In their first Thanksgiving home game in franchise history, the Indianapolis Colts didn’t have much to be thankful for besides a halftime ceremony honoring Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison and a fake punt pass by Pat McAfee.
Other than that, it was a night full of frustration for the Colts, who lost 28-7 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was the third straight year in which the Colts have lost to the Steelers and the second year in a row they played Pittsburgh without Andrew Luck, who missed tonight’s game with a concussion.
The Steelers offense was effective, led by their tremendous trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. They make up the best QB/RB/WR trio in the NFL, and that showed tonight. Roethlisberger completed 14 of 20 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns without a pick; Bell rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown while averaging 5.2 yards per rush; and Brown caught five passes for 91 yards and three touchdowns. Roethlisberger has now thrown for 13 touchdowns with zero picks in his last three games against the Colts, while Brown had his third-straight multi-touchdown game against the Colts and now has eight in his last three games against Indy.
Offensively for the Colts, it was a story of missed opportunities. There was the rare Adam Vinatieri miss from 52-yards out in the first quarter that was a sign of things to come, as the Colts would struggle to convert drives into points. In fact, their only score of the game was entirely set up by the special teams unit, as Jordan Todman had a big kickoff return and then Pat McAfee executed a perfect fake punt that gained 35-yards and set up first and goal. A few plays later, Scott Tolzien hit Donte Moncrief for a touchdown. It proved to be incredibly difficult for the Colts to convert in goal-to-go scenarios after that, as twice the Steelers stopped the Colts at the goal line on fourth down. At the end of the first half and then again in the second half after a long drive the Colts faced fourth and goal, and they went for it both times. On both they saw the fourth down pass fall incomplete, as on one Tolzien threw behind Chester Rogers and on the other Phillip Dorsett dropped it. Then in the fourth quarter after the defense got a stop, Tolzien threw it deep and it was picked off (and was picked off on the following drive as well).
Again, it was all about missed opportunities for the Colts. They had a number of big drops, a missed field goal, were stopped at the goal line a couple of times, and had an interception. It’s hard to win with all of that when you have a backup quarterback in the game. And speaking of that backup quarterback, Scott Tolzien was far from great, but he did everything that could have been realistically expected of him. It wasn’t his fault the Colts lost, and he truly gave it his all: he took a lot of big shots, but he wasn’t helped out by his teammates much at all (which is, once again, a trend we’ve seen from the Colts all year). He wasn’t great, but he was at least better than I and most others expected him to be.
Ultimately, having to play without Andrew Luck made it a really tough task for the Colts. The Steelers still put up 28 points and the Colts couldn’t cover Antonio Brown whatsoever (he scored three touchdowns), while they also had trouble stopping Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger. But with all of the opportunities the Colts had offensively it’s hard to wonder whether this would finally have been the time they had a legitimate change against the Steelers had Luck played, but it didn’t happen. The Colts behind early against a dangerous offense, and the Colts’ offense wasn’t able to put up the points needed to hang with them.
The fact that I could have written that last sentence before the game even started (and I did write similar) and have it still prove to be true should indicate that this result wasn’t really unexpected, though there’s still plenty to takeaway from it. One storyline that will be especially pertinent moving forward is in regards to injuries, as the Colts lost T.Y. Hilton (back), cornerback Vontae Davis (groin), center Ryan Kelly (shoulder), and outside linebacker Robert Mathis (elbow), and that’s in addition to already being without quarterback Andrew Luck (concussion) and safety Clayton Geathers (concussion). The Colts now fall back below .500 for the season as they’re 5-6, and they have a long break before a Monday night matchup with the New York Jets in week 13.
This story will be updated.