#3. Close Yet So Far
November 9, 2008
Colts 24 – Steelers 20
Sitting pretty at 6-2 after a Monday Night Football romp on the road against the Washington Redskins, the Steelers were in for a showdown against the Indianapolis Colts the following Sunday. The Steelers needed a win to maintain their lead over the Ravens that were nipping at their heels in the hotly contested A.F.C. North. The (4-4) Colts just needed a win to not only keep pace with the undefeated Tennessee Titans, but also to just stay alive in the playoff race. The stage was ultimately set for a titanic battle between future 2008 playoff teams.
I remember watching this game at my parents house with my Mom (who is the reason why I am a Steelers fan and the biggest Steelers fan that I know) and we were both excited yet relaxed to see the Steelers playing a Colts team that was a bit down on their luck. We were both expecting the Steelers to carry their momentum from the Washington game into Sunday, and for the first 1.75 Quarters, we were almost spot on in our prediction.
After getting knocked around against Washington 5 days prior, Ben didn’t look fazed at all on the 1st Drive of the game. Ben directed the Steelers right down the field and RB Mewelde Moore punched the ball into the end zone and the Steelers were up quickly 7-0. The Offense looked great and Indianapolis’ normally sub-standard Defense was showing its inability to stop the Steeler Offensive machine.
Of course, this is Peyton Manning and the Colts we’re talking about here. Facing a 7-0 deficit seemed to just inspire Manning. Although the game tying 65 yard TD pass thrown by Peyton to Reggie Wayne was not what you would call a ho-hum strike. To be honest, this play was a total fluke and a throw that if you asked Manning after the game, was probably one he wanted back had the outcome gone the way it should have. Manning underthrew a deep pass to Wayne, and what made it worse was that Reggie was blanketed by Ike Taylor on the route. Taylor, probably should have picked off the pass, but due to his hands of stone simply missed catching the ball. What made the situation worse is that he tipped the ball in the air backwards, Ryan Clark completely missed the tackle, and Wayne streaked in for the score! It was literally one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen on a football field. Regardless, the game was only tied at 7 and there was still a lot of football left to be played.
Despite the wacky TD, things seemed to be going the Steelers’ way in the 2nd Quarter. Ben led two nice scoring drives and the Offense looked to be firing on all cylinders. Mewelde Moore scored another 1 yard rushing TD on a drive in the early 2nd Quarter. The Me-Mo score was followed by a Jeff Reed 42 Yard Field Goal, and suddenly the Steelers found themselves up 17-7 at home with the Colts on the ropes. After an Indianapolis punt, the Steelers had the ball on their own 16 with about a 1:30 to go. Instead of being content to run out the clock, Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians got greedy. On a 3rd and 2 play, Ben dropped back to pass and was INT’d by CB Keiwan Ratliff at the Steeler 30 yard line! That’s right, instead of taking a 10 point lead at home against Peyton Manning and the Colts into the locker room, Arians dialed up a pass play on 3rd and 2 against one of the worst run D’s in the League at that time! It was truly an exercise in idiocy.
My Mom and I knew exactly what the other was thinking at that moment: you don’t gift-wrap Peyton Manning and the Colts any second chances to get back into a game without getting burned. Just like clockwork though, the INT allowed Manning to fire a 2 yard TD pass to TE Dallas Clark with 6 seconds remaining and the score at the Half stood at 17-14 in favor of the Steelers. As mad as we were, we still figured that the Steelers could rebound from that dreadful mistake made by Ben. They were still up by 3 at home, and their Defense was playing well. But as we found out in 2008, no matter how good a Defense plays, it’s no substitution for reckless turnovers by the Offense and big plays by the opposition.
The Steelers Defense held tough in the 3rd Quarter. They only allowed a 36 yard Field Goal by Adam Vinatieri after Indianapolis drove deep into Steeler territory on the opening drive of the 2nd Half. Even though the game was tied my Mom and I still had confidence that the 4th Quarter would belong to the Steelers and all would be right with the universe.
With 7:57 left in the game, the Steelers managed to put together a clock eating drive that got the ball inside the Indianapolis 10 yard line. They were primed for the go-ahead score and the win. However, moronic play calling by Bruce Arians coupled with the inability of the Offensive Line to block anybody (both season long themes for the 2008 Steelers) inside the 5 yard line led to Me-Mo getting stuffed on 3rd and Goal! My Mom and I knew right then and there that the momentum had shifted in Indianapolis’ direction. It didn’t matter that Skippy Reed nailed a 24 yard Field Goal to put the Steelers up 20-17 midway through the 4th Quarter. The Steelers’ Defense held firm on the Colts’ next possession however, and the Steelers were just a few 1st Downs from salting the game away with the ball in their own territory. Yet disaster struck in the form of careless decision making by Ben Roethlisberger, and Ben threw an INT to Tim Jennings at the Steeler 32 yard line with just over 4 minutes to play and Peyton Manning took over with the chance to win the game.
Giving Peyton Manning 2nd chances is like throwing gasoline on a fire if you’re the opposition. Manning gave the ball to backup RB Dominic Rhodes on three consecutive plays, and on the final one the Colts hit paydirt. Manning threw a 19 yard TD pass to Rhodes who didn’t have a guy withing 5 yards of him as he dove into the end zone to give the Colts a 24-20 lead. The Steelers were dead in the water at that point, and despite a valiant effort by the Steeler Offense, Ben threw his third and final INT to Melvin Bullitt on a desperation drive to seal the game for Indianapolis.
After the game my Mom and I were simply in shock. I mean the reason the Steelers lost was no surprise because piss-poor play calling in the Red Zone in addition to Ben’s throwing 3 INTs is a formula for disaster. Yet I was most distraught because this team reminded me so much of the 1994 Steelers. A team that had a great running game, a great Defense, and an Offense that was efficient enough to win games. But they also reminded me of the 1994 Steelers in a bad way, because the Offense was liable to make idiotic plays that allowed the other team to stay in the game, and the Defense was always just one big play away from a let down. This game however was a turning point for this 2008 Steeler team, because they reeled off 5 wins in a row to clinch the Division, and ended up winning the Super Bowl. I guess it always has to get dark before the dawn, and this game really proved that theory correct with regards to the 2008 Steelers. It was just a shame that they let this game get away.