INDIANAPOLIS — The Pittsburgh Steelers' fast start created big expectations.
A midseason swoon put all those hopes in jeopardy.
Now, with two straight double-digit wins, the Steelers find themselves with momentum as they try to charge back into the playoff hunt.
"We know it's time for us to roll our sleeves up and show our identity, put our will on display, and find a way to do what we desire to do," receiver Antonio Brown said after catching three touchdown passes in Thursday night's 28-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
What they've been doing is dominating.
Following Sunday's 15-point victory at Cleveland, all the Steelers (6-5) did was score touchdowns on their first three possessions, come up with two goal-line stands on defense and extend their winning streak over the Colts to four straight — the last three by a combined score of 124-51. The Colts (5-6) were forced to play without quarterback Andrew Luck, who suffered a concussion in a win over Tennessee last Sunday.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn't have to throw much but was efficient when he did, finishing 14 of 20 for 221 yards with three TD passes. Brown only had five receptions for 91 yards, but the two he had in the first half broke open the game and the final one, with 5:30 to play, sealed the win. Le'Veon Bell ran 23 times for 120 yards and another score.
The defense picked off two passes and had three more sacks, giving the Steelers 11 in the last eight quarter.
That's Pittsburgh football — and the timing couldn't be better.
"Good win for us on a short week on the road," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We don't take it for granted, we appreciate it, but it was much needed."
Especially in a game that pitted two teams trying to fight their way back into the postseason chase.
Indy was looking for its third straight win despite playing without Andrew Luck (concussion).
Pittsburgh, which was 4-1 before four straight losses, wanted to prove that the win over the Browns was not merely an aberration.
And while the Colts were playing short-handed, Pittsburgh's victory could go a long way in determining whether the Steelers can hold onto or expand their tenuous ½-game lead in the AFC North.
"I think we were just the better team today. We did a good job with scoring points," Brown said. "Defense put up some great stops, they had two turnovers on defense. Those are the things that produce a winning outcome."
Here are some other things that were learned from Thursday's game:
Scott Tolzien did a solid job replacing Luck. Replicating him was next to impossible. While Tolzien finished 22 of 36 with 205 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, the Colts were stopped twice on third-and-goal situations from the 1 and 2-yard lines and then threw incomplete passes on the ensuing fourth-down plays. "That's really frustrating because that's seven points, 14 points, and that's a big turnaround. You can't win games if you can't score from that short." Tolzien was hurt by several dropped passes, including potential touchdown connections to T.Y. Hilton and Phillip Dorsett. Donte Moncrief also dropped a pass on a would-be big gain. The Colts are hoping Luck will return Dec. 5 against the New York Jets.
The Steelers defense didn't just put up numbers. They came to play. Pittsburgh limited the Colts to 310 total yards and only allowed one runner, Jordan Todman, to rush for more than 30 yards. Todman had 37 yards on three carries, 19 of that on his longest run of the night. Indy's top receiver was Donte Moncrief, who had six catches for 45 yards and the longest completion of the night was a 35-yard pass from Pat McAfee to Eric Swoope on a fake punt.
The Colts started the game without Luck or safety Clayton Geathers (concussion) and things got worse all night. Center Ryan Kelly (left shoulder) left on the first series of the game. Right guard Denzelle Good (neck and shoulder) left on the second series. By the time it ended, cornerback Vontae Davis (groin), receiver T.Y. Hilton (bruised lower back) and outside linebacker Robert Mathis (elbow) were all on the sideline.
PAINTING TOWN BROWN
Brown has been piling up numbers against just about every team in the league. He can't do much better than he has against the Colts. After Thursday's big game, he now has 23 receptions, 342 yards and seven TDs in three career games against the Colts. He is also two yards short of joining Hines Ward as the only receivers in franchise history with four straight 1,000-yard seasons.
For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes on Twitter at reggiehayes1