PITTSBURGH — While many were already busy writing the postmortem for Ben Roethlisberger‘s career, the 38-year-old quarterback penned an improbable chapter in his comeback with the help of his resurgent defense in a 28-24 comeback win to defeat the Indianapolis Colts.
Roethlisberger helped the Steelers climb out of a 17-point hole with touchdown throws on three consecutive drives as the offense scored 21 unanswered points in 11 minutes. The deluge began with a 39-yard touchdown from Roethlisberger to Diontae Johnson with 3:06 to go in the third quarter.
With the win, Roethlisberger is 3-24 in his career when trailing by 17-plus points, and the 17-point comeback is the largest comeback of his career, matching 2017 Week 13 at the Bengals and 2015 Week 15 against the Broncos.
Sunday marked the first time the club won when trailing by at least 17 points in the second half with Mike Tomlin as head coach. It was the first time since 2002 — and just the fifth time in franchise history — the Steelers came back from a 17-point second-half deficit to win.
The Steelers clinched their first AFC North title since 2017, but more importantly, they halted a three-game skid and avoided becoming the first team in league history to lose four consecutive regular-season games after an 11-0 start.
While the second-half Steelers looked like the team that had paced the NFL with a historic start, the first-half performance more closely resembled that of the group that fell behind 17-0 to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night.
Roethlisberger rebounded to finish 34-of-49 for 342 yards and three touchdowns, but he started out 11-of-20 for 98 yards in the first half. The Steelers’ first half looked suspiciously like their first-half debacle in Cincinnati, as they dug themselves in a 21-7 hole by halftime.
After preaching about the urgency to start fast all week, the Steelers went three-and-out on their first drive thanks to three incompletions from Roethlisberger. Meanwhile, Philip Rivers and rookie running back Jonathan Taylor marched down the field on their first drive and Taylor punched it in from 6 yards out to score the first opening-drive touchdown against the Steelers all season.
The Steelers answered with a James Conner touchdown courtesy of a forced fumble by TJ Watt and a return to the 3-yard line by Mike Hilton, but the offense went dormant for the rest of the half after that. The Colts, meanwhile, added two more scores on another Taylor touchdown and a deep bomb from Rivers to Zach Pascal for 42 yards just before halftime. The Colts then didn’t let up immediately after halftime, scoring a 28-yard field goal on their first drive of the third quarter.
The Steelers’ defense helped the team regain momentum by forcing the Colts to punt three straight times after the field goal followed by a Hilton interception.
The Steelers sacked Rivers five times.
Meanwhile, Roethlisberger threw a touchdown on three consecutive drives in the second half for the first time since Week 10 in 2018 against the Panthers. He also didn’t have an interception — something that had frequently doomed the Steelers during their three-game losing streak.
The Steelers didn’t fix all their problems, but they fixed enough to pull ahead by four points in the fourth quarter with Roethlisberger’s strike to JuJu Smith-Schuster in the end zone. It could be enough to put the Steelers back on the right track just before the playoffs.