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Steelers rout Colts, face familiar road map to playoffs

In the NFL, there are certain phrases that you want to share a sentence with in December.

You want to be a team that “nobody wants to play” and you want to be “hot at the right time.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers are at least bearing the first of these labels after Sunday night’s 45-10 thrashing of the Indianapolis Colts.

The Steelers (7-5) have generated at least 450 yards of offense in four straight games, tying an NFL record. They’ve scored 30 or more points in four straight games for the first time in franchise history, and believe it or not they’re the seventh-stingiest defense in the league with 240 points allowed. Sunday’s 35-point margin of victory is the Steelers’ largest in any game since they beat the Kansas City Chiefs 45-7 in 2006, and they did this to a team that leads its division.

This was the Steelers’ most complete effort of the season on both sides of the ball. Ben Roethlisberger threw four touchdown passes, two to Antonio Brown and one each to Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. He also ended a streak of five straight games with an interception and for the second time this season he wasn’t sacked. That’s part of the reason he played just his fourth complete game of the year.

The Steelers allowed 240 yards on defense, their best showing of the year, on a night when Brandon Boykin was actually allowed to play. The former Eagles cornerback who had been languishing on the bench intercepted a pass and broke up two more.

Another rare sight was perfect clock management by Mike Tomlin at the end of the first half. Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass to Wheaton with 10 seconds left to give the Steelers a 21-10 lead at the break.

If the Steelers continue to check all these boxes, no team would look forward to facing them in the playoffs.

Can we really say they’re “hot” at the right time, however? The euphoria over Sunday’s win doesn’t erase the 39 points the Seahawks hung on them last week.

To make the playoffs, the Steelers will have to get hot. For the third time in the last four years, they’re 7-5 and can make the playoffs if they win their last four games. That’s how they got into the playoffs last year and in 2005 when they won Super Bowl XL.

Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher famously likened their task in 2005 to Christopher Columbus’ voyage, and the Steelers sailed a route no one else had by becoming the first team to win the Super Bowl as the No. 6 seed.

This year, the seas will be a lot rougher.

In the next two weeks the Steelers face a pair of 10-2 teams. They go to Cincinnati next week and host Denver in Week 15. They finish the season at Baltimore and at Cleveland, two hapless rivals that would like nothing more than to derail the Steelers’ playoff train.

When they ran the table in the final four games of 2005 and 2014, the Steelers had two games at home and two on the road. This year, three of their last four are on the road. They’ve beaten the Rams and Chargers on the road this season but lost to the Patriots, Chiefs and Seahawks, all of whom would be in the playoffs if the season ended after 12 weeks.

The Steelers can forget about winning the AFC North. But next Sunday’s game at Cincinnati is their last chance to prove that they can beat a quality opponent on the road.

If the Steelers can do in Cincinnati what they did Sunday, then teams would have a real reason to fear them in the playoffs.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

 

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