AFC North leaders survive upset bid
Mike Tomlin liked what he saw.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were gritty and gruff Sunday. They dug down, fought back and rallied for a 20-17 victory at Indianapolis. And Tomlin thought they showed what they’re capable of doing over the final seven weeks of the regular season. What they must do now is start cleaning up some of the potentially dangerous flaws.
“We have to be better on offense,” Tomlin said. “We have to be better winning some third-down situations. We have to tackle better on defense.”
The Steelers (7-2) can’t quibble with much these days.
They’ve won four straight overall and five in a row against the Colts. They’re 5-1 on the road, have the best record in the AFC, and a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback who demonstrated again that he’s still capable of rallying the troops at age 35.
The defense allowed four first downs and 99 yards in the second half.
And Pittsburgh overcame a blocked extra point and a missed field goal on a day Antonio Brown was held to three catches for 47 yards, Le’Veon Bell ran 26 times for 80 yards and Ben Roethlisberger threw for 236 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Perfect? Not a chance.
But after trailing the Colts 17-3 early in the second half — courtesy of a 60-yard TD pass from Jacoby Brissett to Donte Moncrief and a 61-yarder from Brissett to Chester Rogers — it’s still a win.
“We knew it was going to be hard, and we were going to have to grind out tough yards,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “And we knew we had to make some big plays, which we did. We just didn’t make enough.”
Pittsburgh limited the Colts (3-7) to three first downs and 24 yards of offense over the final 27 minutes, forcing a crucial turnover early in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger took care of the rest.
He tied the score with 7-yard TD passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald and a 2-point conversion pass to Martavis Bryant before marching the Steelers 70 yards for Chris Boswell 33-yard field goal as time expired.
“There’s a lot of negativity to talk about, but we’ll talk about that negativity with a win and that’s my preference,” Tomlin said. “Good lessons learned, guys delivered in the critical moments, and that’s exciting.”
Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett finished the game after being evaluated on the sideline for a concussion.
Afterward, he was back in the league protocol. It’s unclear what exactly that means for Indy, which has an open week. But Brissett, who finished 14 of 24 with 222 yards, made his biggest mistake Sunday on his first throw after returning to the game.
The short pass went through Jack Doyle’s hands and was picked off by Ryan Shazier at the Colts 10-yard line. Three plays later, Roethlisberger hooked up with McDonald.
Perhaps the biggest concern for Tomlin will be coverage. Pittsburgh has given up eight pass plays of 25 or more yards in its last two games. That can’t continue if the Steelers intend to finish the way they expect.
“Everybody knows exactly what happened on those [two long] touchdowns,” Shazier said. “We looked on the film and the guy who was responsible for it, he understood ‘Hey, that was my mistake. I just need to play better and be more disciplined,’ and I think that’s what he did.”
Indy continues to look for a late-game solution that will provide wins. Of this season’s seven losses, the Colts have blown four fourth-quarter leads. One problem: Brissett has thrown four interceptions in the fourth quarter and overtime.
But Indy also has struggled to even get first downs in the final two quarters.
“It’s pretty simple, we just have to figure out a way to go out there and get it done,” left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “It’s happened too many times. It’s one of those things we have to nip it in the bud and get in and fix it.”
Boswell wound up making the winning field goal. He could have wound up costing the Steelers, too.
A blocked extra point in the third quarter was nearly returned for two points by Colts safety Matthias Farley. And then with a chance to take the lead with 6:17 to play, Boswell clanked a 37-yard field goal off the right goal post.