Colts offer helping hand to Steelers in latest loss in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 03: Adam Vinatieri #4 of the Indianapolis Colts misses a field goal in the closing minute of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 3, 2019 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What caught our eye from the Indianapolis Colts’ 26-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at Heinz Field.

It was their 16th loss in 18 trips to Pittsburgh, including the playoffs, dropped them to 5-3 out and out first place in the AFC South. Houston’s atop the division at 6-3 after handling Jacksonville in London.

Not a good day: The ending epitomized everything leading up to it. Adam Vinatieri’s wayward 43-yard field goal attempt with 1:14 remaining – and that’s being kind – was the final hiccup by the Colts in a game full of them.

“We had too many penalties, too many mistakes and too many turnovers to overcome on the road,” Frank Reich said.

Yes. Yes. And yes. A team with little margin for error – we’re at eight straight games decided by 7 points or fewer – spent a sunny afternoon at Heinz Field extending a helping hand to the Steelers.

Three turnovers that led to 17 points: Minkah Fitzpatrick’s 96-yard interception return of a Brian Hoyer pass, Mason Rudolph’s 7-yard TD to Vance McDonald following a sack/lost fumble by Hoyer on a fourth-down attempt at the Steelers’ 35-yard line, and Chris Boswell’s 33-yard field goal after Chester Rogers’ fumble of a free kick.

There were four more points attributed to Vinatieri’s travails: the missed game-winner and a second-quarter PAT that seemed to come out low and was blocked by Cameron Heyward.

The Colts also assisted a pair of Boswell field goals with penalties. His 51-yarder on an untimed down at the end of the first half was made possible by Darius Leonard’s late hit on McDonald – he already was wrapped up by Anthony Walker and Justin Houston – on what should have been the final play of the quarter. Boswell’s 26-yarder that pushed Pittsburgh back in front 26-24 with 6:36 remaining was set up by a 24-yard interference flag against rookie cornerback Marvell Tell III.

Anyway you add it up, it was too much assistance.

Not a good day, Part II: The offense already was without Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton, who’ll miss multiple games with a calf injury. Jacoby Brissett was forced from the game early in the second quarter with an injury to his left knee, and center Ryan Kelly missed part of the second quarter and all of the second half with a “burner.”

As if that and the turnovers weren’t enough of a hindrance, the offensive line lost its game-within-a-game battle with Pittsburgh’s defense. One play might have typified that. Brissett injured his knee when All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson was power-rushed back into him by Heyward. Nelson fell onto Brissett’s left leg.

By game’s end, the Steelers had piled up five sacks – the most allowed by the Colts this season, and that’s nine in two weeks — and nine QB hits overall.

The pressure endured by Brissett and Hoyer sabotaged offensive continuity.

As for the penalties, they’ve suddenly become an issue. The Colts have been flagged 17 times for 192 yards the last two weeks. In the first six games, they were penalized 33 times for 244 yards. Denver and Pittsburgh have benefited from nine first downs via penalty.

Brissett out, Hoyer in: GM Chris Ballard invested a three-year, $12 million contract in Hoyer in September, hoping it would be an unnecessary insurance policy.

It became necessary. When Brissett hobbled off the field early in the second quarter, Hoyer stepped onto the field for the first time as a Colt. He was taking snaps for a seventh team in his 11-year career.

It initially appeared Brissett might return, but that obviously wasn’t the case.

“I really don’t think he was good enough to go,” Reich said. “We made the best decision for Jacoby and the team to hold him out. He was hobbled pretty bad.

“I thought Brian came in and did pretty well and did a lot of good things.”

On his second snap, Hoyer hooked up with Jack Doyle on an 11-yard touchdown pass. Here’s some irony. It was his first TD pass since he tossed two in week 5 of the 2017 season while he was with the San Francisco 49ers – against the Colts in Indy.

On the day, Hoyer completed 17-of-26 passes for 168 yards with three TDs – to Doyle, Zach Pascal and Rogers – and the killer pick-6 by Fitzpatrick.

Different ending for Colts, Vinatieri: What a difference a week makes. Last Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium, Vinatieri’s 51-yard field goal delivered a 15-13 win over Denver.

There was no encore performance seven days later. The Colts’ three-game winning streak was snapped as his 43-yard attempt wobbled badly to the left. Since joining the Colts in 2006, he had converted 14-of-15 attempts in the final minute of regulation or overtime to win a game or tie it.

“I just missed it,” Vinatieri said. “I’ve got to do better that that. Just pulled it left.”

Replays showed holder Rigoberto Sanchez getting the ball down, but he left the laces facing Vinatieri. Also, Vinatieri’s right foot dragged on the grass several inches behind the football before making contact.

Reich said the “it wasn’t a clean operation” on the game-winning attempt.

Vinatieri: “I need to make every kick no matter where it’s at. Everything was fine.”

The botched game-winner and PAT pushes Vinatieri’s missed kicks to 10 – five field goals, a career-high five PATs.

There was some good: Just so we’re not totally dumping on the Colts, there were some positives from the game.

Houston continues to provide the difference-making plays he was brought to Indy to make. He was responsible for the third-quarter safety when he sacked Mason Rudolph in the end zone. Rudolph fumbled, but tackle Alejandro Villanueva recovered it. That’s 5 sacks in the last four games for Houston, and a team-high 6.

Marlon Mack finished with 89 yards on 21 rushing attempts while Pascal had five catches for a team-high 76 yards and one TD. Rookie Parris Campbell had five catches for 53 yards and added 27 yards on three carries.

Walker led the defense with 10 tackles and cornerback Kenny Moore II came up with his first interception of the season.

Medical update: Along with losing Brissett in the second quarter, the Colts were forced to adjust to the absence of Ryan Kelly, The veteran center missed a portion of the second quarter and all of the second half with a burner.

Kelly became the first Colts’ offensive lineman to miss a snap due to injury this season. He was replaced by Josh Andrews.

Also, Campbell suffered a hand injury during the game.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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