Considering he was only 80 percent and couldn't throw the ball deep, Ben Roethlisberger looked as though he was going to do the improbable and beat the Colts. It even appeared he would come back from a bad interception at the end of the first half that gave the Colts a touchdown. But his second interception on third-and-5 from his own 34 with 4:41 remaining led to the winning touchdown.
Considering that the Colts have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, allowing an average of 143.6 yards per game, it might have been the worst rushing performance of the season for the Steelers. Mewelde Moore scored on two 1-yard runs, but it was the one he failed to score on two attempts from the 1 that proved to be the turning point. Moore finished with 57 yards on 24 carries.
Hines Ward had the first 100-yard receiving game of the season and he caught the only long pass attempt -- a 41-yarder on a flea-flicker that led to the first touchdown. He finished with nine catches for 116 yards. TE Matt Spaeth had six catches and so did Moore. But both of Roethlisberger's costly interceptions involved Santonio Holmes, the second one because of a miscommunication.
The Steelers rushed for only 55 yards and averaged just 2.1 yards on the ground -- their second-lowest totals of the season -- against the Colts. Roethlisberger took a lot of three-step drops and threw quickly to keep the pressure off him, which is why he was sacked only two times. And they couldn't block 265-pound Eric Foster at the goal line, not once but twice.
The Steelers used their nickel and dime defenses to combat Colts QB Peyton Manning, packages that keep NT Casey Hampton on the bench. Still, they held the Colts to 62 yards on 19 carries, an average of 3.3 yards per rush. What's more, the longest run was 11 yards by Joseph Addai, who finished with 34 yards on 12 carries. DE Aaron Smith had one of the two sacks on Manning.
OLB James Harrison had a team-best 11 tackles and added to his team-leading total with one sack. But, without injured LaMarr Woodley, the defense just didn't get the pressure on Manning off the left side, even though it tried three different players there in various packages. ILB James Farrior bit on a run-fake and let RB Dominic Rhodes go uncovered on the winning 17-yard TD catch.
A couple of fluky tipped passes and a dropped interception by Troy Polamalu turned what could have been a solid game by the secondary into a sufficient performance by Manning. CB Ike Taylor had two passes deflect off his hands that were caught by Reggie Wayne, including a 65-yard TD. But, then, Deshea Townsend got turned around on a TD pass that was dropped by Marvin Harrison.
It's probably never a good sign when the special teams are the most dependable unit. The coverage units have been solid, and they were that again, allowing no return longer than 25 yards on five kickoffs. And the return units showed some life, getting a season-long 39-yard kick return by Gary Russell and a 23-yard punt return by Holmes. Jeff Reed kicked field goals of 42 and 24 yards.
It's easy to second-guess the decision to start Roethlisberger, especially when it looked as though he couldn't throw the ball downfield on the final series. But the short drops and quick throws were working against the Colts. And it's hard to fault the decision to run three times at the goal line, even though they were stopped.
Game Nine vs. the Colts: L 24-20Position
Note: Steelers' cumulative grade point average through Week 10 is graded on a 4.0 scale.
Gerry Dulac can be reached at email@example.com .