INDIANAPOLIS – It was more of the same Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
More of the Pittsburgh Steelers dominating their series with the Indianapolis Colts. The Steelers won for the eighth straight time – it was 24-17 – and pushed their overall cushion to 26-6.
And more of the Colts showing a sellout crowd and national primetime audience how their season has spiraled out of control.
“Collectively didn’t do enough,’’ interim head coach Jeff Saturday said after the game.
He quickly rattled off what that entailed.
Wasn’t nearly good enough in the first half.
Fumbled inside the 1-yard line.
Not converting with the 2-minute drive at the end.
Third-down conversions wasn’t nearly good enough.
Communication wasn’t great, execution wasn’t great.
Collectively. That’s how the Colts have methodically transformed an offseason teeming with realistic playoff aspirations into a regular season that will give them decent – and ever-improving – position in next April’s draft.
An incredibly inept first half by the offense – ZERO yards on five plays in the first quarter, 71 on 22 snaps in the first two period – left the Colts trailing 16-3, and convinced Saturday to deliver a soul-searching halftime message to his team.
“Listen, when I walked in I just said, ‘You’re going to learn a lot about who you are right now,’’’ he said.
Linebacker and defensive captain Zaire Franklin broke down the team as it prepared for the second half and, according to his coach, “just challenged everybody and they stepped up and met the challenge.’’
But in keeping with a season chockfull of near-miss moments, the Colts once again failed to deliver when it mattered, and they’re making a habit of it at Lucas Oil. They’ve lost three straight at home: the 7-pointer to the Steelers and 17-16 decisions to the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Commanders.
The 25-20 victory against the Raiders in Las Vegas in Saturday’s interim coaching debut seems months ago, not three weeks ago.
There were unquestioned highlight moments: rookie tight end Jelani Woods eclipsing his season totals with eight catches for 98 yards; rookie backup cornerback/return man Dallis Flowers returning the second-half kickoff 89 yards to inject life into the stadium and the offense; Matt Ryan leading the Colts to a pair of third-quarter TDs by completing 11-of-13 passes for 106 yards and a 6-yard TD to Michael Pittman Jr.; Jonathan Taylor pounding away at the Steelers for 86 yards on 20 carries; right tackle Braden Smith neutralizing T.J. Watt; Yannick Ngakoue accounting for two of the Colts’ three sacks of rookie quarterback Kenny Pickens.
But all of that was rendered meaningless as the Colts continued to do more than enough to lose. They’ve lost five of six and sit at 4-7-1 with another primetime meeting next – Sunday night at Dallas.
The mistakes were glaring and all-too-familiar.
Like Ryan suffering his 10th interception of the season on his second attempt of the game. The defense had his back, forcing a Steelers’ punt.
Or Taylor failing to secure Ryan’s handoff on first-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 1 late in the third quarter. The Colts trailed 16-10. Officially, Ryan was credited with his league-leading 12th fumble and fourth lost fumble, but Taylor seemed to be at fault. He’s lost three fumbles in his previous eight games.
“It didn’t feel clean,’’ Ryan said. “But I’d have to take a look at what happened.’’
Plus, Ryan’s protection giving up three sacks and five more QB hits. The most damning sack was rookie left tackle Bernhard Raimann getting whipped by Steelers’ outside linebacker Alex Highsmith on a first-and-10 at the Pittsburgh 33 with 1:35 remaining.
The Colts have now given up a league-high 43 sacks and suffered 21 turnovers, tied for most in the league.
More of the same.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m well aware,’’ Ryan said. “It’s frustrating, there’s no doubt about it. It’s hard because . . . it’s kind of one thing one week, it’s another thing another week, it’s another thing another week.
“That part has been frustrating for sure. I think all of us in the building feeling that way and are disappointed with where we’re at.’’
The spirited second-half comeback peaked with the Ryan-to-Pittman TD with 16 seconds remaining the third quarter. The Colts had their first lead of the night at 17-16.
Then, that’s right, more of the same. Offensively and defensively, they couldn’t finish.
After holding the Pickett-led Steelers to a pair of three-and-outs in the third quarter – 17 total yards on six plays, after a 232-yard first half – the defense gave up the lead with an 11-play, 75-yard drive. Benny Snell, who had zero carries on the season but was pressed into action when Najee Harris was forced from the game with an abdominal injury, capped it with a 2-yard run.
And after the crisp third quarter, the Ryan-led offense couldn’t mount a suitable closing kick. It reached first-and-10 at the Pittsburgh 33 with 1:35 remaining, but that’s when Highsmith beat Raimann for the 7-yard sack, producing a second-and-17.
Ryan gave the Colts a glimmer of hope by scrambling for 14, but Taylor was smothered by Highsmith for no gain on third down, and Ryan’s fourth-and-3 pass to Parris Campbell with 30 seconds remaining was broken up by Cameron Sutton and Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The Colts looked for an interference penalty on Sutton but were denied.
“You’ve got to capitalize,’’ Ryan said. “You’ve got to find a way at the end of the game.
“It’s something we’ve done decent at times this year, finding ways to get wins. We made some plays to give ourselves a chance. Really felt like we had the momentum, but just fell a little bit short.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.