Kevin Gorman: Steelers' comeback shows their character
The Steelers had seen how this storyline played out before, allowing a team with a losing record to beat them in overtime.
Just like their Week 3 game at Chicago, the Steelers had a pair of special-teams breakdowns, with a blocked kick saved from a scoring play by a tight end's tackle.
This time, the Steelers showed championship-caliber character, rallying from a two-touchdown, second-half deficit to beat the Indianapolis Colts, 20-17, on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It was anything but pretty, but the Steelers aren't 7-2 because of style points. They win because they refuse to lose.
"That's the type of team we want to be known as: a team that gives a great deal of effort, a team that never gives up," Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams said. "I never felt like we were out of this game because we're the type of team that has composure. We can come back from any type of adversity.
"We're not afraid of that."
If the Steelers were afraid of anything, it was going into overtime again. That's where they lost to the Bears, 23-17, on Sept. 24. They had no intention of repeating that performance, or extending their road record against teams with a losing record — like the Colts (3-7) — to 7-14 since 2012.
So, despite allowing Jacoby Brissett to pass for 209 yards and two touchdowns through three quarters, the Steelers turned up the pressure on the Colts quarterback for three fourth-quarter sacks and a momentum-shifting Ryan Shazier interception that set up the turning-point touchdown.
Despite Ben Roethlisberger throwing an interception on a deep ball intended for Martavis Bryant, Big Ben kept looking to him for big plays. They connected on the game-tying two-point conversion, and later a critical third-and-4 in the final minute for a 19-yard gain to midfield.
Despite Antonio Brown dropping a deep pass early in the second quarter, Roethlisberger eluded two pass rushers and found his favorite target surrounded by four defenders for a 32-yard gain to the Indianapolis 18.
And despite Chris Boswell having an extra-point blocked and a 37-yard field goal bounce off the right upright, the Steelers trusted their kicker to convert a 33-yarder as time expired.
"There's a lot of negativity to talk about, but we'll talk about that negativity with a win, and that's my preference," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Good lessons learned. Guys delivered in critical moments, and that's exciting."
What's exciting can also be excruciating to watch with these Steelers. They lost cornerback Joe Haden to a fractured fibula, then allowed touchdown passes of 60 yards to Donte Moncrief and 61 yards to Chester Rogers.
Roethlisberger went from a 33.2 passer rating (7 of 15 for 72 yards, with an interception) in the first half to engineering his 40th career comeback from a fourth-quarter deficit.
"It was an ugly game," Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell said. "We know all the wins ain't going to be pretty or the way you want it, but we've got to stay resilient and keep pushing. Our team kept fighting, and we got the W."
If anything, the Steelers learned from losing to the Bears. Where they reveled in Vance McDonald chasing down Marcus Cooper after a blocked kick, they didn't take advantage of it.
This time, a tight end's tackle was a pivotal play that prevented two points in a game in which the Steelers never led until time expired.
When Matthias Farley recovered the blocked kick, the Colts safety raced down the sideline looking to score. Jordan Berry, the Steelers' holder, cut him off and forced a change of direction and tight end Jesse James tackled Farley at the Steelers' 2.
It didn't just change the momentum. It sucked the life out of the Colts, who never crossed midfield again and had only two first downs in the final 22 minutes, 47 seconds.
Roethlisberger said it spoke to the "selflessness" of their tight ends, a trait these Steelers should adopt.
"That was just awesome, in my opinion," Roethlisberger said, "and everyone else on the team recognized what that play meant."
Perhaps nobody more than McDonald, who endured a 2-14 season in San Francisco last year and reminds his teammates to appreciate every win.
"That's something I'm trying to relay throughout the week this year to guys who've only been in Pittsburgh and had success and made the playoffs every year," McDonald said. "I'm like, 'Dude, it's really hard to win.' I'm telling young guys to embrace it. You can't take a game for granted."
Or a win, no matter how it looked. The Steelers somehow keep stacking them without playing at their peak.
"We haven't played a perfect game yet," Bell said. "When you have ugly wins like this — yeah, you might be disappointed in the performance, but we did enough to win the game. We've been doing that the last four times we've played. As long as we do enough to win, we should be fine."
As long as the Steelers continue to learn from their losses, they should keep winning. Even if it's ugly.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.