In less than half a quarter, the Indianapolis
Colts’ Triple Threat scored more points against Pittsburgh than
three other teams combined for all preseason.
Peyton Manning threw two perfect touchdown passes, including a 77-yarder to Marvin Harrison, and Edgerrin James had a 2-yard touchdown run, all within the first 7:26 of the Colts’ 24-23 victory over the Steelers on Saturday night.
The offensive trio that led the best turnaround in NFL history last season appears ready for an encore this season. After two rusty games, Indianapolis (2-2) has had consecutive sharp outings by its first unit.
The outburst against a Pittsburgh defense that had allowed 20 points in three games was stunning. It took just seven plays and 4:40 for all three touchdowns.
‘Not Talking Super Bowl’
Mexican reporters were so impressed that they bombarded Colts coach Jim Mora with questions about winning it all this year.
“We’re not talking Super Bowl,” Mora said. “All we’re talking about is getting ready for the regular season.”
Manning was 9 of 14 for 174 yards with at least two of the incompletions being dropped. He hit Harrison twice for 85 yards, but also completed passes to six other players. James complemented the air game with 29 yards on seven carries.
“We have a good team this year,” Manning said.
The Steelers (3-1) got within 21-10 with their starters, then made things interesting with its backups.
Third-string quarterback Tee Martin dove into the end zone with 10 seconds left to put Pittsburgh within a 2-point conversion of victory, but running back Pepe Pearson was stopped at the 1.
Steelers Receive Support
At least the Steelers had the crowd on their side. About 90 percent of the 87,145 fans in Mexico’s Azteca Stadium cheered for Pittsburgh and nearly all wore yellow and black. Many waved Terrible Towels.
Their reaction to the Colts was interesting. Indianapolis players were booed in pregame warmups, then lightly applauded when introduced. More polite clapping followed each Colts touchdown.
The fans even cheered embattled Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart, something he hasn’t heard much at Three Rivers Stadium. However, they booed when he threw an interception and whenever else their favorite team messed up.
Stewart failed to get a first down on four of six drives and had to convert fourth downs on the other two series, which ended in a field goal and a 1-yard touchdown run by Jon Witman.
He finished 8-of-18 for 82 yards with an interception in the end zone and a sack. That’s better than the 1-of-13 and 6-of-22 marks he brought into the game.
“It’s been a good experience down here in Mexico,” Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. “I think we will grow from it.”
An hourlong rain before kickoff cooled temperatures into the 60s for much of the game and turned the field into a muddy mess.
Pittsburgh’s Hank Poteat couldn’t blame the mud or the noise for fumbling a punt deep in his own territory following Indianapolis’ first possession. The Colts recovered at the 11 and the rout was on.
On second down, Manning tricked the entire Pittsburgh defense on a fake handoff left, then rolled right and softly tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide-open tight end Ken Dilger.
The next series, which began at the Steelers’ 29 following a 54-yard punt return by Payton Williams, was all James.
A 9-yard run was followed by a 3-yard gain that had another 8 yards tacked on for facemasking. James got 6 yards on the next play, then bounced off two blocks for the touchdown.
Just 1:20 later, Indianapolis took over again its 23. On first down, Manning heaved a pass down the right sideline that Harrison caught practically in stride just past midfield and went into the end zone untouched.
“He just used his great speed to get right by their defensive back,” Manning said. “With Marvin, you can just throw the ball up and he can go get it.”