Steelers Clinch Division After Beating Colts 28-24

Call it a Post-Christmas miracle. After trailing a very good Indianapolis Colts team 24-7, the Pittsburgh Steelers dug deep within themselves to stage a remarkable comeback and win 28-24 in their final regular-season game at Heinz Field and end their 3-game losing streak after starting 11-0.

“Really proud of every man in the locker room regardless of role, player, coach, support personnel, equipment, training staff, et cetera. It took everyone today.” Said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “Just loved the fight of the group. Was very necessary, man. Victory is sweet. It’s been a month or so for us, so we’ve been through some adversity. But just growth in the midst of that.”

With the win, the Steelers improve to 12-3 and clinch their first AFC North Division Title since 2017 and now makes their regular-season finale vs. the 10-5 Cleveland Browns (Who were upset by the 1-13 NY Jets) a moot point.

 

“Our warts are well-documented. I’m sure you guys continue to chop those up. We’ll continue to work on them in an effort to get better and increase our chances of winning every time out.” Said Tomlin.

After another sub-par first half, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger staged one of his greatest comebacks as he passed for 342 yards and 3 second-half TDs. Many media members and fans expressed concern about why he hadn’t thrown the ball deep, but his 39-yard TD pass to WR Diontae Johnson (50-yard in the air) shows that the 38-year old future Hall of Fame QB still has ‘it.’

“We missed on some opportunities in the first half. I don’t know if it was that dramatic.” Said Tomlin “It’s a fine line between drinking wine and squashing grapes as we say in this business. Sometimes it’s very subtle. We didn’t change drastically in terms of our approach, in terms of what we were doing.”

WR JuJu Smith Shuster had 96 of those yards (9 receptions) from Big Ben and his 25-yard TD gave the Steelers their first 4th quarter lead since their win vs. the Ravens on December 2nd. In their losses to Washington, Buffalo and Cincinnati, the Steelers appeared to lack energy and didn’t show urgency, but quite the contrary in this game. They didn’t drop passes, nor did they turn the ball over.

 


But like most games this season, it wasn’t easy for the Steelers. Colt future Hall of Fame QB Philip Rivers also proved that he still has ‘it’ as he led the Colts to a 21-7 first half lead. Rookie RB Jonathan Taylor (18 carries, 74 yards) scored 2 TDs and WR Zach Pascal (3 receptions, 64 yards) caught a 44-yard bomb from Rivers. Meanwhile, the Steelers offense still looked lethargic, although they did briefly tie the game at 7 on RB James Conner’s 1-yard TD run.

But in the 2nd half, the Colts seemed to fall asleep as they were only able to generate 3 points, while the Steelers scored 21 unanswered points. The key to that success was the Steelers defense as they put more pressure on Rivers, sacking him 5 times (2 by LB TJ Watt) and intercepting him once when CB Mike Hilton picked him off in the 4th quarter. (Hilton also recovered a fumble in the 1st half which led to a Steelers TD)

It also seemed like the Steelers may have blown a huge opportunity in the 3rd quarter when they failed to score on 4 tries, but after forcing the Colts to punt, Roethlisberger found Johnson (8 rec, 75 yards) for the 39-yard TD and after forcing the Colts to punt again, Big Ben found TE Eric Ebron (5 rec, 47 yards) for a 5-yard TD. The Steelers defense then stood tall on the next drive when Pro Bowl DT Cam Heyward got a huge sack on Rivers and when the Steelers took over on offense, Big Ben found Smith-Shuster for the winning TD.

 

“I’ve been watching Ben like you guys have for 17 years, man. Half a play is not going to define him. He’s a competitor. As long as there’s time on the clock, he’s going to keep coming at you.” Said Tomlin.

But once again, it came down to the final drive as Rivers and the Colts were hoping for another comeback, but the Steelers shut them down on 4 tries to secure the victory.

With the KC Chiefs (14-1) locking up the 1st seed, the Steelers will finish no worse than the 3rd seed in the AFC Playoffs. With the new format, only the #1 seed will get the 1st round bye, which means the Steelers will prepare to play Wild Card Weekend. And it also means they can rest many of their starters vs. the Browns next week.

“We got some big battles that lie ahead, man. But today we’re humbled and honored to be AFC North champs.” Said Tomlin. “When we started this journey on July 20th, that was the initial goal, then we go from there. It’s good to be at this point, good to push forward. Can’t say enough about the guys. We’re far from perfect.”

 

Notes: Watt’s 2 sacks gives him a career-high 15 for the season (tying him with LB Mike Merriweather) 1 shy of LB James Harrison’s record for most sacks in Steelers history. Watt also became the first Steeler to have at least 14 sacks in consecutive seasons. The Steelers also have 50 sacks, which makes them the first team in NFL history to record 50+ sacks in in 4 consecutive seasons since the 1985-88 NY Giants.

Please e-mail Ray at rayporterjr72@gmail.com

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