1:00 PM ET, January 15, 2006
Pittsburgh (12-5) at Indianapolis (14-2), Sunday 1:00 pm EST AFC divisional playoff
INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison struck quickly against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the Monday night stage in November. Coach Bill Cowher can't let that happen again if he hopes to make another trip to the AFC championship game.
The Indianapolis Colts, who won their first 13 games of the season and finished with the NFL's best record, host the Steelers Sunday afternoon in the divisional playoffs.
Coach Tony Dungy has guided the Colts to the postseason in each of his four seasons at the helm. This time, they have the homefield advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time under Dungy. The Colts reached the AFC championship game two years ago.
Pittsburgh has reached the AFC championship game six times in the last 11 years under Cowher.
The Steelers were 0-3 on the road in the playoffs under Cowher before winning at Cincinnati, 31-17, last week in the wild-card round. Ben Roethlisberger completed 14-of-19 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns and Pittsburgh rushed for 144 yards in the win.
But not having to contend with Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer made last week's challenge easier for the Steelers. On Cincinnati's second play from scrimmage, Palmer connected with rookie Chris Henry on a 66-yard pass down the right sideline. However, that was the first and last pass of the game for Palmer, who was hit in the left knee by defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen and suffered a torn ACL and MCL.
The Steelers now must face Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning, the league leader in passer rating this season, for the second time here in less than two months.
Manning passed for 245 yards and two touchdowns and Edgerrin James rushed for 124 yards in the Colts' 26-7 win over Pittsburgh on November 28.
"They're a good football team that's built for their fast surface," Cowher said. "Offensively, they have a lot of weapons and defensively they tackle well."
Manning got it started with an 80-yard touchdown pass to Harrison down the right sideline on Indianapolis' first play from scrimmage 1:44 into the game.
Harrison finished with four catches for 128 yards. James was a consistent force throughout, rushing for 53 yards on 13 carries in the first half and 71 yards on 16 carries in the second half.
The physical Steelers managed just 29 yards on 17 carries through three quarters. They added 57 yards on eight carries in the fourth quarter with most of that coming on a 24-yard run by Willie Parker and a 13-yard scramble by Roethlisberger.
"Our front seven did a great job on their running attack in the Monday night game," Dungy said. "I know they're physical, but we used our quickness on the fast surface to penetrate the backfield.
Roethlisberger was intercepted twice and threw for just 133 yards. But he appeared to be rusty after missing the previous three games following knee surgery.
The lone Steelers' touchdown came after Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu picked off a pass intended for Harrison and returned it 36 yards to the Indianapolis 7. Three plays later, Roethlisberger fired a 12-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward.
Matchup to watch: Tight end Dallas Clark will go over the middle against Polamalu.
Series: The Steelers lead, 17-5, and had won nine straight in the series before the November 28 loss. However, the Colts' only loss in that streak with Manning at quarterback was in 2002 at Pittsburgh.
Next week: The winner will play the New England-Denver winner in the AFC championship game on January 22.
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Manning, Polamalu will match wits
The Steelers get a second chance to slow the Colts' offense down after a 26-7 drubbing on Monday night in Week 12. This will be a game of contrasting styles with the Colts' high-powered offense against the Steelers' suffocation zone-blitz defense. The guessing game between Peyton Manning with his pre-snap audibles and the movement of SS Troy Polamalu, who is unpredictable on every play, should be fun to watch.
The questions in this game are simple: Can the Colts' defense stop the Steelers' run game and force Ben Roethlisberger to pass more than he wants to? Can the Colts offensive line give Manning enough pass protection to exploit a mediocre Pittsburgh coverage secondary? With both offenses being extremely creative, will we see this game turn on a gadget or trick play? Lots of stars and story lines make this must-watch football.
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|Avg Points Allowed||17.5||21.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||PIT|
|Rush Yds Allowed||PIT|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Pittsburgh leads 2-1|
|Nov 28, 2005||PIT 7, @IND 26|
|Oct 21, 2002||PIT 28, IND 10|