Colts fumble away close loss against Steelers

Nov. 29—INDIANAPOLIS — The look on Jeff Saturday's face was all-too-familiar as he addressed the media late Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It was almost the same expression former Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich wore for the first nine weeks of the season — one that painfully asks "How did we let that one slip away?"

Nearly all the Colts' flaws were on display during a 24-17 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers in prime time — glacially slow starts, turnovers and poor situational play.

Saturday, the interim head coach roaming the sideline for just the third time, added a new wrinkle in the final minutes — poor clock management.

The Colts (4-7-1) had a first down at Pittsburgh's 33-yard line with 1:35 left in the fourth quarter and all three timeouts remaining. By the time Saturday burned his first timeout three plays later, Indianapolis was facing fourth-and-3 at the Steelers' 26 with just 30 ticks left on the clock.

In between there was a sack for a loss of 7 yards, a 14-yard scramble by quarterback Matt Ryan and a Jonathan Taylor rush for no gain. All while Saturday allowed the clock to run unabated.

The most criticized moment came after Ryan's scramble, when 25 seconds ran off the clock before the failed third-down attempt.

"I thought we had plenty of time," Saturday said. "I wasn't really concerned. We still had timeouts. I wasn't too concerned. When (Ryan) was going down, I couldn't tell where they were going to start him from going down — like if he was going to get the first down — and then we got there (at the 26-yard line).

"I expected us to get on the ball and have another play a little bit quicker than that. But, again, this wasn't a press for time. We just didn't make enough plays."

There's plenty of room to quibble about the time management, but the lack of execution was undeniable. And it's been one of the constants in a disappointing season that took another sour turn on the national stage.

The Colts turned the ball over twice — giving them a league-high 21 for the season — including a botched handoff between Ryan and Taylor with Indianapolis looking for the go-ahead score at the Steelers' 1-yard line in the third quarter.

There also was a blocked field goal attempt to end the first half, and the Colts finished just 3-of-12 on third down while averaging a paltry 4.7 yards on 62 overall snaps.

That final fourth-and-3 from the 26-yard line ended with a harmless incompletion intended for wide receiver Parris Campbell in double coverage along the sideline.

"It's frustrating. There's no doubt about it," Ryan said of the continued lack of execution. "It's hard because ... 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. I think all of us in the building feel that way and are disappointed with where we're at."

The frustration was particularly strong during a listless first half that saw Indianapolis gain just 71 yards of total offense and get booed off the field with a 16-3 deficit at intermission.

Pittsburgh (4-7) — which came into the game ranked 28th in the league in scoring — got field goals of 45 and 52 yards from Matthew Wright to take a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter.

The margin could have been even greater, but the Colts' defense forced a punt after Ryan was intercepted at his own 38-yard line on his second pass of the game.

Najee Harris — who left the game shortly after with an abdominal injury — still managed to cap a 10-play, 79-yard scoring drive with a 6-yard touchdown run that gave the Steelers a 13-0 lead with 7:46 remaining in the first half.

He finished with 10 carries for 35 yards, and a struggling Pittsburgh rushing attack managed to gain 172 yards overall on 4.8 yards per attempt. That included 12 carries for 62 yards by running back Benny Snell Jr., who scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 2-yard run with 9:55 left in regulation, and six rushes for 32 yards by rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Chase McLaughlin's 51-yard field goal put Indianapolis on the scoreboard with 3:48 to play in the second quarter, and Wright restored the lead to 13 points with a 25-yarder with 56 seconds left.

A failed hurry-up drive resulted in McLaughlin's 59-yard attempt getting blocked as time expired, and the home fans — nearly matched in numbers by black-and-gold clad visitors waving Terrible Towels — let their frustrations be heard.

Linebacker Zaire Franklin did the same in the locker room, imploring his teammates to pick up their play.

"I felt like they were pushing us around," Franklin said. "I felt like they were running the ball, they blocked kicks. Like, we're at home. You know what I mean? This is our house. This is prime time. It's Monday night. We're the only football show on, and if we're gonna lose, we're not gonna lay down.

"And that was pretty much just how I felt. And, you know, I'm proud of how the guys responded and how we came out fighting. Unfortunately, we didn't win. But I told them, if we're gonna lose, we ain't gonna be soft."

Undrafted rookie Dallis Flowers returned the second-half kickoff 89 yards to set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Taylor, and Indianapolis had a pulse for the first time.

Even after the lost fumble on the 1-yard line on the ensuing possession, the Colts maintained momentum after the defense forced a three-and-out.

Ryan led a six-play, 55-yard drive capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., and Indianapolis led 17-16 with 16 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Then it all fell apart again in the final period, and Saturday was left searching for answers in the postgame interview room — just like his predecessor.

"I told the guys in the locker room we've got the players in the locker room to do it, we've got the plays to do it, we've got to figure out how to execute in moments that matter," Saturday said. "So that's really what we've got to focus in on and hone in on."