INDIANAPOLIS - A Colts team that has been clinging desperately to playoff hopes now has to face the fact that those hopes are on life support.
Indianapolis needs a miracle after a 24-17 loss to the lowly Pittsburgh Steelers on "Monday Night Football" that drops the Colts to 4-7-1 with four games against playoff contenders left on the schedule.
And the formula for the loss looked awfully familiar.
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Horrible start dooms Colts again
The Indianapolis offense has been terrible in the first half for most of the season.
And although the Colts defense has fared better, like they have overall, it hasn't been immune to the team's ugly starts, most notably on the road against Jacksonville and in its home matchup against the Tennessee Titans.
Both sides of the ball fell into the trap against a Pittsburgh team that has struggled throughout the season.
The Indianapolis offense had 0 yards in the first quarter, turned it over once and gained just 71 yards.
On the other side of the ball, the Colts gave up 232 yards of total offense and 16 points in the first half, and the only thing that kept it from being worse was Pittsburgh's tendency to kick field goals in the red zone.
Indianapolis found life in the third quarter but when they came up short on a potential game-tying drive - plagued again by a blind-side sack given up by rookie Bernhard Raimann - the failure of the first half was felt acutely.
Turnover issues rear ugly head again
Two Colts have coughed up the ball more than anybody expected them to this season.
Quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Jonathan Taylor.
Indianapolis turned it over twice against the Steelers on Monday night, and both players were responsible. Ryan turned it over first, trying to slip a short throw into Michael Pittman Jr. that Pittsburgh defensive back James Pierre picked off, although a sack by Yannick Ngakoue prevented the turnover from costing the Colts any points.
Ryan was credited with the second fumble but it looked like Taylor bore the responsibility, and this time the giveaway cost Indianapolis dearly. The Colts were knocking on the door of the go-ahead touchdown, and Taylor's inability to secure the ball on a handoff gave it away when hulking Pittsburgh defensive lineman Chris Wormley ripped the ball out of Ryan's hands in the scramble for the recovery, leaving the door open for Pittsburgh to find a rhythm in the fourth quarter.
Rookie tight end bounces back, injects life into offense
Jelani Woods has been through hell the past couple of weeks.
Out of action for two weeks since injuring his shoulder against the Patriots, Woods was also hit hard by the shooting that killed three football players at the University of Virginia, where Woods played football last season.
Making matters worse, Woods dropped a short throw early in Monday night's return to the lineup.
The big rookie came roaring back at a time when the Indianapolis passing offense desperately needed it.
Unable to get anything going in the first half, Ryan turned to the rookie repeatedly in the second half, attacking a Pittsburgh defense that has struggled against tight ends all season.
Woods responded, making eight grabs for 98 yards, including a 28-yard catch-and-run up the seam to set up Ryan's go-ahead touchdown throw to Michael Pittman Jr. For the Colts, who have been looking for a big-play tight end for a long time, Woods has been inconsistent as a rookie but offered flashes of being the kind of difference-maker they haven't had at the position since Eric Ebron's career year in 2018.
Undrafted rookie provides spark
Isaiah Rodgers provided one of the only positives in an ugly first half, returning three kickoffs for an average of 35.7 yards.
Rodgers looked like he was one block away from taking it to the end zone on every one of the plays.
Undrafted free agent Dallis Flowers opened the second half by finally hitting the crease.
Flowers took the kickoff 8 yards deep in the end zone, attacked the middle of the field, found a lane to the right and broke into the open, racing down the right sideline.
And even if he didn't quite get it all the way to the end zone, Flowers did the job, ripping off an 89-yard return that gave the Colts a life they hadn't shown in the first half.
Indianapolis punched in a touchdown on a 2-yard Taylor run two plays later, and the score gave the offense the life it needed to start finding Woods and creating down the field.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Pittsburgh Steelers drop Indianapolis Colts on 'Monday Night Football'