Colts quarterback Peyton Manning stood five yards behind center Jeff Saturday in shotgun at his own lonely 12-yard line. It was 4th and 16, and Joey was coming.
The Steelers defense had harrassed Manning throughout the first 55 minutes of the AFC Divisional Playoff game in January of 2006. With two minutes left in the game, and the Steelers hanging on to a 21-18 lead,
If Manning knew anything at that point - and Manning knows a lot - it was that Porter was coming after him. He already sacked him once on that last-ditch drive. The Colts line had provided the NFL's golden boy with little protection all game - a fact he would point out after the game in an interview.
Manning got the snap, took a drop-step and stopped. J-Peezy and James Farrior both ran him down like a cheetah chasing down its prey, and both got credit for a half sack.
Steelers ball, first-and-goal from the Colts 2. Should be over, right?
What transpired after the next snap of the last time these two teams played is something that has fans of both teams dizzy even close to three years after it happened.
Roethlisberger's season-saving tackle.
Big pass-deflection by Bryant McFadden.
The Miss that ended Vanderjagt's career.
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger became the first passer in NFL history to create his legacy with one tackle. Colts fans epitomized the game with three simple words: "He Missed It."
The Steelers took the momentum from that game all the way to a Super Bowl title, but the Colts took the crushing defeat at home and built their own championship the following year.
The most underrated portion of those last five minutes was the last drive, with 31 seconds and 25 seconds, respectively. Facing 2nd and 2 and 3rd and 2 and two timeouts, Manning sees WR Reggie Wayne on McFadden, and goes after him in consecutive plays. He's got 1,500 yard running back Edgerrin James behind him, and timeouts left to set up his All Pro kicker with plenty of room and time to take all their momentum into overtime.
Manning pulls a Roy McEvoy from Tin Cup, and goes for it anyway. McFadden makes the play of his career, and knocks away the pass to Wayne in the end zone. He successfully defends an arrow patteron on the next play, bringing Vanderjagt onto the field for a 46-yard field goal, when it very easily could have been 40 or 35 had the Colts run the ball.
Vanderjagt missed his kick about as badly as any playoff kick has ever been missed.
Everything from that game has been placed on Vanderjagt, but what's compelling now is the fact Manning, who is having a pedestrian 2008, seems to still hang on to that gunslinger mentality. He pulls a Dalton from Roadhouse, and tells his team, "It's my way, or the highway."
Against the sack-happy Steelers in Week 10 of the 2008 season, this may not be the wisest course of action, but Joseph Addai or not, the Colts will not run the ball with success against Pittsburgh. The Colts only strong hope is going to be through Manning.
If he is more the Hall of Fame Super Bowl champion than the 83.3-rated passer with nine interceptions in eight games, the Colts could score an upset.
The Steelers don't need Joey Porter to pressure Manning, however. While LaMarr Woodley is a game-time decision, this year's Steel Curtain is stronger than the one that won Super Bowl XL, and this game is at Heinz Field, not the RCA Dome.
But with FS Ryan Clark back for this game, the Steelers' defense will have much more faith in their deep coverage, which will leave the Steelers front seven with more opportunity to get after Manning in the pocket.
For as un-Manning-like as Manning has been this year, he's still savvy enough to have only taken nine sacks this year. Much like his brother Eli did two weeks ago, he has a fantastic ability to avoid pressure. But pressure is still pressure. If the Steelers can interrupt Manning and limit his ability to get the ball to his primary reads, the Steelers will chop the legs out of the Colts offense.