There have been times in recent years where the Pittsburgh Steelers may have thought they couldn’t win without their franchise quarterback.
In their most recent game, they learned rather convincingly that they can.
After backup Byron Leftwich led the Steelers to a Monday night win, it’s uncertain whether he or the injured Ben Roethlisberger will be under center Sunday at Heinz Field against the Indianapolis Colts, who are also coming off a much-needed prime-time victory.
Roethlisberger came into Pittsburgh’s latest game with a 44-18 career regular-season record as a starter, a .710 winning percentage that trails only Tom Brady among active quarterbacks with at least 50 starts.
But after reinjuring his separated right shoulder Monday night in Washington, it looked like Roethlisberger’s winning percentage may take a slight hit. He was 5-of-17 for 50 yards and an interception before leaving prior to halftime.
It turned out the Steelers (6-2) didn’t need to worry. Leftwich, who had thrown 14 passes in mop-up duty this season, went 7-of-10 for 129 yards and a touchdown in relief, and Pittsburgh’s defense did the rest in a 23-6 win.
“We all know Ben’s the guy,” Leftwich said. “Ben’s the quarterback of this football team, and I know I was going to be there in case something happened. Something happened (on Monday).”
An MRI on Roethlisberger’s shoulder revealed no further damage than already existed, but no decision on his status will be made until later in the week. If he can’t suit up, Leftwich, who went 2-4 against the Colts while with Jacksonville, will make his first start since Nov. 18 with Atlanta.
There’s no question who the starter is in Indianapolis, and facing the prospect of a three-game losing streak, Peyton Manning came up big on Sunday night. The Colts’ quarterback, who has started all 168 games since entering the league, went 21-for-29 for 254 yards and two touchdowns against New England, leading the way to an 18-15 win that got Indianapolis back to .500.
“It’s a big win,” Manning told the Colts’ official Web site. “It’s important what we do with this. It sure would be nice to build off this, try to keep winning, get some kind of streak or some kind of rhythm established, but it doesn’t get any easier from here on out.”
A trip to Pittsburgh—Manning’s second since he’s been in the league and first since 2002—might be the toughest test yet for the Colts’ offense. The Steelers boast the NFL’s No. 1 total defense, allowing just 234.1 yards per game, and they have 32 sacks through eight games, also tops in the league.
“Pittsburgh has a unique style of defense because of the players they have,” Manning said. “They do things nobody else can do because of the players they have.
“You don’t see anybody running wide open. You don’t see a busted assignment. They truly make you execute and do your job.”
Linebacker James Farrior had 2 1/2 of the Steelers’ five sacks in their last meeting with Manning and the Colts, a 21-18 divisional playoff victory at Indianapolis on their way to winning Super Bowl XL.
Manning and his receiving corps, led by Reggie Wayne and tight end Dallas Clark, will likely have to do the bulk of the work if Indianapolis (4-4) is to have success at Heinz Field. The Steelers give up just 70.1 ypg on the ground, and limited Clinton Portis—far and away the NFL’s leading rusher—to just 51 yards on 13 carries Monday night.
The Colts, meanwhile, average exactly what Pittsburgh is giving up, and those 70.1 rushing ypg are last in the league.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin certainly has faith in his defense. He tried to open the game with an onside kick, and after the Redskins recovered, Pittsburgh didn’t allow a first down.
“We have a philosophy of ‘give us a blade of grass to defend and we will defend it,’” Tomlin told the Steelers’ official Web site. “I think that we have the kind of defensive unit that responds to those challenges. That is why you are comfortable taking some of the risks that you take at times, because of what they are capable of doing.”
The Colts have won only once in 10 trips to Pittsburgh. That came in 1968 when the franchise played in Baltimore, a 41-7 victory on their way to Super Bowl III, where the heavy favorites lost to Joe Namath and the New York Jets.