On one side, the next Peyton Manning came as advertised for the Indianapolis Colts, and on the other, the next Steelers offense continued to be a work in progress in their 26-24 victory Sunday night.
Rookie Andrew Luck, the first pick in the NFL draft who made a spectacular debut last week against the St. Louis Rams, put on another dazzling display even if it included two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown by Ike Taylor.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense could not match the Colts' rookie, but it did unveil a dose of no huddle for the first time and produced another 57-yard touchdown on a short pass, this one by Antonio Brown. And Charlie Batch completed the first deep pass called in Todd Haley's first season as offensive coordinator.
It's also not every day that the Steelers defense picks off three passes.
"We're making a little bit of progress,'' said Roethlisberger, who completed 5 of 9 passes for 81 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "I still think we're leaving a lot out there. We're not playing as good as we could or should but we're making progress."
Backup kicker Daniel Hrapmann's fourth field goal, deflected but good from 22 yards, won it with 20 seconds left.
Luck bowed out at halftime after completing 16 of 25 passes for 175 yards and leading his team to two long touchdown drives and a field goal that put Indianapolis ahead 17-14 on the final play of the half.
He might have had another touchdown drive except rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton, wide open deep in Steelers territory, let a pass bounce off his hands into the air and cornerback Cortez Allen intercepted it.
"One of the [interceptions] was obviously a tipped ball that should have been caught,'' Indy coach Chuck Pagano said. "He would love to have the first one back, but again, it showed character and maturity of Andrew to come back, make plays, move the ball down the field and have two nice drives.''
The Steelers first team had built up a 14-0 lead after the first quarter as Roethlisberger worked on the no-huddle offense for the first time in two preseason games.
As they did in Philadelphia, the Steelers scored on a 57-yard touchdown that began as a short pass. Antonio Brown took the pass from Roethlisberger with Heath Miller and Leonard Pope blocking in front of him.
They sprung him and the rest was almost all Brown, weaving and running through the Colts defense. The biggest block ahead of him was one thrown by Baron Batch, who got a two for one, knocking safety Antoine Bethea off his feet and taking strong safety Tom Zbikowski with him. Brown then finished his run by flipping into the end zone.
"It was a great block by Heath Miller, and a great block by Baron Batch,'' Brown said. "Ben had a great play-action fake. He tricked the defense to think it was a run, so it was a great team play."
It was the second drive of the night for the Steelers. The first ended when Roethlisberger threw toward Brown on the sideline but Bethea stepped in front to pick it off.
Next, it was Taylor's turn to pick one off, and he took it 49 yards for a touchdown. Luck's pass, thrown as Brett Keisel steamed toward him, was intended for veteran Reggie Wayne on the left sideline, but Taylor got there first and kept running untouched for the score that made it 14-0 in the first period.
"Coach Dick LeBeau always tells us to stay close to the receiver," Taylor said, "and when the ball comes your way you have to catch the ball. I turned around and the ball was right there. I just had to make sure I caught it."
Indianapolis scored on two one-yard touchdown runs and Adam Vinatieri's 53-yard field goal to take a 17-14 lead at the half.
LaMarr Woodley sacked Luck back to the 15 on the first play of a Colts drive that began near the end of the first quarter against the Steelers' first-team defense. Then Luck threw some precision passes to lead his team on a 10-play touchdown drive that ended when Donald Brown ran 1-yard for the score.
Roethlisberger and his first-team offense bowed out after four possessions in the first half. Batch replaced him with 9:16 left in the second quarter.
Cortez Allen, competing with Keenan Lewis for the starting job at left cornerback, intercepted Luck in the second quarter when the ball bounced off the hands of Hilton.
Those two interceptions in one half come one year after the Steelers hit an all-time low with only 11 interceptions in the 2011 season. LeBeau has emphasized the need to do better for his defense this season. Cornerback Josh Vicorian made it three interceptions for the home team late in the game.
"It's very important, very important," Taylor said. "We try to create as many turnovers as possible. This defense has been around for a while. We have a good group of young guys. We'll be fine."
After Allen's interception, Luck came back strong. He directed the Colts on another 80-yard drive, this time against the Steelers' second defense, that ended when Luck faked a handoff and ran one yard for the score on fourth down.
Vinatieri's 53-yard field goal came on the last play of the half.
The Steelers tied the game 17-17 after Mortty Ivy blocked a Pat McAfee punt and backup kicker Daniel Hrapmann hit a 25-yard field goal early in the third quarter.
Ivy's block gave the Steelers the ball at the Colts 10, but on the first play rookie guard Kelvin Beachum was penalized 10 yards for holding and the Steelers wound up settling for the field goal to tie it.
Indianapolis, behind backup quarterback Drew Stanton, shot back in front on the next series that covered 74 yards on 9 plays. Rookie Griff Whalen caught Stanton's 4-yard pass for the touchdown that made it 24-17.
Batch led a late-quarter, 12-play drive, that ended with Hrapmann's 39-yard field goal, his second of the game. That drive featured the first deeply thrown pass in two preseason games for the Steelers, a 41-yarder caught by David Gilreath.
Hrapmann kicked a third field goal, from 43 yards with 10:40 to go in the game, to cut the Colts' lead to 24-23. Quarterback Jerrod Johnson came in for that drive to finish up and complete the Steelers' fourth-quarter comeback win.
First Published August 20, 2012 1:00 AM