INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts fell to 10-5 on the year on Sunday with their 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 2020 Week 16 matchup at Heinz Field.
In a battle of top AFC contenders, the Colts appeared to be the aggressors on offense, defense and special teams over the first two and a half quarters, as Indy jumped out to a 24-7 lead and appeared set to win their fourth straight game and solidify their playoff positioning.
But Pittsburgh never gave in. Just as quickly as the Colts got their lead, the Steelers started chipping away at it, as the hosts went on a 21-0 run over the final quarter and a half against an Indy team that ran out of answers. Now, heading into the final week of the regular season, the Colts are on the outside looking in for a playoff spot, and will need a win Week 17 against the Jacksonville and help from at least one or two other teams to earn their second postseason berth in three years.
"Difficult loss — tough loss on the road," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "Tough to swallow. When you come out in the first half and you play the way we did, good in all three phases except for the turnover — played a dominant half of football in the first half, and went out to a nice lead … and then in the second half we just didn't have any answers."
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Sunday's loss to the Steelers:
» GREAT SURGE: The Colts and Steelers traded touchdowns early in Sunday's game, although Pittsburgh's score was more of a gift from the Indy offense, as quarterback Philip Rivers lost a fumble that was recovered inside the Indy 5-yard line, setting up a James Conner 1-yard touchdown run. But for the rest of the first half, as well as the first part of the third quarter, the Colts did everything they needed to do to get the job done in all three phases. Offensively, by halftime, the Colts had compiled 217 yards and 13 first downs and scored 21 points; defensively, over the first two quarters, Indy limited the Steelers to 93 yards, including just four on the ground. The Colts' extended their lead to 24-7 with a Rodrigo Blankenship field goal early in the third quarter, and then the Indy defense stuffed Pittsburgh's offense on a 4th-and-Goal attempt from the Colts' 2-yard line. At that point, the Colts seemed well on their way to a huge late-season road victory against one of the best teams in the AFC. "If you could've been in the stadium, there was a feel of complete domination in the first half — all three phases," Rivers said. "Just like, 'Y'all don't have an answer, and we're not going to give you an answer.'"
» NO ANSWERS: Just as soon as the Colts had built their lead, however, they began to see it crumble — and it didn't seem like there was a thing they could do about it. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger launched a deep pass to wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who laid out in the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown reception, cutting the Colts' lead to 24-14. After a three-and-out by the Indy offense, Roethlisberger promptly led the Pittsburgh offense 74 yards in five plays, finding the end zone again with a five-yard touchdown pass to Eric Ebron, the former Colts Pro Bowl tight end, cutting Indy's lead to 24-21 with 14:57 left in the fourth quarter. The Colts couldn't get past the 50-yard line on their next drive, and Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense was more than happy to take advantage once again. On the 10th play of their next drive, on 1st and 10 from the Indianapolis 25-yard line, Roethlisberger, lined up in the shotgun, executed a nifty pump fake that froze safety Tavon Wilson in his tracks, giving Smith-Schuster just enough space past safety Julian Blackmon in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown. With 7:43 left in the fourth quarter, the Steelers had officially erased a 17-point deficit to take their first lead of the ballgame, 28-24. The Colts were unable to recover the rest of the way.
» PRIME OPPORTUNITY SLIPS AWAY: We'll get into the more big-picture effects of the Colts' loss on Sunday in a minute, but their second-half collapse in Pittsburgh might hurt the most when it comes to the AFC South Division standings. The Colts and Titans entered Sunday's action tied atop the division at 10-4, but it was Tennessee that owned all the tiebreakers. The Colts hoped that they could get a win in Pittsburgh and that the Titans would fall in their Week 16 road matchup Sunday night against the NFC's top seed, the Green Bay Packers, so that Indy, and not Tennessee, would enter the final week of the regular season in sole possession of first place in the AFC South. The Colts ultimately couldn't hold up their end of the bargain, but now they know that if they could've just taken care of business and held on to their 17-point second-half lead, they'd be in the driver's seat to claim their first division title since 2014; that's because the Titans ended up falling to the Packers, 40-14. The Colts can still win the AFC South with a win against the Jacksonville Jaguars coupled with a Titans Week 17 loss to the Houston Texans, but the odds certainly aren't in their favor.
» PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS: Had the Colts won on Sunday against the Steelers, they were facing about 99-percent odds of earning a spot in the postseason. But their loss means they're currently the eighth seed in the AFC, and only the first seven seeds advance to the playoffs. Simply put: the Colts need to win at home in their Week 17 matchup against the 1-15 Jaguars and they need help in the form of a loss from one of the three teams ahead of them in the AFC race to get a ticket to the dance — in other words, the Baltimore Ravens need to lose to or tie on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1), the Cleveland Browns need to lose to or tie at home against the Steelers (12-3) or the Miami Dolphins need to lose to or tie on the road to the Buffalo Bills (11-3). The Colts can also earn a postseason berth with a tie and either a loss by Baltimore, Cleveland or Miami.
» NOTES OF INTEREST:
— Quarterback Philip Rivers tied Dan Marino (420) for the fifth-most touchdown passes in NFL history.
— With his first 265 passing yards, Rivers reached 4,000 on the season and tied Tom Brady and Drew Brees (12 seasons) for the second-most seasons with 4,000 passing yards.
Click here to check out more stats and notes from Sunday's loss to the Steelers, courtesy of Colts Communications.
Colts fans can catch the re-air of Sunday's Week 16 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers on WTTV4.2 this Wednesday at 8pm presented by POWERHOME SOLAR.
See all the action on the field at Heinz Field as the Indianapolis Colts host the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16.