Steelers 24, Colts 22
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The Pittsburgh Steelers know they can’t keep winning like this. The Indianapolis Colts only hope they can’t keep losing like this.
The Steelers lost four fumbles among their six turnovers, lost quarterback Kordell Stewart to a concussion, lost all of their second-half momentum _ essentially, they lost everything but the game.
But as hard as they tried to lose, winless Indianapolis tried even harder. The Colts couldn’t convert a tying 2-point conversion or a potential game-winning field goal in the final 3:35 of play and lost 24-22 Sunday night, their 11th consecutive defeat in Pittsburgh.
Of the Colts’ six losses this season, two were by two points, another was by four and one was by six points.
``We can’t figure out how to win these, and it hurts,″ Colts coach Lindy Infante said. ``I’ve never been through this before and a lot of guys in that (locker) room haven’t. It’s hurt everybody very deeply.″
And, if the Colts felt a loss couldn’t hurt worse than the 37-35 defeat to Buffalo that saw them squander a 26-0 lead, they were wrong. This was arguably their worst defeat since Jim Harbaugh’s Hail Mary pass in the AFC championship game was knocked away in the end zone, sending the Steelers to the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
The Colts haven’t won in Pittsburgh since 1968, when the Steelers played in Three Rivers Stadium.
``But this is the type of game where neither team feels very good at the end,″ said the Steelers’ Mike Tomczak, who threw two second-half interceptions after replacing Stewart. ``This is the type of game where you don’t feel good even when you win.″
The Steelers (4-2), who trailed 10-0 in the first quarter, opened a 24-13 lead on a 28-yard Tomczak to Courtney Hawkins scoring pass play midway through the third quarter.
But just as turnovers gave the Steelers the lead, turnovers were why they nearly gave the game away.
Rookie George Jones’ fumble and a 42-yard pass interference penalty on Myron Bell led to Harbaugh’s 5-yard scoring pass to Brian Stablein on a fourth-and-goal play with 3:35 to play. Trailing 24-22, the Colts went for the tying two-point conversion.
Harbaugh threw incomplete, but a holding call on Carnell Lake _ who had earlier had put Pittsburgh up 17-10 with a 38-yard fumble return touchdown _ put the ball on the 1. Harbaugh rolled right and tried to find Stablein in the lower corner of the end zone, but reserve defensive back Chris Oldham knocked the ball away.
The relieved Steelers needed only to run out the clock to win. They couldn’t do it.
Quentin Coryatt, who knocked Stewart out of the game with a two-handed blow late in the second quarter, put another big hit on Jerome Bettis, forcing a fumble recovered by Al Fontenot at the Steelers’ 23.
``I’ve never been on a football team that had this many turnovers and won,″ said Bettis, whose 164 rushing yards were the second most in his career. ``It’s nobody’s fault but mine. I got hit in the face there, but it’s still my job to protect the ball.″
But, needing only a couple of more yards to give kicker Cary Blanchard essentially a chip-shot field goal attempt, the Colts instead lost a yard on three plays. Blanchard now had to make a 42-yarder to win it.
The kick did not seem especially difficult for a Pro Bowl kicker who had made his last 13 attempts, but Blanchard’s knuckleball-like kick missed badly to the left with 2:44 remaining.
``I don’t care if it’s 42 yards, 46, 30, I have to make them,″ Blanchard said. ``I caught it fat and pulled it. It just didn’t happen.″
The Steelers, who play Sunday at Cincinnati, must wonder how they can keep tempting defeat before it happens. Last week they trailed by three touchdowns but rallied to win in Baltimore; this time, they withstood a 10-point deficit and six turnovers.
``Maybe we’re not following the NFL victory formula,″ linebacker Levon Kirkland said. ``But it doesn’t matter in this business if you win 34-0 or 34-33 1/2, we’re winning and that’s what matters.″
Stewart apparently wasn’t seriously hurt. He returned to the bench in the second half, although he didn’t go back in the game, and coach Bill Cowher said, ``I think he’s fine.″