Steelers, Colts meet with major playoff ramifications
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts have been moving in opposite directions lately yet will have plenty in common Sunday when they meet at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field.
The 11-3 Steelers have clinched a spot in the playoffs, due to their 11-0 start, but have lost three in a row and need one more victory to secure the AFC North title.
The 10-4 Colts have won three consecutive and seven of their past nine, with their own spot in the playoffs pending a victory, coupled with a loss by Miami or Baltimore this weekend.
Pittsburgh was the last undefeated team by several weeks, but the three-game losing streak, all by fewer than 20 points, has brought with it a good deal of unrest.
Fingers have been pointing toward the offense, and specifically quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger has heard the questions and the criticisms. He doesn’t or can’t throw downfield anymore; he gets rid of the ball too quickly; he doesn’t see open receivers; at 38 he’s nearing the end. TO that, he offered a succinct response.
“I don’t blame them,” he said. “When you play like poo, you should get talked about like that. I need to play better. If I’m not giving them a reason to talk good, then I’m giving them a reason to talk badly. That’s all on me. I need to play better.”
Roethlisberger gave barely a glancing measure of blame at the rest of the offense.
“We all need to perform better, and it starts with me,” he said. “I have to complete passes, if that’s the call. If it’s run, then we have to get hats on hats, if you will. Once again … if I had an answer to it, we wouldn’t be having these issues. We can’t fix anything until we get out there on Sunday, really.”
Roethlisberger revealed that the Steelers had a players meeting Wednesday that was heavy on the offensive side but insisted “it had nothing to do with the losses. It had everything to do with where we are, and where we’re going. It wasn’t a players-only panic meeting.”
Defensive tackle Cam Heyward agreed that Pittsburgh isn’t panicking.
“It’s a three-game losing streak, but that’s coming off an 11-game winning streak,” Heyward said. “I’m looking forward to getting back on this horse.”
The game matches Roethlisberger and a fellow veteran in Indianapolis quarterback Philip Rivers.
“The similarities are they’ve both been incredibly durable. They’ve both been incredibly productive,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “They’ve been incredibly effective in the pocket.”
That’s just one story line.
“These are the games you dream about — going to Pittsburgh in December with something on the line,” Rivers said.
It doesn’t matter to Indianapolis what each team has done lately.
“When you go on the road this late in the season and in this meaningful of a game, it’s going to take a complete team effort,” Reich said.
Steelers linebacker Vince Williams was reinstated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, which could give a boost to a position that has been in flux in terms of personnel availability.
In addition, running back James Conner (quadriceps) practiced Wednesday after missing a game. However, tight end Eric Ebron (back), defensive end Stephon Tuitt (back) and linebackers Marcus Allen (stinger), Ulysees Gilbert III (ankle), and Ola Adeniyi (shoulder) didn’t practice.
For Indianapolis, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (ankle) didn’t practice Wednesday, but that was considered precautionary after he returned from that injury last weekend.
Also sitting out practice were tackle Anthony Castonzo (knee) and receiver Marcus Johnson (quadriceps), along with Rivers, who simply is following his regular routine, Reich said.
–Field Level Media