The Pittsburgh Steelers saw a halftime lead quickly wiped away for the second consecutive week with a dismal third quarter. This time, Kenny Pickett turned things back around, marching the Steelers on a game-winning drive in Indianapolis to beat the Colts, 24-17, on Monday night.
The TD drive to regain the lead, which included a big third-down conversion and a nifty two-point play, marked Pickett’s first career fourth-quarter comeback win.
“No one had any doubts,” Pickett said after the game.
“No one had second thoughts going out there in that fourth quarter that we were going to win the game, and I think that’s huge. Seeing the confidence in everybody in the huddle, you know, that we had no doubt that we were going to come away with a win. It was great to see that.”
Last week, the Steelers jumped up on the Cincinnati Bengals before seeing the lead diminish and the offense go in the tank in the second half. It looked like a repeat performance Monday night, with Pickett and the offense going three-and-out on back-to-back drives to open the third quarter. During that span, the Colts turned a 16-3 deficit into a 17-16 lead.
Then Pickett lit the match, dropping some excellent balls, including a dart to George Pickens over the middle to convert a third-and-9 and perfect placement on a sideline pass to Pat Freiermuth on a third-and-6 to set up Benny Snell’s 2-yard touchdown to retake the lead.
“We have him in there because we think he’s capable of that,” coach Mike Tomlin said of Pickett. “And so he proved it. I’m sure he’s going to get a lot of other opportunities moving forward to prove that. We need people who run toward action, not away from it, and he runs toward it.”
Pickett finished 20-of-28 passing for 174 yards, zero TDs, and no interceptions while adding 32 rush yards. Not “wow” numbers, but he made big plays in the crucible. It marked the rookie’s third consecutive game without a turnover after committing nine in his first five games. It’s a sign Pickett is developing each week in the passing game.
“We’re all believing in what we’re doing, and we’re showing up every day to work,” the quarterback said.
“Every guy in that locker room wants to win, and we’re doing everything it takes to go out there and win. We’re leaving it out there. If you have that, you got a shot, so that’s a good starting point. There’s a lot of things to clean up, but if we continue to build on the positives and clean up the negatives, I think we’ll continue to trend in this direction.”
From the Press Room: Steelers at Colts
Work to do: The Steelers held on tight for a 24-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football, but afterwards Coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged there is work to be done still, and kickoff coverage was one area in particular he pointed to.
“We’ve got a lot of work on, but we were good enough tonight to secure victory and for that we are thankful,” said Tomlin. “We got a short week. We got another road trip waiting on us and so you got to sleep fast and do those things.
“I thought our kickoff units got to be better. I thought that was a catalyst for whatever got started with them in the second half. The field position component of it was a big negative. We gotta get better there. The field positioning was a negative in that aspect of the game, but that’s what jumped out at me.
“It was a lot of good. It’s a lot of things you grow from. We’ll accept it and move forward.”
The kickoff return Tomlin was referencing happened at the start of the second half. Dallis Flowers returned it 89 yards to the Steelers 19-yard line, and four plays later Jonathan Taylor took it in for a two-yard touchdown to cut the Steelers lead to 16-10. The Colts kept their momentum going, taking a 17-10 lead, before the Steelers went on top.
When asked what changed in the second half for the Steelers defense, who shut the Colts down in the first half, Tomlin pointed right at the kickoff coverage.
“Kickoff coverage,” said Tomlin. “It’s the natural ebb and flow of football. They got momentum with that kickoff. They were able to put that ball in the end zone and so you got to turn that tide. That’s professional football. That’s just part of it. And it doesn’t happen in an instant.”
While the kickoff coverage struggled, one area that stepped up big was the run game. The Steelers were already missing Jaylen Warren, who was inactive with a hamstring injury, and then Najee Harris was ruled out with an abdominal injury after carrying the ball 10 times for 35 yards in the first half.
It would be Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland, who was elevated from the practice squad for the game, who carried the ground game. Snell finished with 12 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown, and one reception for six yards. McFarland had six carries for 30 yards and two receptions for 11 yards.
“I’m just appreciative of both guys effort,” said Tomlin.
“Sometimes you get battlefield promoted. A guy like Benny Snell became a central part of what we were doing offensively. He was still on punt team. He was still on punt return. He was still on kickoff.”
“Ant Mac, the guy’s always waiting and working and waiting for the opportunity. And he did some things that we saw in team development, the preseason, that make him a little bit different than some of the other backs. Things he’s able to do in space. The screen game, the draw game, I just thought he was an asset to us.”
Making the play: In a game where a big play was going to be needed at the end to seal a win for either team, it was linebacker Alex Highsmith who came up with one.
The Colts had just converted a fourth-and-three and were driving at the Steelers 33-yard line with 1:35 to play. Highsmith brought it, sacking Colts quarterback Matt Ryan for a seven-yard loss, forcing a fumble the Colts were able to hold onto. Backed into a second-and-17 situation, Ryan took it for 14 yards on the scramble. With 34 seconds to play, Highsmith nailed running back Jonathan Taylor for no gain. The Colts couldn’t convert on fourth down, and it was victory formation for the black and gold.
Highsmith said watching film on the Colts gave him an idea of what was going to happen on the play.
“I felt like they kind of hurried up to the ball and watching the film and kind of knowing the position the tight end was in, I could kind of tell that he was gonna try and cut me off, it’s gonna be a run play,” said Highsmith. “Just how quick they were getting up to the ball I knew they were gonna do a run play. So I just trust my instincts and just shot it.”
Taylor finished the game with 20 carries for 86 yards, 52 of those yards coming in the second half.
“I feel like they came out and were able to establish the run,” said Highsmith of the Colts second half performance. “I feel like we didn’t play that as good in the second half, and on the drive that they did score Jonathan Taylor was able to run the ball really good. We just can’t ease up in that aspect. I felt like we shut down the run very well in the first half and so we just got to play a full game when it comes to that.
“We kept it contained but we got to get back in the film room and watch, get better at making the pile fall backwards. There were times where we had them stopped, the pile just fell forward. We just got to continue to get better in that aspect. We just got to get back to the film room tomorrow and look at what we can improve.”