As I watched the Steelers take on the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sunday, I wasn't sure if it was a Week-10 battle, or if I was in a poorly-constructed episode of the old NBC series, Quantum Leap, and transported about seven weeks back in time to Week 3 in Chicago, when Pittsburgh dropped an overtime stinker to the Bears at Solider Field.
It was hard not to notice the similarities:
The Steelers were on the road, against an inferior team that came into the day as a 10-point home underdog.
Pittsburgh struggled mightily on offense, was prone to giving up the big play on defense, and the special teams—namely Chris Boswell and the kicking game—left a lot to be desired.
And just like seven weeks earlier, the Steelers found themselves down by two scores in the second half, before crawling back into things, in part thanks to a clutch fourth quarter takeaway that led to the game-tying score.
Heck, even the score was the same—17-17—as the game came down to the final moments of regulation.
But, unlike the Bears matchup, Sunday's game vs. the Colts wouldn't go to overtime, as Pittsburgh found a way to escape with a 20-17 victory on a Chris Boswell 33-yard field goal as time expired.
Just minutes earlier, a Boswell 37-yard attempt clanged off of the right upright.
With more than six minutes remaining, you (or at least I) just had the feeling backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett would find a way to lead his offense on a field-goal drive of its own that would surely culminate in a game-winner from Adam Vinatieri, who almost never misses field goals that clang off of either upright.
Victory or not, the Steelers still managed to lay their third egg of the season on Sunday.
There were the ongoing struggles of an offense that recorded a mere 52 yards plus an interception on its first four drives of the first half, before reeling off 39 yards to salvage a field goal right before intermission.
Then there was the defense that was gouged for not one, but two long touchdown passes—60 and 61-yards away, respectively (at least it wasn't the ground game this time)—that helped the underdog Colts jump out to a 17-3 lead early in the third quarter.
Throw in the special teams—namely, the kicking unit—that, just like in Chicago, allowed a Boswell kick to be blocked and returned deep into Pittsburgh territory.
While the blow-by-blow of Sunday's affair was eerily similar to that very forgettable late-September afternoon at Soldier Field—again—the Steelers prevailed this time around (maybe it wasn't such a poorly-constructed episode of Quantum Leap, after all).
What was different?
For starters, the aforementioned block was on an extra point, and even though the football was scooped up and returned a long, long way, the defender was tackled and, unlike the Bears, the Colts didn't get any cheap points out of the deal.
The defense that yielded those two huge passing plays during the first two-plus periods, totally shut down Brissett and the rest of the Colts’ offense after the second huge touchdown pass of the afternoon—a 61-yarder to Chester Rogers early in the third quarter. They limited Indianapolis to four punts and an interception on its last five possessions of the game.
As for the offense, after narrowing the Colts’ lead to 17-9 on a 7-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to rookie sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster, it soon got another golden opportunity, following a very clutch interception by linebacker Ryan Shazier that set things up nicely at the Indianapolis 10-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
If you remember back to the fourth quarter of the Chicago game, safety J.J. Wilcox set things up rather exceptionally by intercepting a pass at the 21-yard line. Unfortunately, the Steelers sputtering offense could only manage a field goal and a 17-17 tie, instead of a touchdown and a 21-17 lead.
But on Sunday, Pittsburgh got every last ounce out of Shazier's interception, by not only scoring six points when Roethlisberger found tight end Vance McDonald for a 7-yard score, but making it eight, when No. 7 found formerly disgruntled receiver, Martavis Bryant, on the 2-point try, thus totally eradicating Boswell's blocked PAT following the Smith-Schuster score.
Finally, unlike in Week 3 when the defense appeared to tire under the hot Chicago sun, Keith Butler's unit refused to wilt under the bright dome lights of Lucas Oil Stadium and got the football back one last time for an offense that managed to maneuver close enough to give Boswell a second chance to be the hero.
Sunday's first post-bye performance wasn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination.
But the bottom line of any football game is winning, and that egg would smell a lot worse today, if the Steelers had left Indianapolis at 6-3, instead of 7-2.