Luck, Colts lead before Steelers rally
Unlike his electric preseason debut, Andrew Luck's first pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't result in a touchdown.
His eighth one did. Just not for the Indianapolis Colts.
Standing on the sideline moments after Pittsburgh's Ike Taylor cut in front of an underthrown pass and raced 50 yards for a score, Luck fumed. But only for a second.
Showing the mental toughness the Colts wanted when they tasked him with helping rebuild a franchise on the fly, the rookie rebounded to help Indianapolis take the halftime lead before falling 26-24 on Sunday night. Pittsburgh rookie kicker Danny Hrapmann kicked four second-half field goals, including the 22-yard winner with 23 seconds remaining.
By then the top overall pick was in a baseball cap after completing 16 of 25 passes for 175 yards. He added a 1-yard touchdown run and the Colts (1-1) held their own against a perennial Super Bowl contender.
''You never want to throw any interceptions, even if they are tipped, bobbled, whatever,'' Luck said. ''I've got to cut down on those, but I think showing we can bounce back from those mistakes and kind of climb out of that hole was a good sign.''
Luck certainly won over the Steelers (1-1), who let Luck lead the Colts on three second-quarter scoring drives to turn a 14-0 deficit into a 17-14 lead.
''He's a tough kid,'' Pittsburgh defensive end Brett Keisel said. ''He's a good quarterback. I think he's going to play a long time. (Colts offensive coordinator) Bruce (Arians) is, I'm sure, a happy man.''
Even if Luck wasn't particularly thrilled after Taylor sprinted into the end zone to put the Steelers up two touchdowns. Luck didn't expect things to go as easily against the Steelers as they did in a romp over St. Louis last week.
He didn't expect to throw a pair of interceptions either.
''I knew after last week everything wasn't going to be smooth-sailing, you know?'' Luck said. ''But I think you can learn a lot from mistakes and hopefully not repeating mistakes.''
He didn't during a sublime quarter in which he refused to get rattled against the defense that finished No. 1 in the league last fall. Using his mobility to step away from pressure and his vision to find open receivers, Luck didn't look like a guy who won't start his first NFL regular-season game for another three weeks.
''(Luck) was able to come back and put it behind him just like he always has,'' Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said. ''We saw the same thing in college. He's able to bring his team back from behind so it was nothing surprising to us to see him come back and put those kind of drives together.''
The Steelers aren't undergoing the kind of drastic makeover the Colts are enduring. Still, they have issues of their own, namely getting used to new offensive coordinator Todd Haley's complex scheme.
The results so far are mixed.
Ben Roethlisberger completed 7 of 8 passes during his one drive of work in the opener against Philadelphia last week, all of them quick hitters. His first pass Sunday night ended up in the hands of Indianapolis' Antoine Bethea.
Antonio Brown and Roethlisberger atoned the next time the Steelers had the ball, with Brown doing most of the work. He hauled in an 18-yard pass from Roethlisberger on third-and-11 to extend the drive then put together a highlight-reel 57 yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
The play was all Brown. He took a screen pass from Roethlisberger, cut to the middle and used some great downfield blocking by running back Baron Batch to get to the end zone. Brown — who has become Roethlisberger's favorite target with Mike Wallace in the midst of a holdout — added some style points by doing a flip as he crossed the goal line.
''It'd give it an 8.5,'' Brown said about the somersault. ''I didn't stick the landing.''
And the Steelers didn't stick with it. The play accounted for more than half of the 112 yards of offense Pittsburgh generated when Roethlisberger was in the huddle. Roethlisberger completed 5 of 9 passes for 81 yards and the touchdown to Brown.
''We're making a little bit of progress,'' Roethlisberger said. ''I still think we're leaving a lot out there. We're not playing as good as we could or should, but we're making progress.''
So are the Colts.
On the verge of getting blown out, the Colts responded behind their new leader. Luck led a 10-play, 80-yard drive after Taylor's pick and Donald Brown got Indianapolis on the board with a 1-yard plunge.
Luck had it going on Indianapolis' next possession before being undone by a little bad, well, luck. He found rookie wide receiver T.Y. Hilton in stride down the middle only to have the wide-open Hilton throw the ball up in the air. Pittsburgh's Cortez Allen ran underneath it to thwart the drive, but it hardly slowed the Colts.
Indianapolis tied it at 14 when Luck deftly slid into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1, ending a drive in which Luck completed all five of his passes.
Luck got one more chance just before the half, and he made it count. Working exclusively out of the shotgun, Luck led the Colts 31 yards in five plays, giving Adam Vinatieri just enough time — and room — to sneak a kick between the uprights at the halftime gun.
NOTES: Colts DE Robert Mathis left the game in the first quarter with a shoulder strain and did not return. Indianapolis WR Austin Collie underwent a concussion test after taking a blow to the head from Pittsburgh linebacker Larry Foote. ... The Steelers travel to Buffalo on Saturday night while the Colts visit Washington. ... Harrison, Hampton, running backs Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall and linebacker Jason Worilds did not dress for the Steelers. ... Indianapolis backup QB Drew Stanton completed 4 of 13 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown.