What it means: The Colts are capable of competing with a good team even without Peyton Manning. But they also have little room for error. They got a giant error from left tackle Anthony Castonzo and quarterback Curtis Painter in the fourth quarter, as James Harrison stripped the quarterback and Troy Polamalu picked the ball up on a bounce and scored. And while Indianapolis pulled even, the Colts couldn't keep the Steelers from marching to a game-winning field goal at the end that dropped them to 0-3.
Things I liked: The Colts ran the ball far better than many of us thought they could (for 97 yards) and stopped the run far better than they usually do (allowing 67 yards). It makes one wonder why they didn’t fare better in both departments in their first two games. Also makes one wonder about their commitment to both moving forward.
Big question lingering for me: Why did the Colts use Dallas Clark to help block Harrison so much early on? Clark is a pass-catcher first and foremost. Brody Eldridge is a far better blocking tight end. Yet the Colts put Clark in position to block the fierce Pittsburgh outside linebacker multiple times.
Stars: It’s easy to say the Colts need to rely on Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in the absence of Manning. But a lot of other game elements have to go right for those two to dictate things. They did against the Steelers, with incredible rushing efforts and a strip sack each. Freeney also had a sack that took Pittsburgh out of field goal range.
Blame and credit: Painter was forced into action when Kerry Collins left the game with a concussion. Painter missed a wide open Pierre Garcon on a stop-and-go that beat Ike Taylor and would have been a long touchdown. And Painter didn’t sense Polamalu bearing down to strip the ball deep in the Colts’ own end. But he did orchestrate an excellent drive that produced the touchdown that pulled things to 20-20 with 5:13 remaining in the game.
Mea culpa, kinda: I wrote this week about how America was about to learn just how bad the Colts were with the first of their five prime-time appearances. They are not good. But they played a pretty good, and very entertaining, game.
What’s next: More quarterback uncertainty as Collins recovers from a concussion and the Colts sort through Painter’s performance. If Collins is out for the Oct. 3 "Monday Night Football" Game in Tampa, who’s the team’s second quarterback?