INDIANAPOLIS – Of the last six Super Bowls, the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers have represented the AFC five times. Routinely a prime-time event, the Colts and Steelers once again will have the national spotlight on Sunday Night Football this weekend.
The Steelers own the all-time series lead, 18-6. The teams have met four times (counting the playoffs) since the 2002 NFL Realignment.
Here is a look at those four meetings that have had national or late-afternoon near-national television coverage.
Steelers 28, Colts 10 – October 21, 2002
The most lopsided game of the past four, the Steelers jumped out to a 21-point first half lead and never looked back on Monday Night Football.
Peyton Manning threw for 304 yards on the evening, connecting with tight end Marcus Pollard for a 41-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Running back Edgerrin James had 11 receptions out of the backfield, a career-high, and 145 yards of total offense.
On the club's first offensive possession of the second half, Pollard's touchdown made the score 21-10, but the Colts were not able to cut into the deficit the rest of the way.
Jerome Bettis had thee- and five-yard touchdown runs, while Tommy Maddox had 17- and 14-yard scoring passes to Hines Ward. The final toss to Ward capped the scoring at Heinz Field.
Colts 26, Steelers 7 – November 28, 2005
In the first of two meetings the Colts and Steelers had in the 2005 season, Indianapolis struck right from the start.
On the Colts first play from scrimmage, Manning found Marvin Harrison for an 80-yard touchdown. A raucous Monday Night crowd of 57,442 in the RCA Dome exploded in celebration, and the Colts were on their way to an 11th straight victory. Tight end Bryan Fletcher caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Manning in the third quarter, and Mike Vanderjagt booted field goals of 29, 48, 44 and 28 yards. Manning hit 15-of-25 passes for 245 yards, while Harrison had 128 yards on four receptions. Edgerrin James had 124 yards on 29 rushes.
The defense was dominant in not allowing a point in the final three quarters, while the Steelers' lone scoring drive was only seven yards. Defensive backs Jason David and Mike Doss each recorded an interception and the defense sacked Ben Roethlisberger three times.
The win was the 400th in franchise history, and the Colts also set a club-best 10-game home winning streak with the victory.
Harrison's 128 reception yards marked the 51st time he had reached that plateau, then the second-highest number of 100 yardage games in NFL history. It was the 48th 100 effort for James, and this marked the 22nd time James and Harrison each topped 100 yards in the same game.
Steelers 21, Colts 18 – January 15, 2006
Less than two months after their first meeting, the Steelers returned to the RCA Dome for the AFC Divisional round. Pittsburgh was the AFC's sixth seed, and the team already had earned a road playoff win at Cincinnati.
The Steelers jumped out to an early lead before withstanding a Colts charge. Roethlisberger (14-24-197 passing) had touchdown passes to cap two of Pittsburgh's first three possessions. Pittsburgh moved 84 and 72 yards on the drives. Indianapolis countered in the first half with a 20-yard Vanderjagt field goal.
A Jerome Bettis one-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter pushed the Steelers lead to 21-3. Indianapolis did not relent. Manning found Dallas Clark on a 50-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive to cut the gap to 21-10. After a replay reversal negated an interception, Manning marched the Colts to another score, a three-yard burst by James. The subsequent two-point conversion pass to Reggie Wayne made the score 21-18 with 4:24 to go.
The outcome appeared settled until Gary Brackett forced a Bettis fumble at the Indianapolis seven. Nick Harper returned the fumble almost to midfield. Seconds later, Vanderjagt missed from 46 yards out to end the contest.
Colts 24, Steelers 20 – November 9, 2008
Forty years since their last win in Pittsburgh, the Colts rallied from a 10-point deficit for what would be their second of nine straight victories to close out the 2008 regular season.
Manning had three touchdowns on the afternoon as the Colts erased a 17-7 deficit for a 24-20 victory at Heinz Field. Manning hit 21-of-40 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns. His 65-yard pass to Wayne squared the game in the first quarter. Keiwan Ratliff pirated a Roethlisberger pass just before the half, and Manning's two-yard toss to Clark six seconds prior to intermission tightened the count to 17-14.
Indianapolis tied the game with a third-quarter field goal, then made a goal-line stand in the final period to force a Pittsburgh field goal with 7:57 remaining. Tim Jennings intercepted another Steelers pass moments later and Manning navigated the club for the winning score, a 17-yard pass to Dominic Rhodes with 3:04 left in regulation. Pittsburgh moved goal-ward, but Melvin Bullitt ended the game at the gun with an end-zone interception of Roethlisberger.
The Colts defense neutralized the Steelers running attack only allowing 59 yards on 27 attempts. Defensive end Dwight Freeney had a pair of sacks to along with a forced fumble.
Harrison caught three passes against the Steelers, marking his 184th consecutive game with a reception, then the longest streak to start an NFL career. It was the 50th time Manning had three or more touchdown passes, tying him with Brett Favre and Dan Marino as the only NFL quarterbacks to achieve that feat.
This week, Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian singled out Roethlisberger, Ward and a talented defense as reasons why the Steelers have been so successful for many years.
"They present a very difficult problem because they do so much blitzing, and they do it in so many creative ways," said Polian. "They make you find the open guy consistently. We have, ironically enough, always had pretty good luck against them, even a close game in the playoffs in '05, the year that they went to the Super Bowl. They present a very big problem to our offense. (First) knowing who to block and (then) trying to block them, not easy.
"Secondly, in (Ben) Roethlisberger, they have a guy who's pretty darn hard to rush. To get him out of the game yesterday, the other team had to commit a penalty. He only went out for two plays. He's a big, strong guy and he's been wonderful since he came back from the suspension and more power to him. I am thrilled for him. He's really done a great job. On the field, he can do anything you want. He can throw it 80 yards. He can run it. He can throw it 10 yards with touch. He can do anything you want a quarterback to do and, of course, he's very comfortable in that offense. They've re-made their offense a little bit. They still run the ball very well with (Rashard) Mendenhall, but they've got three flyers on the outside, (Mike) Wallace being the most notable of them who can really go get the ball. They have to me a guy who is, without a doubt, a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in Hines Ward. A great, great ballplayer, a tough guy, the leader of that team. All of these other guys get all this mention on television and radio and print. He (Ward) doesn't but you know what, he's had a better career than anybody.
For defensive captain Gary Brackett his fondest memory against the Steelers is the 2008 game in which they held Pittsburgh to 2.2 yards per carry.
"I remember playing there I think it was like a night game, cold, crazy atmosphere type of game," said Brackett. "We had to win the game in the fourth quarter on defense. It is just one of the games where it's going to go down to the wire, someone is going to have to stop someone on defense or someone on offense is going to have to score to win that game. That's always how these games are with them."