Game recap: Steelers 45, Colts 10

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Matt Hasselbeck #8 of the Indianapolis Colts looks to pass in the first half of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on December 6, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 6, 2015) – What caught our eye from the Indianapolis Colts’ 45-10 loss to the Steelers Sunday night in Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field, besides the fact the Colts at one time led 10-6:

QBs hurtin’: Matt Hasselbeck’s string of four consecutive wins in relief of injured Andrew Luck ended in a mess at Heinz Field. The prevailing question moving forward, though, is whether he’ll be able to start a new streak next Sunday at Jacksonville.

Hasselbeck, 40 and the NFL’s oldest non-kicker, was yanked from the game in the fourth quarter and it was reported he was dealing with shoulder and neck injuries. He probably suffered both early in the third quarter when a Pittsburgh defender pushed center Jon Harrison into him. Hasselbeck stayed in the game, but Charlie Whitehurst replaced him in the fourth quarter with the game out of hand.

The Colts should provide an update on Hasselbeck’s status Monday. If Hasselbeck is unable to start, it’s Whitehurst’s offense.

Owner Jim Irsay said Luck might return for the Dec. 20 home game with Houston, or the Dec. 27 trip to Miami. He’s missed the last three games with a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle.

Big Ben, again: To quote the late Yogi Berra, it was déjà vu all over again. After a slow start, Ben Roethlisberger reverted to the Steelers’ quarterback who carved up the Colts’ defense 11 months ago. Indy grabbed a 10-6 lead at the 8:26 mark of the second quarter, then spent the rest of the period – and game – watching Roethlisberger play pitch-and-catch with his receivers.

Pittsburgh created separation by closing the half with a pair of Roethlisberger-inspired scoring drives. He completed 11-of-15 passes for 146 yards on the possessions, and the first a 7-yard TD pass to Antonio Brown and the second with a 5-yarder to Markus Wheaton.

That was just the beginning. The Steelers’ swarming defense forced the Colts into a three-and-out on the first series of the second half, and three plays later Roethlisberger and Martavis Bryant exploited cornerback Greg Toler for a 69-yard TD and a 28-10 lead.

By game’s end, Roethlisberger completed 24-of-39 passes for 364 yards and four touchdowns.

Lest anyone has forgotten, Roethlisberger used the Colts’ defense for target practice in 2014. En route to a 51-34 blowout, he set franchise records with 40 completions, 522 yards and six touchdown passes.

We’ll save you the math. In his last two shots at the Colts, Roethlisberger is 64-of-88 for 886 yards and 10 touchdowns. That’s a 142.5 passer rating.

And that’s pretty good.

Early opportunities: Lost in the lopsided loss was how it started. The Colts squandered several early opportunities to do damage as Pittsburgh’s Jacoby Jones fumbled away the opening kickoff (rookie D’Joun Smith recovered) and DeAngelo Williams lost a fumble (end Kendall Langford recovered) on the Steelers’ first possession.

Those two mistakes gave the Colts possession at the Pittsburgh 11- and 25-yard lines. The result? A Hasselbeck interception at the goal line and Adam Vinatieri’s 35-yard field goal.

At least the Colts cashed in when a third drive started in Steelers’ territory, this one at the 46. Hassebeck capped a four-play, 46-yard drive with a 9-yard TD to running back Frank Gore. It was set up by 16- and 28-yard completions to Andre Johnson.

Maybe leaving points on the field early wouldn’t have mattered. We’ll never know.

Pressure game: We’ll call it a Tale of Two QBs. One (Roethlisberger) operated in a clean passing pocket. He was virtually untouched while passing for 219 yards and two TDs in the first half. The Colts had zero sacks and were credited zero pressures.

The other (Hasselbeck) found himself in a hazardous work environment. He was sacked only twice, but don’t let that fool you. He seemed to be on the ground every time he delivered a pass. Colts fans undoubtedly held their collective breath early in the third quarter when Hasselbeck was slow to get up after the Steelers’ defense pushed center Jon Harrison into him. On the sideline, trainers looked at Hasselbeck’s neck while Whitehurst limbered up. Hasselbeck returned for the next series.

In the fourth quarter, Steelers linebacker James Harrison beat left tackle Joe Retiz for a strip-sack-lost-fumble of Hasselbeck that ended a Colts’ drive at the Pittsburgh 13.

Hasselbeck’s string of consecutive wins as a 40-year-old QB ended at four. He finished 16-of-26 for 169 yards with one touchdown, two interceptions and the lost fumble.

Fantasy stats: The Steelers piled up 522 total yards, and spread things around rather nicely. Brown had eight receptions for 118 yards and two TDs, Bryant finished with four catches, 114 yards and one TD and Wheaton had three catches for 50 yards and one TD. Williams gouged the Colts 26 times for 134 rushing yards.

T.Y. Hilton was quiet (three catches, 36 yards) and Donte Moncrief downright silent (one catch, 33 yards). Gore rushed 13 times for 45 yards.

The Colts finished with a 11 first downs and 201 total yards, both season lows.

AFC South update: The Colts received good news before they filed out of their Pittsburgh hotel. They entered week 13 tied atop the AFC South with Houston with 6-5 records, then watched the Texans’ four-game winning streak snapped by the Buffalo Bills 30-21.

That eased Sunday night’s thrashing at the hands of the Steelers. While it ended the Colts’ three-game winning streak, they continue to share the division lead and hold the tiebreaker over the Texans based on their 27-20 win in Houston in October.

The stretch drive promises to be interesting. The Colts are at Jacksonville next Sunday before their Dec. 20 rematch with the Texans, who are 0-13 in Indianapolis. They finish at Miami Dec. 27 and close the regular season at home Jan. 3 against the Tennessee Titans.

Houston’s closing schedule: home next Sunday against New England, Dec. 20 at Indy, at Tennessee Dec. 27 and home against Jacksonville Jan. 3.

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