(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
As the halftime whistle blew, the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves at the lowest point of their season. Lower than the “Primetime” clunker against Buffalo, and somehow lower than the Monday Night Football loss at Cincinnati.
HC Mike Tomlin’s team was facing a 21-7 deficit after 30 minutes of play, but it felt far worse. Things got even grimmer after allowing an opening drive field goal in the 3rd quarter, then getting stuffed at the goal line on the ensuing possession. However, it was at that moment that the Steelers’ season took yet another dramatic turn.
After the Pittsburgh defense did not allow the Colts offense to move the ball outside of their own 10, QB Ben Roethlisberger connected with a diving Diontae Jonson in order to cut the deficit to 10. After another 3 and out forced by the Steelers and an Eric Ebron touchdown catch, the 2020 Steelers were back. In a game that was very much a tale of two halves, the now 12-3 Pittsburgh Steelers clinched the AFC North after continuing the momentum they found on both sides of the ball for the remainder of the week 16 bout.
Perhaps the most telling sign that the Steelers season is not dead was the go-ahead and eventually game-winning touchdown reception from WR Juju Smith Schuster. After a convincing Roethlisberger pump fake that froze an Indianapolis LB, the 38-year-old signal-caller hit his reliable target deep in the endzone for a 25-yard score. Smith Schuster was able to create separation and hold onto the ball through contact in order to provide the score that Pittsburgh so desperately needed.
Aside from the offense, the Steelers defense provided all of the necessary plays in order to beat a talented Colts side. Highlighted by splash plays from CB Mike Hilton and LB TJ Watt, the Steelers put the Steelers offense in position to capture the North, and they did just that. As for Indianapolis, their 2nd half collapse puts their postseason standing in jeopardy. They will need to beat Jacksonville next week and get help from others in order to find themselves in the playoff picture as week 17 concludes.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers defense, a rough first half was quickly corrected in the final two quarters. With only 3 points allowed in the 2nd half, DC Keith Butler’s unit allowed the Steelers to mount a comeback that was necessary for their season. CB Mike Hilton had an interception, 2 pass breakups and a fumble recovery on Sunday; the latter setting up the Steelers offense at the 3-yard line. LB T.J Watt strengthened his defensive player of the year case with 2 sacks and a tackle for a loss, and new Steeler LB Avery Williamson was everywhere on the field and the stat sheet with 14 tackles, a sack, and a tackle for a loss. In what was a total team effort, the Steelers defense proved that they can compete with any offense in the NFL at a high level.
On the other side of the ball, an explosive 2nd half was the best fand had seen since week 11 at Jacksonville. QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for 3 touchdowns (all coming in the 2nd half) and zero interceptions. The Steelers WR trio of Smith-Schuster, Johnson, and Claypool combined for 21 catches, 225 yards and 2 scores. On a day where the Steelers yet again had little success on the ground, RB James Conner had a few big plays for Pittsburgh. With only 10 touches, Conner accumulated 65 yards through the air and on the ground found the endzone once on the afternoon. Pittsburgh seemed to regain their success when Roethlisberger worked out of the no-huddle, a trend that has proven to be accurate through prior weeks. While there is still uncertainty regarding his offense for Mike Tomlin, he has to be pleased with the play of his QB and playmakers against the Colts.
Up next for the Steelers is a trip to Cleveland as the Browns need a win to make the postseason for the first time since 2002. Having already clinched the division, all Pittsburgh has to worry about is their seeding in the AFC playoffs. As for Indianapolis, they will host the 1-win Jaguars as they will try to find themselves in the postseason along with the team they fell short to today. All is not perfect in Pittsburgh, but it sure feels a lot better than it did at 3:00 p.m. EST.