Early turnovers keep Indianapolis in game before Polamalu, late drive produce hard-fought victory
September 26, 2011 8:15 AM
Mike Wallace hauls in an 81-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger in the first quarter against the Colts Sunday in Indianapolis.
Steelers' Mike Wallace hauls in touchdown pass from Roethlisberger in the first half against the Colts.
Steelers pregame horseplay Larry Foote brings down Casey Hampton.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger reacts after his fumble turned in to a touchdown for the Colts.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Steelers could not run, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could not hide and the Indianapolis Colts, heavy underdogs, kept things close Sunday night right up until the end.
In the very end, though, the Steelers pulled it out, 23-20, when Shaun Suisham kicked a 38-yard field goal with four seconds left to end a 60-yard drive that began at the 20, and a wild finish over the final five minutes.
"It wasn't easy by any stretch," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We didn't anticipate it being [so]. They fought us tooth and nail."
The Colts fought with many backups too. They were without quarterback Peyton Manning, three defensive starters and one offensive lineman, all scratched with injuries. They then lost backup quarterback Kerry Collins.
Yet they led, 13-10, entering the fourth quarter and tied the score, 20-20, with 2:09 to go behind third-string quarterback Curtis Painter.
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The Steelers, though, pulled it out on a final drive led by backup halfback Mewelde Moore, who jump-started it with a 22-yard reception of a short pass.
"Mewelde went out there and did a great job," said fellow back Isaac Redman, who got the final first down on a 3-yard gain to the Colts' 18. "That pass was a big play, it sparked the whole drive."
In a game in which the ground game could get little, Moore ran twice more inside the 30 for 9 yards to help put Suisham in better range for the winning kick.
"We know what type of kicker he is," Moore said. "We needed to get closer for him so he could go ahead and put the dagger in."
The Steelers ran their record to 2-1, and the Colts dropped to 0-3 without Manning, out indefinitely after neck surgery. But the game never should have been that close -- the Colts scored three times in the second quarter on three Steelers turnovers, two fumbles and an interception by Roethlisberger.
"We had three turnovers," Hines Ward pointed out. "You can't do that, especially on the road ... [but] I like the resiliency of the guys coming back at the end."
Turnovers kept the Colts in the game until the Steelers finally turned one of their own, their first of the season, and it came in classic fashion for them for a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter.
With the score tied, 13-13, James Harrison sacked Indianapolis' third-string quarterback, Curtis Painter, on second down at the Colts' 25. The ball popped loose and Troy Polamalu in all-to-familiar style swooped in to pick it up and run it 16 yards in for the go-ahead touchdown with 5:13 left.
But the Colts weren't done. With no offensive touchdowns and all 13 previous points coming off Steelers turnovers in the second quarter, Indianapolis mounted an 80-yard drive behind Painter to score the tying touchdown with 2:09 left on Joseph Addai's 6-yard run, 20-20.
The Steelers crushed the Colts in total yards, 408-241, but the turnovers kept Indianapolis in the game. The Steelers had no takeaways this season until the Harrison/Polamalu play.
"That was real big," said linebacker LaMarr Woodley. "It was our first turnover and it put points on the board."
Roethlisberger played a game part brilliant, part under siege. He threw for 364 yards, including 171 in the first quarter when the Steelers ran out to a 10-0 lead. But he also threw an interception and lost two fumbles, all in the second quarter that led to three Indianapolis scores and 13 points.
The Steelers again could not count on their ground game. Rashard Mendenhall carried 18 times for just 37 yards, and was replaced on the final drive by Mewelde Moore and Isaac Redman. The Steelers had just 67 yards rushing on 28 tries.
Suisham, who earlier missed a 36-yard field goal, kicked one from 44 yards to tie it at 13-13 with 12:10 left, and then added his winner. He made 3 of 4.
The Steelers turned what looked like the makings of an easy victory into a 13-10 halftime deficit when the Colts turned things around with three scores off turnovers of Roethlisberger in the second quarter.
Two lost fumbles after sacks and a late interception produced all 13 points by the Colts, who erased the Steelers' 10-0 lead and domination of the first quarter.
The first sack, by defensive end Robert Mathis, started a long Colts drive that ended in a field goal. The second sack, by defensive end Dwight Freeney, turned into a touchdown, when defensive end Jamaal Anderson ran the fumble back 47 yards for a score.
On the next series, Roethlisberger overthrew Emmanuel Sanders on a deep pass. Rookie Joe Lefeged made a diving interception at the Indianapolis 48 and could have been downed by Sanders, who instead jumped over the defensive back without touching him.
Lefeged jumped up and returned the interception 25 yards before he was brought down. A personal foul against Antonio Brown gave the Colts a first down at the 12. They took the lead on Adam Vinatieri's 25-yard field goal with 1:19 to go in the first half.
While the interception was all on him, Roethlisberger could do little about the sack/fumbles. The first happened when Mathis beat rookie right tackle Marcus Gilbert. The second came when Freeney ran around left tackle Jonathan Scott and slammed into Roethlisberger's back from the blind side.
The Colts recovered the first one at the 50 and drove 47 yards on 12 plays to settle for Vinatieri's first field goal, of 21 yards.
The Steelers were fortunate the Colts managed only another Vinatieri field goal after the interception. Indianapolis had a first down at the 12 but could get no closer than the 7 on two runs and an incomplete pass.
The two sack/fumbles made it four by Roethlisberger this season; he also had two in Baltimore.
The Steelers took a 10-0 lead after the first quarter, in which they dominated the Colts.
Roethlisberger uncorked a deep pass that Mike Wallace caught in stride at the Colts' 35 and completed an 81-yard touchdown reception with 3:29 left in the opening quarter.
Wallace got behind what appeared to be a zone defense and blew past David Caldwell by several yards before catching the perfectly thrown ball.
The Steelers scored on two of their first three drives. They looked sharp on the game's first drive as Roethlisberger opened by throwing. He completed two of his first three passes to Wallace for gains of 19 and 29. The drive, though, ended when Sanders, on third down from the 30, dropped a perfect pass that hit him in both hands over the middle at the 10.
Suisham gave the Steelers a 3-0 lead when he kicked a 48-yard field goal. But Suisham missed a field goal from 36 yards that would have tied the score with 4:18 to go in the quarter. It was his second miss from medium-range distances in the past two games. He also missed one from 41 yards against Seattle. This time, the ball hit the top of the left upright and bounced left.
Suisham then made his next, from 44 yards to tie the score at 13-13 with 12:10 left, setting up the dramatic finish.