Colts receivers give Steelers defense a holiday gift

The score: Pittsburgh 28, Indianapolis 7

The bottom line: They say history is written by the winners so we guess the version of Thursday’s night’s game where Pittsburgh’s young defense came of age with a couple of goal line stands is just as valid as any version, but we saw the Steelers get a much-needed Thanksgiving night win, not with an overwhelming offensive performance or a big play on defense, but rather by standing back and watching Colts receivers drop not one, not two, but three sure touchdown passes from Scott Tolzein, who deserved a better fate in his first NFL start. But as Clint Eastwood taught us in “Unforgiven,” deserve’s got nothing to do with it and Pittsburgh gladly will take the gift win to move temporarily into first place in the AFC North and improve its playoff chances.

It was over when… With all eyes on him, Antonio Brown still managed to get open for not one, not two, but three touchdowns on the evening, with the third one, a pretty out-and-up move midway through the fourth quarter, serving as the death knell for the Colts.

Play of the day: Tolzein and the Colts converted about a million third downs on a 90+-yard drive that chewed up 10 minutes of the third quarter and stretched into the early fourth quarter where it ended when Phillip Dorsett dropped an easy touchdown on 4th-and-1 with 13:31 remaining that would have made it 21-14. Dorsett’s drop was the trifecta for Indy after T.Y Hilton and Donte Moncreif bobbled big balls in the second quarter. Hilton’s bobble was a pretty drop-in-the-bucket throw from Tolzein that should have gone for a 65-yard-score and Moncreif’s came just before the 2:00 warning and should have been a score from 24 yards out.

Hot topics:

+ Back to that defense coming of age and developing an identity point: There’s no doubt the Steelers have laid some huge licks on opponents the past two weeks, but let’s remember those opponents were the Browns and Colts, traditionally two of the least physical teams in football. Let’s see it against the Giants, Bengals and Ravens before we start proclaiming it an identity.

+ How good was Ben Roethlisberger Thursday? That’s rhetorical. He was amazingly good, decisive and putting the ball exactly where he wanted it. We’re not sure which was prettier, the back shoulder touchdown to AB or the blitz-beating rainbow to Ladarius Green.

+ Do not overlook the fact that Roethlisberger is playing this way and the Steelers are winning football games with four healthy wide receivers and two healthy running backs. We’re not sure what’s sadder, that Sammie Coates has not caught the last 14 balls thrown Ben Roethlisberger has thrown his way or that the Steelers have had to throw to Sammie Coates 14 times in the past six games. In that regard, the emergence of Green as a horizontal threat is huge.

+ Had the Colts receivers caught all those touchdowns they dropped Thursday, we’d be having a conversation today about how selfish and childish Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are for engaging in a choreographed celebration after Brown’s first touchdown that cost Pittsburgh 15 yards on the kickoff and directly led to Indy’s first score. Yes, the NFL’s celebration rules are dumb, and, yes, they’re unevenly applied, but that was maybe the most gratuitous celebration in Brown’s storied career of gratuitous celebrations because it came AFTER he already danced by himself for NBC’s cameras for a full 15 seconds. By all accounts, Brown and Bell are good teammates and hard workers. No one would begrudge them a little fun as long as it’s not costing their team a chance to win football games. It seems like a pretty easy conversation for a coach to have, doesn’t it? Tomlin? Bueller? Anyone?

+ The Steelers and their fans now become huge Colts fans in hopes Indy can rally to win the AFC South, giving Pittsburgh a chance to earn the #3 seed in the AFC Playoffs, potentially avoiding New England on their side of the bracket.

Zebra hunting:

+ A few days after he made a public plea for NFL officials going full time to improve their job performance, Mike Tomlin saw his team hit with seven penalties for 67 yards (keep in mind there were multiple two-flags-on-the-Steelers plays) while an inferior opponent was flagged for two five-yard penalties. Coincidence? Not a chance.

+ Walt Coleman’s terrible crew completely botched a roughing-the-kicker penalty against the Colts where an Indy rusher, who absolutely, positively was not blocked into Jordan Berry, contacted both Berry’s kicking foot and plant foot.

+ For the third straight week, the NFL’s damaging obsession with helmet-to-helmet contact led to an absurd roughing-the-passer penalty. For the second week in a row, the victim was Lawrence Timmons who was headed right for Scott Tolzein’s sternum when Tolzein fell into Timmons’ helmet, drawing a flag from Coleman. We’re not arguing that the penalty was correctly called under the current interpretation of the rules. It was. We’re saying the rule is unenforceable in a fair way and that it’s damaging to the long-term health of the game.

Game mismanagement:

+ The series of plays after the 2:00 warning in the first half provide some great fodder for game management debate. Coming out of the break, the Colts faced 3rd-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line. Scott Tolzein looked to be scrambling in for the score but stumbled slightly, allowing Sean Davis to catch him for no gain. Conventional wisdom in the offense-first NFL called for a quick timeout by Pittsburgh to preserve time for their offense, assuming a Colts FG or fourth-down touchdown. But you could certainly make a case for what Mike Tomlin did in not calling timeout and allowing :40 to run off the clock, time that would work against Pittsburgh if the Colts didn’t kick the FG or convert on fourth down and the Steelers started at their own 1. While many on Twitter spent a decent amount of time debating the merits of each path, it’s important to remember that Tomlin did not. He just did what his gut told him to do.

In the booth:

+ Honestly, we don’t think Myron Cope could have gushed over the Steelers more than Cris Collinsworth did Thursday. Those of you who think he has an anti-Pittsburgh bias are nuts.

+ Collinsworth was at his best on Antonio Brown’s second touchdown catch, saying before the replay, “Let’s see if he got his feet in, usually he’s so smooth you don’t even notice it.” Those words had barely left Collinsworth’s mouth when the tap showed Brown deftly tapping and dragging his two feet for a good TD.

+ Mike Tirico was his usual stud self, but did offer the tired, untrue cliche that “Terrible Towels travel well” before the game started.

And now a word from our sponsors:

+ That ragtime piano version of The Lumineers’ “Ophelia” that American Express is using in its Small Business Saturday spots is one of the more random musical choices we’ve ever heard.

+ Going for true sentiment in a TV commercial is very dangerous in this cynical world we live in, so we’re sure Apple is getting savaged in some quarters for that Frankenstein spot that almost made us cry. And yes, that was Brad Garrett playing “Frankie.”

Sweet tweet: @CoachesCorner GA: On my radio show once, a caller said (Coates) is a good receiver except he can’t catch.

Next week: The Steelers return home for another national TV game against another NFC East opponent. Hopefully, this one will end better than the last one. A win against the Giants would position the Steelers nicely to win the AFC North with two wins in their final four games.


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