Kenny Pickett, Steelers squander lead but close out Colts

NFL

INDIANAPOLIS — On a night when both offenses struggled at times to maintain any momentum, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive that covered the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth that proved decisive in a 24-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night.

Pittsburgh rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett and the Steelers’ ground game, as well as the Colts’ offensive inefficiency, led to a 16-3 Steelers halftime lead, and while the Colts mounted a comeback that briefly gave them an advantage, it wasn’t enough.

The Steelers (4-7) have win two of their last three while the Colts (4-7-1) have lost two of three under interim coach Jeff Saturday.


Pittsburgh Steelers

For the second week in a row, the Steelers put points on the board early only to see their advantage quickly slip away with a poor performance after halftime. This time though, the Steelers held on to win. Before Monday night, the Steelers were 0-6 when trailing entering the fourth quarter. Only the Rams (0-7) have more losses without a win when trailing after three quarters this season

The Steelers’ lead evaporated after halftime as the defense gave up 152 third-quarter yards to Matt Ryan and the Colts, and the Steelers failed to move the ball. The same issues that plagued the Steelers throughout the season cropped up throughout the game — red zone efficiency, giving up big plays — but this time, the Steelers held the Colts on fourth-and-three to force a turnover on downs with 30 seconds remaining to seal the win.

QB breakdown: Though Pickett still had some trouble with accuracy, missing a wide open George Pickens in the end zone, and he didn’t have a completion in the third quarter, the rookie turned in his best performance in leading the Steelers to a fourth-quarter comeback. Pickett completed 20 of 28 attempts for 174 yards, and he threw several lasers in key moments, like on a two-point conversion to Pickens to give the Steelers a 24-17 lead. He also found Diontae Johnson for an eight-yard gain on second down as the Colts brought a blitz, remaining calm in the pressure. The next play, he hit Pat Freiermuth on the sideline for a 17-yard gain to convert third-and-six. The Steelers scored a couple plays later with Benny Snell’s touchdown to retake the lead.

Troubling trend: After amassing 232 yards and 16 first downs in the first half for a 16-3 lead, the Steelers ran just eight offensive plays in the third quarter and gained just 18 total yards. The Steelers didn’t have a first down in the third quarter, though they did convert a third down with a big pass from Pickett to George Pickens over the middle on the first play of the fourth quarter. As the offense stagnated, the defense, which held the Colts to zero yards in the first quarter, got worn down and lost the lead — and nearly gave up two touchdowns, if not for a Colts fumble near the goal line.

Silver lining: Starting running back Najee Harris, who scored his third touchdown in two games in the first half, didn’t play in the second half after sustaining an abdominal injury midway through the second quarter. The Steelers were already without top reserve back Jaylen Warren, who was inactive with a hamstring injury, but the running back depth stepped up Monday night. Anthony McFarland, active for the first time all season, finished with 30 yards on six carries, and Benny Snell Jr., usually a special teams player, had 62 yards and his first touchdown since the 2020 season on 12 carries. The Steelers finished with 172 rushing yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry — and have now scored two rushing touchdowns in three straight games, their longest streak since 2018. — Brooke Pryor

Under the radar stat: Pickett has gone three straight games without a turnover after committing nine in his first five games.

Next game: at Falcons, Sunday


Indianapolis Colts

A dreadful first half and some curious late-game clock management were the lasting images for the Colts in this game. Indianapolis’ slow start was remarkable. It was the third time a team was held to zero or fewer yards in an opening quarter this season, with two of those instances involving the Colts (they also did it against the Patriots in Week 9). By the time the Colts awoke from their slumber, they were facing a 16-3 halftime deficit.

But they rallied to take a 17-16 lead before falling apart late. There will be questions about the Colts’ approach to the final minutes. They faced a fourth down from the Pittsburgh 37 with 2 minutes remaining — which they converted — but wasted 36 seconds between their subsequent first- and second-down plays. They ended up with a rushed play on third down before finally taking a timeout with 30 seconds remaining. The Colts were stopped on fourth down.

Troubling trend: Although quarterback Matt Ryan was charged with the fumble, it seemed to be running back Jonathan Taylor who erred on their botched exchange near the goal line late in the third quarter. That’s a continuation of Taylor’s ball security issues this season. Taylor does have a history of fumbling that dates back to his time at the University of Wisconsin, but this season he has three fumbles in nine games. Taylor had four fumbles in 2021, but that came after a league-high 332 carries. He’s on pace for a higher total in 2022.

QB breakdown: Ryan was under constant pressure in the first half, with the Steelers pressuring him on 53% of his dropbacks. The result: Ryan completed 5 of 13 passes for 36 yards. The pressure subsided as the offensive line settled in a bit in the second half, allowing Ryan to complete a combined 17 of 21 attempts after halftime. The Colts also were able to take some downfield shots, completing a pair of 28-yard passes to Michael Pittman Jr. and Jelani Woods.

Big play: The Colts’ first-half offensive woes left the impression that Indianapolis might be headed for a blowout loss, but backup defensive back Dallis Flowers did his part by returning the second-half kickoff 89 yards. That set up a Taylor touchdown four plays later, but more than that, it was the shot in the arm the Colts badly needed on a night when yards were hard to come by. Flowers’ return went for more yards than the Colts total yardage in the first half (71 yards). — Stephen Holder

Under the radar stat: The Steelers have now won eight straight vs. the Colts, the second-longest win streak by any team vs. the Colts. They trail only the Dolphins, who won 14 straight from 1980-87.

Next game: at Cowboys, Sunday

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