INDIANAPOLIS – Narrowly escaping with a win against the Indianapolis Colts, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked nothing like a team that expects to return to Lucas Oil Stadium for the Super Bowl in February.
James Harrison's late sack of Curtis Painter and Troy Polamalu's 16-yard fumble return for a touchdown gave the Steelers a second-half lead, and Ben Roethlisberger set up Shaun Suisham for a 38-yard field goal with 4 seconds left to give Pittsburgh a 23-20 victory on Sunday night.
Roethlisberger turned over the ball three times during an 11-minute span in the first half. Pittsburgh (2-1) rushed for only 67 yards, and the vaunted Steelers defense failed late in the fourth quarter against a third-string quarterback.
The fact that the game was close was almost shocking. The Colts have been playing without quarterback Peyton Manning, who is out indefinitely after neck surgery. Without its star, Indianapolis lost its opener 34-7 at Houston, then lost at home against Cleveland the next week.
The Steelers knew it wasn't pretty.
"We don't care how it looks," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "We just want to get out of stadiums with wins, particularly road stadiums and AFC ones."
Thousands of fans in black and gold converged upon Indianapolis with Terrible Towels and high expectations in tow, but they nearly left disappointed. The Colts put together by far their best effort of the season.
"They were in the game," Polamalu said. "Everyone would be happy in their locker room if they made one play here or there."
It was the second time the defending AFC champions bumbled their way through a game offensively. The Steelers turned the ball over seven times in their opening 35-7 loss to rival Baltimore.
Against the Colts, Roethlisberger passed for 364 yards and a touchdown and Mike Wallace caught five passes for 144 yards.
But the Steelers made enough mistakes to help the Colts rally from a 10-point first-half deficit. The Steelers, normally a power team, struggled to run the ball as Rashard Mendenhall finished with 37 yards on 18 carries.
"They did a lot of stunting," Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey said. "We just have to adjust to it. We have to do a better job at it. I'm pretty sure we will drill it a lot this week in practice and get better at it."
The second quarter was the most miserable for Pittsburgh.
Colts defensive end Robert Mathis sacked Roethlisberger, forced him to fumble and recovered it to give the Colts the ball near midfield. Adam Vinatieri eventually made a 21-yard field goal to cut Pittsburgh's lead to 10-3.
Later in the quarter, Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney sacked Roethlisberger and forced another fumble. Colts reserve defensive end Jamaal Anderson scooped up the ball and rumbled 47 yards to the end zone with 1:46 left in the second quarter to tie the score.
On Pittsburgh's next possession, Roethlisberger threw an interception to Indy's Joe Lefeged, and a personal foul tacked another 15 yards onto the return, giving Indianapolis the ball at the Pittsburgh 12. Vinatieri's 25-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the half gave the Colts a 13-10 lead. That score stood through the third quarter.
After Polamalu's touchdown, Painter led an 80-yard drive that Joseph Addai capped with a 6-yard run that tied it at 20 with 2:09 to go.
The Colts left Roethlisberger enough time to work his magic and save the Steelers from embarrassment.
"We just fight, man, keep going," Pouncey said. "We talked it up at halftime, looked over some stuff in there and went out and adjusted to a couple good things, played good and finished out with a 'W."'