Colts dispose of Steelers, remain perfect

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Indianapolis improved to 11-0 with a 26-7 victory.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts are shoving aside challengers as if they'll never be beaten.

Now the Pittsburgh Steelers are out of the way, too.

From their first offensive play Monday night, the unbeaten Colts dominated the Steelers, winning their 11th straight game 26-7. Peyton Manning hit a streaking Marvin Harrison in stride for an 80-yard score, and the Colts never looked back.

Now they can look forward to the final month of what is becoming an extraordinary season. The 11th team ever to go 11-0 and the first since Denver in 1998, the Colts have beaten three of their main AFC competitors -- the Patriots, Bengals and Steelers (7-4) -- in a span of four weeks.

While there are some significant obstacles ahead in their quest to match the 1972 Miami Dolphins' perfect regular season, such as meetings with San Diego, Jacksonville and Seattle, the Colts should be favored in all five remaining games.

In shutting down Pittsburgh with a staunch, aggressive defense that yielded only 197 yards, the Colts also ended a seven-game slide in this series dating to 1984. Manning hurdled his New England jinx on a Monday night at the beginning of November, and he got his first career victory over Pittsburgh to finish off the month

They handed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger his first road defeat; he was 9-0, but couldn't do much in his first game back after missing three weeks because of knee surgery.

Edgerrin James became the first rusher to gain 100 yards against Pittsburgh in 23 games, running for 124 on 29 carries. By contrast, Roethlisberger led the Steelers in rushing with 21 yards until Willie Parker broke a 24-yard run in the final moments.

Manning hit Harrison behind Ike Taylor just 1:44 into the game.

After Mike Vanderjagt's 29-yard field goal made it 10-0, the Steelers scored on a 12-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Hines Ward, making it 10-7. That was about it for Pittsburgh.

Indy's vastly upgraded defense, ranked eighth and hitting as hard as the Steel Curtain ever has, shut down the Steelers the rest of the way. If not for Polamalu's pick and four 15-yard penalties against the Colts, Pittsburgh wouldn't have been in the game at halftime.

Jeff Reed missed a 41-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter, something teams can't do against the potent Colts. Vanderjagt made a 48-yarder later in the period, and hit a 44-yarder on the final play of the half after Mike Doss' interception and a 15-yard personal foul on Pittsburgh's Jeff Hartings during the runback.

Steelers coach Bill Cowher made a strange, seemingly desperate decision to open the second half with an onside kick. It backfired, and Manning concluded a 37-yard drive with a 12-yard TD pass to Bryan Fletcher.

Vanderjagt's 28-yarder, his fourth field goal of the night, ended the scoring.

Manning finished 15-for-25 for 245 yards, and Harrison had his 51st 100-yard game (four catches for 128), second in NFL history behind Jerry Rice with 76.

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