INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Quarterback Matt Ryan had the Colts in position to rally.
He'd brought them back from a 16-3 deficit against Pittsburgh and was driving late in the fourth quarter for a chance to force overtime or even win the game with a 2-point conversion. Then, suddenly and strangely, Indianapolis ran out of time and downs in what proved to be an inexplicable 24-17 loss to the Steelers.
By all appearances, Indy (4-7-1) appeared to be in no rush as the minutes and seconds ticked off the clock. The Colts didn't take their first timeout until they faced a fourth down with 30 seconds left.
Afterward, interim coach Jeff Saturday explained his reasoning.
“I didn’t really feel like time was of the essence and I thought we had a good play called,” Saturday said. “Felt like we had time and would have timeouts afterward but never felt the pressure of needing the timeout. We were in that mode the whole second half, so it wasn’t like a change for us."
Ryan didn't seem fazed by the late-game decision-making, either.
Instead, the 37-year-old veteran — who has 46 career fourth-quarter comebacks and was 26 yards away from potentially tying Pittsburgh native Dan Marino for fifth most in NFL history — credited Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh defense for taking away Indy's pass routes.
There were other reasons the Colts lost, such as the botched handoff after they had driven to the Steelers 1-yard line. Not to mention Indy's terrible start that included zero total yards in the first quarter.
Still, the final sequence raised many questions. Would a timeout have given Parks Frazier a better opportunity to call his favorite plays?
Frazier took over as Indy's play-caller three weeks ago when coach Frank Reich was fired and Saturday was hired despite having never coached at the college or pro level.
Some wondered whether that inexperience was a factor in Indy's third straight home loss. The Colts have lost three of four and their playoff chances are slim at best.
“We already had the play called,” Saturday said, referring to Ryan's scramble that took 29 seconds off the clock between snaps. “As he got tackled, we knew where we were going. We had made that same play a couple times in the game and it worked, but it didn’t work out there.”
Indy certainly could have managed the clock better.
With 2 minutes left and three timeouts, Ryan completed a 4-yard pass on fourth-and-3, but the Colts elected to let the clock run.
On the next play, Ryan was sacked and again the clock kept ticking. Ryan then scrambled for 14 yards on second down. Again, no timeout. Indy finally stopped the clock after Jonathan Taylor's third-down run went for no gain.
By then, it was too late.
Ryan's fourth-down pass to Parris Campbell was incomplete and all Pittsburgh had to do was take a knee to close out Indy's first Monday night home game in nearly 7 1/2 years.
“I thought we had plenty of time,” Saturday said. “We had plenty of timeouts, so I wasn’t too concerned. This wasn’t a press for time, we just didn’t make enough plays.”