touchdown.
It’s the kind of play the Steelers missed frequently early in the year. Not so much anymore.
“Credit to the coaches for keeping the pedal down the whole game,” Miller said. “We never went into kind of a relaxed mode. We wanted to keep the pressure on.”
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