The Indianapolis Colts fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers in heart-breaking fashion on Sunday afternoon 26-24, as veteran Adam Vinatieri’s potential game-winning kick sailed wide left with a little over a minute left in regulation.
Credit the Colts, who already entered the game without star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and starting cornerback Pierre Desir, but still managed to persevere—even lead at various points of this game. That is, despite also losing starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett (early in the second quarter) and center Ryan Kelly during Sunday’s action.
It truly was ‘next man up’ for Indianapolis, as backup quarterback Brian Hoyer and reserve center Josh Andrews were thrust into early action in this one.
Still, playing in the always hostile road environment that is Heinz Field, the Colts committed way too many turnovers (3), penalties (7-89), and special teams mistakes to ultimately come out victorious in this one.
[Not to mention, some conservative offensive play-calling really doomed them down the stretch.]
With that being said, even after Sunday’s sloppy last minute loss, there are a few game balls to deliver:
One of the best free agent signings in recent memory—maybe arguably even in franchise history by the Colts, Justin Houston has been as good as advertised so far during his short stay in Indianapolis.
The veteran pass rusher has lived every bit to his billing as one of the most feared sackmasters in the NFL, and Sunday was once again no exception.
Houston finished with 3 tackles (2 solo), 1 sack (a strip-sack for a safety), a QB hit, and a fumble recovery. His strip-sack safety with 1:05 left in the 2nd quarter was a huge play for a Colts team that desperately needed a big play after surrendering 10 unanswered points.
The former All-Pro has been simply nails for the Colts defense and become just as strong as a performer on it, as a veteran leader off of it. He’s the closest thing that this defense has seen to franchise great Robert Mathis since he retired.
Pascal’s performance this season isn’t an aberration, as he’s not a one game wonder or a wideout who’s simply benefitted from “right place, right time,” often ingenious offensive play-calling by head coach Frank Reich.
The 24 year old is genuinely talented and has really had a coming out party for the Colts offense—amassing 19 receptions for 321 receiving yards and 4 touchdown receptions in 8 games (6 starts) during the 2019 campaign.
In the absence of star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, Pascal really stepped up again on Sunday, catching 5 receptions for 76 receiving yards (15.2 ypr avg) and a touchdown.
Perhaps his biggest play wasn’t the touchdown snag, but an acrobatic, toe-tapping catch along the sideline with 2:10 left in the 4th quarter that placed the Colts in prime position to get the potential game-winning score.
Already highly regarded for his blocking on the perimeter, Pascal has blossomed into a reliable playmaker for the Colts as a wideout.
While he was somewhat of an afterthought entering the season with the signing of Devin Funchess and the early round selection of Parris Campbell, it’s Pascal who’s been the Colts best wide receiver outside of Hilton.
Yes, I know Hoyer’s 96-yard ‘pick six’ to Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick really hurt the Colts late in the second quarter—who were poised to at least try a field goal attempt.
However, his first throw on the afternoon, early in the second quarter, was a touchdown to tight end Jack Doyle, and he finished the day completing 17 of 26 throws (65.4%) for 168 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, an interception, and a passer rating of 105.9.
For a veteran backup who was signed by the Colts a week before the season started and thrust into unanticipated action near the beginning of the second quarter (in the wake of Jacoby Brissett’s knee injury)—and without his starting center to boot, Hoyer fared about as well as could’ve been reasonably expected given a tough situation (and against a stingy Steelers defense).
He even made big plays, including a 3rd and 8, 6-yard scramble with 8:43 left in the 4th quarter where he somehow avoided a Steelers defender and put the Colts in better scoring position for a 4th and 2, 4-yard Chester Rogers touchdown reception.
Yes, Hoyer held onto the football far too long at times, but it’s fair to temper expectations a bit for a second-string quarterback—who was playing behind a surprisingly shaky Colts offensive line at times in pass protection.
It’s not as though Hoyer was taking first team reps in practice all week either.
The veteran quarterback even led an 8 play, 60 yard drive that put the Colts and kicker Adam Vinatieri in a good position to win the game for an eventual failed 43 yard field goal attempt.
As such, unfortunately, he and the Colts came up just a little short.
However, Colts’ fans can take solace that Hoyer at least appears good enough as a starting quarterback option—should he be thrust into action again against the Dolphins at home next week, to give them a fighter’s chance to win—maybe even more than that.
He’s not Scott Tolzien.