Jeff Saturday knows the score.
The Indianapolis Colts have lost seven straight games to the Pittsburgh Steelers since their last win 14 years ago – when Saturday was still in the prime of his playing career.
And if Indy is hoping to change anything in this one-sided streak, he understands the Colts need to be more focused, precise and efficient on Monday night.
“We talked about just embracing the moment, having fun, cherishing it, and then doing your best when you have those moments and opportunities,” he said. “It’s a huge challenge and of course Pittsburgh brings its own battles here.”
Victory is a must for the Colts (4-6-1) if they hope to revive their rapidly dwindling playoff hopes. They’ve lost their last two home games — both 17-16, after the defense gave up a touchdown in the last 90 seconds and the offense couldn’t get into field-goal position.
Another agonizing loss to the Steelers could spell doom once again for longtime Colts fans who have seen Pittsburgh repeatedly shatter their dreams.
Whether it was the incomplete desperation pass that sent the Steelers to the Super Bowl and the Colts home in January 1996, the 42-14 win the next season in the playoffs, or Ben Roethlisberger’s narrow tackle on Nick Harper’s fumbled return and Mike Vanderjagt’s 46- 17 seconds to go The yard field goal that sealed a 21-18 divisional round win over the top-seeded Colts in January 2006 is remembered by everyone in town.
Of course, this time the Steelers (3-7) seem vulnerable. They’ve lost three out of four overall, four straight down the road, and rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett is struggling with interceptions as he approaches his debut Monday night.
Much like Indy, Pittsburgh have struggled to pick up points and even their normally strong running defense has been vulnerable this season.
Coach Mike Tomlin recognizes that even if defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year TJ Watt has returned from injury, that could be a potential problem against 2021 NFL rushing champion Jonathan Taylor.
“We’ve never been to a stadium with him, but we respect his talent and his CV,” said Tomlin. “We believe quality play for them is about his exploits and what he can do. We need to minimize his impact on the game.”
Taylor has rushed for 231 yards and two points since Saturday replaced Frank Reich, and Saturday seems more committed to ground play.
Could it be enough to help Indy turn the tables on one of the NFL’s most successful franchises on Monday night? Saturday hope so.
“These are all mandatory wins,” he said. “When you stare at us and try to make a jab. … Again, the process matters and the way we approach it matters. The profits will take care of themselves. We just have to make sure we take care of the process.”
Indy will wear uniforms first worn in 1956 when Pittsburgh native Johnny Unitas was a rookie with the then-Baltimore Colts and Indiana native Weeb Ewbank was the coach.
The horseshoe logo appears on the back of Indy’s helmets and the jersey numbers appear in a slightly different font, higher on the shoulder pads. Shirts and socks will also currently feature three stripes instead of two, while shorts will feature one stripe instead of two.
WHERE IS DIONTAE JOHNSON?
Diontae Johnson was a Pro Bowler a year ago. Now in its fourth year, the receiver has become almost invisible, especially since Pickett replaced Mitch Trubisky at halftime in Week 4. Johnson’s goals, receptions and yards per reception have all declined with Pickett. He’s averaging 8.9 yards per catch this season and hasn’t had a TD since beating Cleveland last January.
Tomlin points to Johnson’s resume as one reason he’s essentially become a decoy, saying opponents plan play to stop him.
Maybe, but Johnson – who signed a two-year contract extension in August – appears to be losing patience.
“I know it looks like I’m (not) involved,” he said. “It is what it is. It’s the situation I’m in. So I have to deal with that.”
If Colts quarterback Matt Ryan has played this season, he’s largely been stalking another Pittsburgh-tie icon, Hall of Famer Dan Marino, who played at Pitt in college.
Ryan passed Marino for seventh on the league’s career list for yards passed Oct. 16 and surpassed the former Miami Dolphins star at No. 6 in career attempts last week. Now Ryan, who grew up near Philadelphia, can build on Marino’s mark of comebacks with a fifth late-game rally this season. Marino is fifth at 47.
OFF AND RUNNING
After weeks of stuttering, the Pittsburgh ground game has taken a significant step forward. The Steelers have averaged 154 rushing yards over the past three weeks, down from 87.8 yards in their first seven games.
Running back Najee Harris has rushed for 189 yards in the past two games and quashed any discussion about undrafted rookie free agent Jaylen Warren making a serious attempt to start. Tomlin credited Harris’ improvement in the offensive line and more determination as two key components in taking some of the strain off Pickett.
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