INDIANAPOLIS – An electrifying series of big plays by the defense wiped out a double-digit deficit and put the Indianapolis Colts in position to shock the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night in Lucas Oil Stadium.
With the defense setting up two scores and providing another, the Colts turned a 10-0 deficit into a 13-10 halftime lead, but Pittsburgh protected the ball in the second half and made enough plays to pull out a 23-20 victory.
The defense entered the game tied for eighth in the NFL with four takeaways (two interceptions, two fumble recoveries) and nearly doubled that total against the Steelers.
"That's the way this defense is built," said rookie safety Joe Lefeged, whose interception of a Ben Roethlisberger pass late in the second quarter set up the Colts' go-ahead score. "We talk about it all throughout the week, we work on it during practice. We get it during practice and we get it during the football game. That's basically what it is: if you get turnovers, you get a better chance of winning."
After controlling the first quarter, Pittsburgh was driving again early in the second but on third-and-11 from the Indianapolis 47-yard line, Robert Mathis sacked Roethlisberger, forcing and recovering a fumble that set up the Colts at midfield.
The offense then drove to the three-yard line before settling for a 21-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
Roethlisberger had the Steelers on the move again on their next possession, pushing into Colts territory for the fifth consecutive drive but the defense produced a huge play with a collective effort.
On second-and-10 from the Indianapolis 42, Dwight Freeney sacked Roethlisberger and forced another fumble. Jamaal Anderson corralled the bouncing ball, nimbly sidestepped one would-be tackler and then rumbled 47 yards for the tying touchdown -- the first of his career.
"First of all, it was a great play by Dwight Freeney to come up with the sack," said Anderson. "I actually thought it was a draw -- it was a great fake by Roethlisberger. Once I saw the ball, it was kind of a routine we do at practice every day, working on 'scoop-and-score' as a D-line.
"As I initially picked it up I kind of fumbled it but I maintained it and made one good move -- I was a receiver in high school so it was bringing back some memories. After that it was great blocking by my teammates. I definitely felt all the blocks and that kind of propelled me into the end zone."
Kavell Conner had one key block to allow Anderson to score but several defenders provided a strong protective escort screen to the end zone as the Colts tied it up 10-10 with 1:46 left in the half and stirred the sellout crowd to a fever pitch.
The defense wasn't done.
On Pittsburgh's next offensive snap, Roethlisberger overthrew wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders deep and Lefeged made a diving interception, bouncing to his feet and scrambling to the Pittsburgh 24-yard line. A personal foul on the Steelers' Antonio Brown gave the offense first down at the 12, but again the Colts had to settle for a field goal, this time a 25-yarder by Vinatieri that sent the home team into the locker room with a 13-10 lead.
"Basically I was just reading the quarterback," said Lefeged of his first career pick. "It was an overthrown ball, I ready my keys and made a play on the ball.
"Whenever you get a turnover, it's a momentum-changer. You put the offense in good field position. I guess we just have to do a little bit better as a football team to get the win."
The defense has made strides each week but the ultimate reward has been out of reach as the Colts have lost their first three games.
"Extraordinary effort. Just an unbelievable effort," said Head Coach Jim Caldwell of the defense. "Dwight and Robert did exactly what they do best and that's get after people and get after the passer. The three sacks were big, the turnovers were big. Jamaal running that fumble recovery in for a touchdown was important. That interception was good.
"That's the thing we've been trying to preach is get those turnovers and I think our guys really bought into that. They've done a good job of it. Now we've just got to put it all together, the entire package."
As they continue to take steps in the right direction, the defenders can only try to hurry their pace.
"How many more steps are you going to take?" said Anderson. "This is the fourth game coming up, so we've got to make hopefully a huge stride to get a win."