The first half of the Colts' first Monday night home game in seven years was not a showcase for how this team hoped to present itself to a national audience and charged-up crowd in downtown Indianapolis.
And while the second half was better, the Colts' general issues with executing in key moments cropped back up to send them to a 24-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"It's kind of one thing one week, it's another thing another week, it's another thing another week, and that part has been frustrating for sure," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "I think all of us in the building feel that way and are disappointed with where we're at."
Where the Colts are at is 4-7-1 following their second consecutive loss, and third consecutive defeat at Lucas Oil Stadium. This team now has to regroup on a short week before heading to Texas to face Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football in Week 13, a game which looks like one of the Colts' stiffest challenges of the 2022 season.
"We gotta continue to keep our heads down and keep working," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "That's all we can do. The effort is there, guys are giving the effort, it's just the execution and making plays, we gotta do better in all three phases. Flat out, that's it."
The Colts' loss to the Steelers on Monday night began with a slow start, and even though that was ultimately erased, was ultimately defined by missed opportunities in critical situations.
At halftime, the Colts were losing, 16-3, and had gained just 71 yards on 22 plays (3.2 yards/play) while possessing the ball for 8:02 against the Steelers' 21:58. And while the offense struggled to settle in against a disciplined, physical Steelers' defense, the Colts' defense allowed Pittsburgh to score on four of five possessions in the first 30 minutes.
The first half ended, too, with the Steelers' Isaiahh Loudermilk blocking kicker Chase McLaughlin's 59-yard field goal attempt.
At halftime, interim head coach Jeff Saturday and linebacker Zaire Franklin challenged everyone in the home locker room at Lucas Oil Stadium to step their game up for the final 30 minutes.
"When I walked in, I just said, 'Hey, you're going to learn a lot about who you are right now,'" Saturday said. "Z got up and gave the breakdown and just challenged everybody and those guys, they stepped up and met the challenge. Obviously, it wasn't nearly good enough the first half, and I think everybody felt it – just not nearly enough plays and really self-inflicted wounds, which has kind of been the story the last two weeks against opponents that you feel like you have an opportunity and don't make enough to close it out."
Franklin said he felt like the Colts were playing uncharacteristically poor football and saw the need to address some things as a team captain and leader. The Colts got a spark coming out of halftime on Dallis Flowers' 89-yard kickoff return to the Steelers' 18-yard line, which ultimately teed up a Jonathan Taylor two-yard plunge for a touchdown. And the Colts were then able to overcome a botched handoff between Ryan and Taylor at the one-yard line that led to a Steelers fumble recovery to get in the end zone with a six-yard Ryan pass to Michael Pittman Jr. to take the lead late in the third quarter.
"They were pressing us up pretty good early in the game, and we were trying to get some plays off and just communication wasn't great, execution wasn't great," Saturday said. "Again, you can point fingers – it's like everybody takes a turn at different moments. Collectively we just didn't do enough, and you saw we come out in the second half and it looks like two totally different offenses – one that's in rhythm moving – no new plays. We talk about all the time, no new plays, no new players, it boils down to executing, and we just did a much better job in the second half than we did the first."
But the Colts' defense wasn't able to hold that lead, with the Steelers converting three third downs – including a third-and-goal at the two-yard line – on the ensuing drive, plus a two-point conversion, to take a seven-point lead with just under 10 minutes left. After trading punts, the Colts took over possession with just under four minutes left, needing a touchdown to tie the game.
Explosive completions to Pittman and tight end Jelani Woods – who broke out for eight catches and 98 yards – quickly pushed the Colts into Steelers' territory. But after converting a fourth-and-three just after the two-minute warning, a Ryan fumble lost seven yards; Ryan then picked up 14 on a scramble before handing off to Taylor with the clock running for no gain.
Saturday after the game explained his decision-making in that moment.
"I didn't feel like time was of the essence at the moment," Saturday said. "I thought we had a good play. ... We obviously don't do great on the backside, so it's worse. But I felt good about the call before. Felt like we had time; we would have had timeouts afterwards. We were in striking distance. So yeah, I never felt like the pressure of needing the timeout. Like I said, I thought the call was good, and again, we were in that (hurry-up) mode pretty much the whole second half, so it was pretty consistent with what we were doing, so again, it wasn't like a change for us. We just didn't execute it."
Ryan was pressured on fourth down and threw incomplete to wide receiver Parris Campbell, clinching the Steelers' win.
"At times, it was good. It just wasn't enough," Campbell said. "I think offensively we made some plays, we had some drives, but we also had some drive-killers in the second half. It just wasn't good enough."
The feeling of "wasn't good enough" has become all too familiar for players and coaches in the aftermath of eight games – seven losses and one tie – in 2022. Still, the Colts also aren't showing any signs of quitting on this season, and will now focus their attention on Week 13's matchup against the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
"Disappointing to our fans, disappointing for us," Franklin said. "When you come out here, I think our fans have been fantastic all year. I've been telling guys, especially this year at Lucas Oil, I've really felt that energy, that home field advantage. They've been supporting us and they've been with us. So it's just disappointing that we weren't able to put on the show they want at home the last few times. But we got more opportunities coming up. And hopefully we can finish that strong for the rest of the year."
The Colts take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football at Lucas Oil Stadium.