By Teresa Varley
The Steelers jumped out to an early lead but weren't able to hold on, falling to the Indianapolis Colts 24-20 at Heinz Field. The Steelers are now 6-3 and tied with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North, although they do hold the advantage having defeated the Ravens earlier this season.
"There is a fine line between winning and losing in this league and you have to give credit to the Colts because they made plays to win the football game," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "They took advantage of minute opportunities and made significant plays; we did not. The difference sometimes between catching interception opportunities and not; they did and we didn't. Thus, they had turnovers and we didn't. We have to do a better job of taking care of the ball and we have to do a better job of getting the ball.
"When you play good-on-good, and make no mistake that team is better than their 4-4 record, games come down to that. We are aware of it, we take responsibility for it. Hopefully we will learn from it because we will be in some more games like that; they are going to come down to minute details and executing in those moments that will be the difference in the outcomes of games."
Ben Roethlisberger got the start at quarterback, despite missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday with a sore shoulder. He finished the game 30 of 42 for 284 yards, but the Colts intercepted Roethlisberger three times, and their offense was able to capitalize and turn it into 14 points.
"It was not up to snuff because we lost; that is how I evaluate everyone's play," said Tomlin of Roethlisberger's performance. "The quarterback position is in line with that. Sometimes they get a little bit too much credit when we win and they get a little bit too much blame when we lose. We are looking to win; that is how he looks at it, that is how I look at it and that is how the rest of the guys in that locker room look at it.
Running back Mewelde Moore started at running back for Willie Parker, who was inactive with a shoulder injury. Moore scored twice for the Steelers, but the Colts were able to hold him to 57 yards on 24 carries.
"They are very good at moving; that is how they offset their size," said Tomlin of the Colts ability to stop the run. "Their movement is exceptional with their front. They stunt, they shoot gaps; they have a guy who plays strong safety (Bob Sanders) who is going to be around the line of scrimmage. He is pretty good so they move him around; sometimes he is tight end side, sometimes he is open side. They deserve credit for that."
The Steelers got off to a strong start, moving the ball at will on their opening drive. Roethlisberger completed short passes to Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes and then Moore had a three-yard carry to move the chains. Moore had consecutive four yard carries, and then Roethlisberger went deep to Holmes for 23 yards at the Colts 19-yard line. Roethlisberger kept it in the air, hitting Nate Washington for a 16-yard completion to the Colts four-yard line. Moore capped the 10 play, 62-yard drive when he punched it in to the end zone from one-yard out for an early 7-0 lead.
It didn't take long for the Colts to come firing back. Joseph Addai rattled off a nine-yard run and added a three-yard carry to convert a third-and-one. Manning went deep on the next play and it looked like Ike Taylor was going to deflect it away, but instead it went into the waiting arms of Reggie Wayne at the 30-yard line. Wayne was able to break loose for a 65-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
The offense wasn't able to move the ball on their next drive with Moore getting only two yards on first down and then an incompletion to tight end Matt Spaeth. On third-and-eight Roethlisberger was sacked by Dwight Freeney for a six-yard loss, fumbled, but was able to recover the ball.
A strong stand by the Steelers defense on the next series, which included an 11-yard sack by Aaron Smith, forced the Colts to punt the ball away.
It was a bit of trickery that paid dividends for the Steelers on the next drive. On first down from the Colts 42-yard line Moore tossed the ball back to Roethlisberger for the flea-flicker. Roethlisberger avoided the pressure and let it fly, hitting Ward at the 10-yard line. Ward was able to slip away from the defender and took the ball to the one-yard line. On the next play Moore scored his second touchdown of the day when he easily took it into the end zone for the score and a 14-7 lead.
The defense held off the Colts on their next two possessions, giving the Steelers a chance to extend their lead. Moore had two carries to give them a first down, and Roethlisberger hit him for a five-yard gain. On second down Roethlisberger threw incomplete to Ward. Roethlisberger was able to convert a key third down when he hit Spaeth for a 13-yard gain. Moore had a one-yard carry, followed by a four-yard gain, but on third-and-five Roethlisberger wasn't able to connect with Ward. Jeff Reed came on for the 42-yard field goal to put the Steelers up 17-7.
After another defensive stop the Steelers got the ball back deep in their own territory at the eight-yard line. Moore went for one-yard and Roethlisberger hit Spaeth for seven yards for a third-and-two with just 1:30 to play in the half. Roethlisberger looked for Holmes, but Keiwan Ratliff intercepted the pass at the Steelers 32-yard line and returned it two yards.
The Colts were able to capitalize on the turnover. Manning had a 12 yard completion to Marvin Harrison and a four-yarder to Anthony Gonzalez to the 14-yard line. A defensive holding call on Deshea Townsend gave the Colts a first down at the nine-yard line. Dominic Rhodes went off left end for seven yards to the two. With just nine seconds to play in the half Manning hit Dallas Clark over the middle for the two-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 17-14.
The momentum continued to swing in the Colts favor at the start of the second half. They converted two third downs to move the ball down to the Steelers 25-yard line. They were unable to convert a third one, but Adam Vinatieri came on for a 36-yard field goal to tie the game at 17-17.
Gary Russell gave the Steelers good field position when he returned the ensuing kickoff 39 yards to their-own 40-yard line. Roethlisberger completed a two-yard pass to Sean McHugh and Moore chipped in a four-yard carry and six-yard reception. On first down Roethlisberger's pass to Moore was incomplete, but he followed it with a five-yard completion to Ward. On third-and-five Colts safety Bob Sanders broke-up a pass intended for Ward, forcing a punt.
It looked like the Steelers had the Colts stopped on third down when Taylor tipped another pass, but it again ended up right in Wayne's hands, this time for a 16-yard gain to the Colts 43-yard line. They wouldn't go any further. Rhodes was knocked for a one-yard loss by James Harrison and Nick Eason and on the next play Deshea Townsend broke-up a Manning pass. Gonzalez couldn't hold on to a third down pass and the Colts had to punt.
The Steelers used a balanced offensive attack, utilizing the passing game to get the ball down to the Colts 20-yard line and then going with a healthy dose of Moore on the ground to take them down to the one-yard line. But Moore was stopped on two attempts from the one-yard line, bringing on Reed for a 24-yard field goal to put the Steelers back on top 20-17.
A swarming Steelers defense stymied the Colts on their next drive, forcing a three-and-out.
The Steelers got the ball back at their 28-yard line where Holmes was knocked for a three-yard loss after a completion. Ward was wide open for a nine-yard gain, giving the Steelers a third-and-four from the 34-yard line. The one thing the Steelers couldn't afford to have happen did when Roethlisberger's pass intended for Holmes was intercepted by Tim Jennings at the 38-yard line and returned six yards.
It took the Colts no time to make it hurt. Rhodes had carries of nine and six yards and then Manning hit a wide-open Rhodes for a 17-yard touchdown to put them back on top 24-20.