During the final moments of a tight game Sunday night, Pittsburgh relied on its old standbys.
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Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger.
Polamalu returned a fumble 16 yards to give Pittsburgh the lead, and Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 60 yards to set up Shaun Suisham for a 38-yard field goal with 4 seconds left that sent the Steelers to a 23-20 victory at Indianapolis.
Just like old times.
”Our defense, they’re fun to watch,” Roethlisberger said. ”They make exciting plays when they need to, and they’re on my side.”
One strong final burst was enough after the Steelers looked out of sorts for the first 54 minutes.
Roethlisberger lost two fumbles and threw an interception during an 11-minute first-half stretch. Pittsburgh (2-1) managed just 67 yards rushing all night, and the vaunted Steelers defense produced just one sack.
Polamalu, Roethlisberger and James Harrison bailed them out. Again.
Harrison’s crunching sack of Curtis Painter with 5:13 left knocked the ball out and the opportunistic Polamalu scooped it up and jogged into the end zone to make it 20-13. After the Colts tied it with 2:09 left, Roethlisberger delivered another one of his patented late drives, setting up Suisham for the winning kick.
Roethlisberger was 25 of 37 for 364 yards with one touchdown. Mike Wallace caught five passes for 144 yards and an 81-yard score, the longest of his career.
And they won ugly.
”We don’t care how it looks,” coach Mike Tomlin said. ”We just want to get out of stadiums with wins, particularly road stadiums and AFC ones.”
Sunday’s game wasn’t supposed to be so difficult for the defending AFC champs.
But Indianapolis (0-3), which has won 16 Sunday night games since 2000 – more than any other team, used the national stage to send a message. They’re not going away quickly or quietly, even with Peyton Manning out.
The Colts defense had three sacks, forced three turnovers, delivered a plethora of big hits and even scored Indy’s first first-half touchdown of the season.
It just wasn’t enough.
”We don’t care about second-place prizes or playing good for a half or three quarters,” said Dwight Freeney, who had two sacks and forced a fumble that was returned for a TD. ”We didn’t play good enough to win.”
Indy’s effort was complicated by injuries.
Five Colts starters, including Manning, were inactive. Indianapolis then lost backup quarterback Kerry Collins to a possible concussion that could keep him out of next Monday’s game at Tampa Bay.
Collins’ exit early in the fourth quarter pinned the Colts’ hopes on Painter, who entered with a career quarterback rating of 9.8. But he nearly pulled it off.
Collins was 13 of 29 for 93 yards but just 3 of 9 in the second half. Painter was 5 of 11 for 60 yards with a 62.7 rating and led Indy to the most meaningful offensive touchdown of the season. Joseph Addai carried 17 times for 86 yards and a 6-yard TD run that tied it at 20 with 2:09 to go.
”We still are measured around here by wins,” coach Jim Caldwell said. ”That’s what counts. But the guys played tough, played hard, and you certainly can see evidence that we’re getting a little bit better, but the key is, you’ve got to win.”
Initially, it looked like the Steelers would win easily.
They got a 48-yard field goal from Suisham on the opening possession and took advantage of a terrible mismatch – linebacker Pat Angerer on Wallace – for the 81-yard pass that made it 10-0.
Then Indy’s defense did its best Pittsburgh impersonation.
Robert Mathis stripped Roethlisberger and recovered the ball, which led to a field goal. Dwight Freeney followed that with a strip sack from the opposite side. Jamaal Anderson scooped up the ball, cut to the middle of the field and used a brilliant block from Kavell Conner to free himself for a 47-yard score.
On the next play from scrimmage, Roethlisberger’s deep pass for Emmanuel Sanders was picked off by rookie Joe Lefeged. Adam Vinatieri then hit a 25-yard field goal to make it 13-10 at the half.
Suddenly, the Steelers were in trouble.
”We just couldn’t get things going with the turnovers,” receiver Hines Ward said. ”It looked like it was going to be a blowout, but we let that team back in.”
Suisham tied it with a 44-yard field goal with 12:10 to go, and the Steelers were in a good position when Harrison smacked Painter in the back and Polamalu scored.
But Painter answered with an 80-yard drive, getting the tying score on Addai’s run with 2:09 left.
”We walked out of here with a win. Did we play well? No, we know we didn’t play well,” Ward said. ”Do we got to get better? Yes, and we will get better.”
Notes: Manning made his first appearance at Lucas Oil Stadium since an Aug. 26 preseason game but spent the night in the coaches’ booth trying to help his team. … Wallace had his sixth straight 100-yard game. … Reggie Wayne became the second Colts receiver with 800 career catches with 10:22 left in the first half. … The 81-yard TD pass was the third longest of Roethlisberger’s career. … Steelers tackles Marcus Gilbert and Doug Legursky both left in the second half with shoulder injuries. … Colts cornerback Justin Tryon also left in the third quarter with a hamstring injury.