Colts Rally for First Victory in Pittsburgh in Forty Years
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – On a windy, gray western Pennsylvania day, the Colts made a bit of history Sunday afternoon.
But to Colts players, history mattered only a bit.
What mattered far more was the present.
Because to Colts players, a 24-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers late Sunday afternoon before 64,043 at Heinz Field was not just notable for it being the franchise's first victory in Pittsburgh in more than four decades, but also for how they achieved it.
They battled a division leader. They rallied from an early deficit. They fought. They scrapped.
They made big, timely plays.
And because they did, they stayed very much alive in a tightly-contested AFC.
"We should played good against a good team," Colts defensive tackle Raheem Brock said after the Colts (5-4) rallied from a 10-point second-quarter deficit to beat the Steelers (6-3), who entered Sunday with the AFC's second-best record.
"We played for 60 minutes. Everybody made a big play here and there. That's what we needed. . . . We should expect that every week. Every game should be like that.
"I think everybody's starting to understand that. We're learning how to play 60 minutes."
Said Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy, "This was a game . . . just attitude, hanging in there and making plays when it counted. . . .
"All in all, it's just very, very satisfying."
Peyton Manning, the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback, threw a season-high three touchdowns without an interception, with his last touchdown pass – a 17-yarder to running back Dominic Rhodes – giving the Colts a 24-20 lead with 3:10 remaining.
"It truly was a team victory today," said Manning, who completed 21 of 40 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions for a passer rating of 95.8. "That was what we needed."
Rhodes' touchdown came after one of three Colts interceptions, all of which were key.
Cornerback Tim Jennings set up Rhodes' touchdown with an interception, and late in the first half, cornerback Keiwan Ratliff's interception led directly to a 2-yard touchdown pass from Manning to eight end Dallas Clark.
The Steelers drove into Colts territory after Rhodes' touchdown, and on the game's final play, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw into the end zone from the Colts 27.
The ball was tipped, and appeared headed for a Steelers receiver until Colts safety Melvin Bullitt stuck out his hand and made a one-handed interception in the end zone.
The clock read 0:00.
"When the ball got tipped in the air, I noticed there was another player behind me," Bullitt said. "Once it got tipped, I knew I had to come down with it so we could get out of here."
The Colts, who entered November under .500 for the first time in a decade, now have won back-to-back games against division leaders, coming from behind in the second half to do so in each game. Indianapolis rallied from a five-point deficit to beat New England in Indianapolis last week.
"This was an imant win because it was the next game for us," Manning said. "We certainly know how tough it is to come in here on the road and play. . . . We have played better football the last two weeks. We've played good team football and we've played winning football. . . .
"We are fighting and scratching. We've kind of been the underdog. People aren't really expecting us maybe to win the game. This is the type of football and the conditions we're playing in. We're beat up. We have a lot of new guys playing. We truly are kind of fighting and scratching and clawing and trying to find a way to have a chance in the fourth quarter to win the game."
The victory over the Steelers allowed Indianapolis to stay within a game of New England (6-3), Pittsburgh (6-3), Baltimore (6-3) and the New York Jets (6-3), who now share the AFC's second-best record three games behind Tennessee (9-0), who lead the Colts by four games in the AFC South.
"Somewhere along the line we have to get on a streak," Dungy said. "We can't really worry about everybody else. We have to get ourselves playing better. I think today was a step in the right direction."
Said offensive tackle Ryan Diem, "It's a lesson learned: 'Never give up.' The defense did a phenomenal job getting some turnovers tonight. These are games that are going to prepare you for down the road. There's a good chance we're going to see both of these teams again (Pittsburgh and New England) if we continue to play as well as we can. This experience we're gaining now is going to be very useful down the road. It forges your team into a tougher unit.
"This was a very important game, to get us on a roll. It's two in a row now, and two big wins."
The Steelers took the opening kickoff and moved 62 yards on 10 plays, taking a 7-0 lead when running back Mewelde Moore – playing in place of injured starter Willie Parker – scored on a 1-yard run with 9:07 remaining.
On the fourth play of the ensuing series, Manning threw deep to wide receiver Reggie Wayne. The ball caromed off the hands of Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor and into the hands of Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
Wayne then broke a tackle and scored to complete a 65-yard touchdown pass.
"Tipped balls are usually pretty cyclical," Manning said. "They usually end up going the other way. It was nice to have a couple of them bounce our way today."
Early in the second quarter, Moore scored on his second one-yard touchdown run of the game to give Pittsburgh a 14-7 lead. Wide receiver Hines Ward set up the touchdown with a 41-yard reception from Roethlisberger on a flea-flicker play.
The Steelers pushed the lead to 17-7 on a 42-yard field goal by Jeff Reed 4:22 before halftime.
A Steelers turnover than gave the Colts a chance to cut the deficit, and they took advantage. On 3rd-and-2 from the Steelers 16, Roethlisberger was intercepted by Ratliff – making a second consecutive start for injured starter Kelvin Hayden – and his 2-yard return gave Indianapolis possession at the Steelers 30.
"Getting that pick by Keiwan, that really got our offense back in the game," Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett said.
Six plays later, Manning's 2-yard pass to tight end Clark made it 17-14 with :06 remaining in the half.
The Colts took the second-half kickoff and moved 56 yards in 12 plays, tying the game with a 36-yard field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri.
The Colts will play host to the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday with a chance to win three consecutive games for the first time this season.
"We have a chance to get on a streak," Dungy said. "We haven't been in this position all year. That's what we need right now. I told the team in the locker room, 'We've played three division leaders the last three weeks (Tennessee, New England and Pittsburgh), so I think we have a good feel for what this AFC is all about. We just have to continue to improve.
"We're playing better and making strides."
Said Brock, "We just have to learn how to play 60 minutes and know every game is going to be tough like that. We can't look down to anybody with any kind of record. We just have to go in there with that mind-frame that it's going to be a tough game. We have to play for 60 minutes.
"A lot of the young guys are stepping up and you can tell they're learning how to play. We just want to keep it going. If we get a streak going, we'll be good."