Reaching Goal of Three Turnovers Key in Colts Victory in Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – For the Colts on Sunday the math worked.
The Colts, who under Head Coach Tony Dungy set a weekly goal to force three turnovers, forced precisely that many in a 24-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon.
This time, they needed every one.
Tim Jennings and Keiwan Ratliff, playing in place of injured starters Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden, each intercepted passes in Pittsburgh territory to set up touchdowns, then – on the game's final play – safety Melvin Bullitt's one-handed interception secured the victory.
Afterward, Bullitt did the math:
First, there was Ratliff's in the second quarter . . .
Then, Jennings' early in the fourth . . .
Then his . . .
"That's the third," Bullitt said with a smile. "We got the win and we're going home."
The Colts' first two takeaways Sunday not only came at critical times, they came from players who weren't in the lineup at the start of the season.
And in the case of one, he wasn't on the team a week and a half ago.
"They went after our guys," Dungy said. "We were playing a lot of eight-man fronts to stop the run. They made some plays on us, but Tim and Keiwan came up with big plays to help us get 14 points. That's what you have to do as a corner. Not every play you're going to be able to stop them. When you get a chance to make a game-changing play, you have to make them.
"That's what they did."
The first momentum-changing takeaway came late in the first half.
With the Steelers facing 3rd-and-2 from their 16, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw to wide receiver Santonio Holmes. Ratliff, who was out of the league before signing with the Colts in the wake of a season-ending knee injury to Jackson a week and a half ago, intercepted and returned it two yards to Pittsburgh's 30.
Six plays later, quarterback Peyton Manning passed two yards to tight end Dallas Clark to make it 17-14, Pittsburgh.
"It was man to man, third down," Ratliff said. "It was one of those plays where we're trying to get the ball back. I just saw the ball and tried to make a play. . . . It was one of those things where you try to give Peyton the ball back as many times as possible."
The second came just after the clock ticked past five minutes in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger again threw to Holmes, this time over the middle. Jennings, who began the season as the Colts' nickelback leaped and intercepted, returning it six yards to the Steelers 32.
Four plays later, Manning's 17-yard pass to running back Dominic Rhodes gave the Colts a 24-20 lead with 3:04 remaining.
"Coach had us in man pressure," Jennings said. "I was press man. He made it easy for me. He ran a slant and I was on top of it. He threw it right to me and I was able to catch the ball and make a play. I was just hoping our offense could capitalize and put the pressure on them."
Earlier this week, Ratliff had said he and the Colts' active corners had disagreed with the idea that because of the injuries to the starters that cornerback was an issue facing the team. On Sunday, Jennings said he agreed with Ratliff.
"Rat's been playing in this league for about five years now, so he' a veteran," Jennings said. "It's going into my third year, so we all have game experience. We hate that the guys went down, Kelvin and Marlin, but we know our job once we're out there . . . we need to step up. There's not too much pressure, but we know we have a job to do, to make plays. That's what Coach has us out there for.
"When the opunity comes, you have to make plays. We know that's our job to do. Me and Rat have to go out and there and make the plays once it comes our way."
Said Bullitt, "It's unfortunate the way they got in there, but they really stepped up and showed they can be starters in this league. They came up with some great plays."
The Colts' first two turnovers helped them get the lead.
The third ensured they kept it.
After Rhodes' touchdown, the Steelers drove into Colts territory. On the game's final play, Roethlisberger threw into the end zone from the Colts 27. The ball was tipped, and appeared headed for a Steelers receiver until Bullitt made a one-handed interception in the end zone.
"We work on that every Friday and Saturday," Bullitt said. "Coach Dungy doesn't leave an aspect of the game out of practice, and as you can see, it came in handy for us. We got the victory and who knows what would have happed if we hadn't gotten the ball.
"Once it got tipped in the air the first time, I could feel the guy behind me, so I just came down with the ball. I knew it was a guy in black. That would have been terrible, but thankfully, we had three guys back there doing what they're supposed to do."