INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner is a playoff veteran, so he understands the ramifications of Saturday’s showdown with Pittsburgh.
“It’s a playoff game, you know what I mean?” Buckner said. “That’s how you’ve got to approach this week. Each and every week from here on out is critical if we are going to make the playoffs.”
The two-time Pro Bowler hopes that message resonates with his younger teammates who may not have experienced this kind of high-stakes December game.
The Colts and Steelers have plenty of similarities.
Both are 7-6 and they started Week 15 sitting in the AFC’s final two playoff spots. Injuries have forced both teams to turn to backup quarterbacks, and both hope to rebound from last week’s embarrassing losses.
The Steelers didn’t just lose their last two. They became the first NFL team with a winning record to lose back-to-back home games to teams at least eight games under .500. And they’ve only topped the 20-point mark once in their last seven games.
“I share their frustration,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “Our business is winning. In the last couple of weeks, we have not handled business and we understand that, and so we’re working and working with an edge.”
Indy, meanwhile, had a four-game winning streak snapped by Cincinnati but has struggled to run the ball lately. Its last three wins came by a total of 14 points, thanks largely to turnovers and non-offensive touchdowns. The Colts also have lost eight straight to the Steelers, most recently on Nov. 28, 2022.
Saturday’s outcome could go a long way in determining whether either team makes the playoffs, where neither has had much recent success. Indy hasn’t won a postseason game since the 2018 season, and Pittsburgh’s last playoff win was two years earlier.
At the very least, this game could have a playoff feel.
“I think that’s the beauty of being in the playoff race, at this point in the season we have to treat every game like it’s a playoff game,” Colts safety Julian Blackmon said. “If we control our own destiny, I think we’ll like the results.”
Steelers outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith spent the week in the concussion protocol and while Watt has been cleared to play, Highsmith remains questionable after doing limited work at Wednesday’s practice.
When both are healthy, the Steelers have one of the league’s best pass-rushing tandems. Watt and Highsmith have combined for 20 sacks, 43 quarterback hits, five forced fumbles, two interceptions and two TDs. Their production is a big reason Pittsburgh has stayed in the playoff hunt despite its struggling offense.
Indy hasn’t had much of a home-field advantage over the past two seasons — or in this series. The Colts are 2-9 in their last 11 at Lucas Oil Stadium, going 2-4 this season while losing their only two one-possession games at home.
Pittsburgh is 4-0 at Lucas Oil Stadium. The most painful loss for Indy came in the divisional round of the playoffs after the 2005 season, when the Steelers knocked off the top-seeded Colts.
First-year coach Shane Steichen believes this time may be different.
“I think our fans are going to be ready to roll,” he said. “I think our fans are going to show up and be loud. Our fans will be ready.”
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky took responsibility after last week’s loss to New England, saying he needs to play better to give the offense a chance to win.
Maybe avoiding turnovers like his ill-advised pass into triple coverage that was picked off and led directly to a Patriots touchdown might be enough. Pittsburgh is 4-1 when it doesn’t give the ball away and 2-5 when it does. Putting Trubisky in position to make quick decisions rather than hold onto the ball is part of the solution.
“How do we skinny down the game plan where he can play fast and get the ball out of his hands (and) get it to our playmakers?” interim offensive coordinator Eddie Faulkner said. “Our thoughts are always wrapped around better ways to do that.”
Indy will don throwback uniforms in the style of the 1956 Baltimore Colts team, which had Pittsburgh native Johnny Unitas at quarterback.
Saturday’s uniforms will have three stripes around the shoulder panel and on the socks, a single blue stripe on the pants and two horseshoes on the lower back of the helmet. Player numbers will have a slightly different font and will appear higher on the shoulder. The Colts’ cheerleaders will also wear replica outfits from the 1950s.