Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers beats Vontae Davis #21 of the Indianapolis Colts to make a touchdown catch during the second quarter of the game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS — Their connection can be complex: The quarterback who extends plays and the wide receiver who finishes them; one as plain as his Midwest roots, the other as flamboyant as his Miami hometown.
The answer to their success is rather simple.
Ask their Steelers teammates how Ben Roethlisberger finds Antonio Brown so open so often for so many touchdowns, and they shrug their shoulders and say the same thing over and over.
That's Ben. That's AB.
The Indianapolis Colts wished they had such simple answers for Roethlisberger and Brown, who connected for three touchdowns in the Steelers' 28-7 victory Thursday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We move him around a lot,” Roethlisberger said of Brown. “We move him to slots, strong side, weak side and just kind of have to eyeball everything else and see what they give us when we move him around.
“When we can take advantage of the single coverage or them trying to cut and do some other things, you've just got to put it close to him and let him do the rest.”
After passing for 886 yards and 10 touchdowns in his past two games against the Colts, Roethlisberger completed 14 of 20 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns for an impressive 146.0 rating.
Brown caught five of those for 91 yards and the three scores.
“It's definitely amazing doing it on Thanksgiving,” Brown said. “I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to be able to catch three touchdowns in a game. It's an honor playing with Ben – he's always putting me in a great position, making some great throws – and grateful to do it on a great stage like this, and it felt even better to get a win.”
For the Colts, it was a guessing game. First, they had to discover where Brown would line up. Then, they had to figure out when Roethlisberger would take advantage of cornerback Vontae Davis' bum ankle and, later, groin.
“AB always gets open. He does great things all the time,” wide receiver Sammie Coates said. “He works hard and deserves everything he gets. That's AB.”
Big Ben and AB connected on their first scoring play in the first quarter, on a third and 5 at the Indianapolis 25. Roethlisberger saw single coverage against Davis and a safety coming in late and caught the Colts with a back-shoulder throw to Brown for a touchdown and 14-0 lead.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano called it a “great throw and catch between the quarterback and the wideout,” singling out Brown as a weapon.
“He is as good a player as there is in the National Football League,” Pagano said. “He is a dynamic football player and has been a thorn in our side and a lot of other people's sides for a long time.”
The second came after Roethlisberger hit tight end Ladarius Green — his newest favorite toy — on a third and 13 for a 32-yard pass along the left sideline. Two plays later, Brown burned Davis again for a 33-yard touchdown and 21-7 lead with nine minutes left in the first half.
“We did a play-action, got the perfect coverage for it and just threw it out and let him make the play,” Roethlisberger said.
Just when it started to look like the Steelers could do that all night, they mysteriously opted to take the air out of the ball in the second half. Behind a line that pushed the Colts around and kept Roethlisberger upright, the Steelers handed it repeatedly to running back Le'Veon Bell, who finished with a game-high 120 yards on 23 carries, and didn't target Brown again until the fourth quarter.
If it was a matter of keeping the ball out of Andrew Luck's hands, that would have made more sense. But Luck was out with a concussion, and backup Scott Tolzien led the Colts on two drives deep into Steelers territory before a pair of fourth-down stops at the 1 saved them.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, the Steelers returned to Brown. It paid dividends when Roethlisberger found Brown on a 22-yard touchdown pass with 5 minutes, 30 seconds remaining to seal it. Roethlisberger said he called an audible in the huddle and told Brown to run an out-and-up.
“We saw something earlier where they were jumping that,” Roethlisberger said, “and I wanted to get them on that.”
Brown couldn't have been more wide open, catching a 22-yarder to mark the first time in his career he had three touchdown catches in a game. It also marked his 100th consecutive game with a catch and his fourth consecutive season with at least 80 receptions, tying Hines Ward.
“I appreciate it. I don't take it for granted, but I'm not surprised by it,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Brown. “He's a hard, diligent worker and talented guy. He maximizes his opportunities.”
Of course, so does Roethlisberger. It marked the 41st time he has thrown three touchdowns in a regular-season game, his third straight such game against the Colts and his 74th regular-season game with a passer rating of 100.0 or better. No surprise that the Steelers are 66-8 in such games.
What's even more amazing is that Roethlisberger and Brown now have combined on 48 touchdown passes, one shy of the Steelers record set by Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swann. That's pretty select company, considering both are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“That speaks volumes to be in the same category as those guys,” Roethlisberger said. “That's pretty awesome. Those guys are considered some of the best to ever play these positions, especially on this team. I know, for me, it's humbling.”
The Colts could say the same about Ben and AB, a tandem whose success is as simple as stopping them can be complicated.