INDIANAPOLIS — The end of Monday night's game at Lucas Oil Stadium has a lot of Colts fans scratching their heads.
After a sluggish start to the game (they gained a total of zero yards on offense in the first quarter), the Colts had clawed back to take a 17-16 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third quarter. Even after the Steelers regained the lead early in the fourth quarter and the teams exchanged punts, the Colts still seemed poised to make a run at tying the game.
Instead, the offense fizzled at the edge of the red zone with two timeouts in their pocket and a 24-17 defeat.
The Colts' final drive started about as far back on their side of the field as they could go - starting at their own 7-yard line with 3:52 to play, but they wasted no time mounting a threat.
Matt Ryan connected with Michael Pittman for a 28-yard gain to the Indianapolis 35, followed by a 4-yard Jonathan Taylor run and a 17-yard pass to tight end Jelani Woods. Taylor ran for four yards on first down with 2:50 to play, followed by an incompletion to Alec Pierce, which stopped the clock with 2:21 to play. Ryan threw three yards to Pittman on third down and the clock wound down to the two-minute warning with Indianapolis facing a fourth-and-3 at the Pittsburgh 37.
2:00 left, 4th & 3 at PIT 37
Pittman catches a tipped pass and is tackled just past the first down marker at the Steelers' 33-yard line, keeping the drive alive. He's tackled with 1:55 on the clock and the Colts continue their no-huddle offense, but 20 more seconds tick away.
1:35 left, 1st & 10 at PIT 33
Ryan is sacked by Alex Highsmith at the Steelers' 40 and fumbles the ball. Will Fries recovers it for the Colts with 1:28 remaining. Despite still holding onto three timeouts, Indianapolis lets the clock run for 30 more seconds before the snap on second down.
:59 left, 2nd & 17 at PIT 40
Ryan drops back to pass, retreating to the 50-yard line before tucking the ball and running up the middle of the field. He dives forward at the 26 and skids across the first-down line before he's touched, but is marked down short of a first down where he started his dive.
"Thought I was maybe a little bit closer than where they spotted it, but that's neither here nor there. That's just how it goes with the new rules when you go forward," Ryan said after the game.
On the ground with 51 seconds left, the Colts quickly line up to run a play on third-and-3, with both Ryan and head coach Jeff Saturday saying after the game they weren't sure if Ryan had picked up the first down.
"When he was going down, I couldn't tell where they were going to start him from going down, like if he was going to get the first down, and then we got there. I expected us to get on the ball and have another play a little bit quicker than that," Saturday said, remarking that he didn't feel pressed for time.
:34 left, 3rd & 3 at PIT 26
Seventeen seconds after Ryan dove toward a first down, he hands off to Taylor, who is stopped for no gain. The Colts finally call their first timeout with 30 seconds remaining.
:30 left, 4th & 3 at PIT 26
The clock management becomes somewhat of a moot point, as Ryan throws to the left sideline for Parris Campbell, who had the ball go through his hands as Cameron Sutton appeared to make contact and Minkah Fitzpatrick levied a big hit, securing the victory.
Fans and analysts reacted to the situation with confusion on social media: