The Indianapolis Colts were cruising down the turnpike toward plum playoff positioning. Then Frank Reich's club got hit with a blue shell and spun into a ditch as the Pittsburgh Steelers zoomed bye, gleefully waving as they clinched their AFC North title.
"Difficult loss -- tough loss on the road," Reich said following the 28-24 defeat, via the team's official website. "Tough to swallow. When you come out in the first half and you play the way we did, good in all three phases except for the turnover -- played a dominant half of football in the first half, and went out to a nice lead ... and then in the second half we just didn't have any answers."
The Colts led 21-7 at halftime, with the Steelers' only score coming after Indy gifted them the ball at the 3-yard-line following a Philip Rivers fumble.
Indy extended their margin to 24-7 with a field goal out of halftime.
"If you could've been in the stadium, there was a feel of complete domination in the first half -- all three phases," Rivers said. "Just like, 'Y'all don't have an answer, and we're not going to give you an answer.'"
Then Indy hit a brick wall on offense and began giving up chunk plays on defense. Like a U-turn going 60 mph, the contest flipped in a hurry.
The offense punted three straight times, including two 3-and-outs, and the Steelers divebombed Indy with three straight touchdowns to wipe out the deficit. A Rivers INT and a turnover on downs sealed the Colts' fate.
Indy's inability to gain traction on offense and the defense struggling to slow a previously anemic Pittsburgh offense were compounded by a bevy of penalties that went against the Colts.
"We got in a rut on offense in the second half, to say the least," Reich said. "Defensively, in the second half, just too many big plays. (Didn't) make them go the long route; they got big plays, and obviously big penalties. Their big plays just weren't all completions, but a couple penalties in there."
The collapse now has the Colts needing help to make the postseason tournament.
Even at 10-5, Indy currently sits out of the AFC playoff picture behind fellow 10-win clubs Tennessee, Miami, Baltimore and Cleveland. Reich's squad must now beat 1-win Jacksonville and hope someone ahead of them loses, or the Colts will be sitting at home with 11 wins watching the playoffs.