Colts' Tolzien solid but unspectacular in spot start

Scott Tolzien kept the Colts in the game against Pittsburgh Thursday, but it wasn't enough to get his team a win.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Scott Tolzien did just about everything the Indianapolis Colts could have asked Thursday night.

He moved the offense, mostly took care of the ball and kept the Colts close.

But replacing Andrew Luck isn't easy and replicating Luck's winning formula is even tougher, as Tolzien found out in a 28-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"He hung in there and hung in there and hung in there and made some really tough throws and took some shots along the way," coach Chuck Pagano said. "Really proud of that kid."

Tolzien was solid, not spectacular under trying circumstances.

The little-used backup was pressed into service only after Andrew Luck was diagnosed with a concussion after Sunday's victory over Tennessee and could not clear the league's mandated protocol in time to play in the crucial game against the Steelers (6-5).

How challenging was the assignment?

Consider that Tolzien hadn't started a game since 2013 and hadn't even thrown a pass since the preseason.

And yet here he was, walking into the center of a nationally-televised game on a holiday night.

It was enough, understandably, to give the former Wisconsin quarterback who had played in only six previous games pregame jitters.

At first, it looked like the pressure might get to Tolzien. He recovered his own fumble after being sacked on the first play of the game.

Then he picked himself up, adjusted to the speed of the game and proved he was a capable backup quarterback by going 22 of 36 for 205 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, both coming in the final eight minutes as the Colts tried to erase deficits of 14 and 21 points. He was sacked three times.

There were some times he threw great passes and looked at ease running the offense.

There were others where he was frustratingly close to getting the Colts (5-6) right back in it. On third-and-goal from the one-yard line late in the first half, Tolzien stumbled and wound up getting tackled when he could have scored. On the third-and-goal from the two-yard line in the fourth quarter, he tucked the ball and ran again and was tackled short of the goal line. Again.

On the ensuing fourth-down plays, he threw incompletions.

"Twice having the ball that close, that's a game-changer, period," Tolzien said. "I'll be honest, I did trip (on the first run) and it's a one-on-one situation and when the goal line is literally right in front of you, you've got to put it in."

He couldn't and the Colts lost.

But Pagano also found out that he has a backup who is capable of playing well enough to keep the Colts in the playoff hunt -- if Luck can't return Dec. 5 against the New York Jets.

"He's tough, he made good decisions, he hung in there and made some great throws," Pagano said.