Kenny Pickett Steelers squander lead but close out Colts
On a night when both offenses struggled at times to maintain any momentum, it was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive that covered the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth that proved decisive in a 24-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night.
Pittsburgh rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett and the Steelers’ ground game, as well as the Colts’ offensive inefficiency, led to a 16-3 Steelers halftime lead, and while the Colts mounted a comeback that briefly gave them an advantage, it wasn’t enough.
The Steelers (4-7) have win two of their last three while the Colts (4-7-1) have lost two of three under interim coach Jeff Saturday.
For the second week in a row, the Steelers put points on the board early only to see their advantage quickly slip away with a poor performance after halftime. This time though, the Steelers held on to win. Before Monday night, the Steelers were 0-6 when trailing entering the fourth quarter. Only the Rams (0-7) have more losses without a win when trailing after three quarters this season
The Steelers’ lead evaporated after halftime as the defense gave up 152 third-quarter yards to Matt Ryan and the Colts, and the Steelers failed to move the ball. The same issues that plagued the Steelers throughout the season cropped up throughout the game — red zone efficiency, giving up big plays — but this time, the Steelers held the Colts on fourth-and-three to force a turnover on downs with 30 seconds remaining to seal the win.
QB breakdown: Though Pickett still had some trouble with accuracy, missing a wide open George Pickens in the end zone, and he didn’t have a completion in the third quarter, the rookie turned in his best performance in leading the Steelers to a fourth-quarter comeback. Pickett completed 20 of 28 attempts for 174 yards, and he threw several lasers in key moments, like on a two-point conversion to Pickens to give the Steelers a 24-17 lead. He also found Diontae Johnson for an eight-yard gain on second down as the Colts brought a blitz, remaining calm in the pressure. The next play, he hit Pat Freiermuth on the sideline for a 17-yard gain to convert third-and-six. The Steelers scored a couple plays later with Benny Snell’s touchdown to retake the lead.
Troubling trend: After amassing 232 yards and 16 first downs in the first half for a 16-3 lead, the Steelers ran just eight offensive plays in the third quarter and gained just 18 total yards. The Steelers didn’t have a first down in the third quarter, though they did convert a third down with a big pass from Pickett to George Pickens over the middle on the first play of the fourth quarter. As the offense stagnated, the defense, which held the Colts to zero yards in the first quarter, got worn down and lost the lead — and nearly gave up two touchdowns, if not for a Colts fumble near the goal line.
Silver lining: Starting running back Najee Harris, who scored his third touchdown in two games in the first half, didn’t play in the second half after sustaining an abdominal injury midway through the second quarter. The Steelers were already without top reserve back Jaylen Warren, who was inactive with a hamstring injury, but the running back depth stepped up Monday night. Anthony McFarland, active for the first time all season, finished with 30 yards on six carries, and Benny Snell Jr., usually a special teams player, had 62 yards and his first touchdown since the 2020 season on 12 carries. The Steelers finished with 172 rushing yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry — and have now scored two rushing touchdowns in three straight games, their longest streak since 2018. — Brooke Pryor