Steelers’ Damontae Kazee ejected for hit on Colts’ Michael Pittman Jr.; Minkah Fitzpatrick hurt

INDIANAPOLIS — In the span of two second-quarter plays, the outlook for the Pittsburgh Steelers defense went from bad to worse in Saturday afternoon’s 30-13 loss.

“It’s very deflating because so much of the line of communication runs through those guys, and now you’re putting guys in different positions and trying to makeshift or what we have available to us,” Peterson said. “And sometimes that happens. You never expect two guys in the same position to go down. We just have to find a way to rally around one another and try to get out of this game.”

Fitzpatrick was able to walk off the field under his own power and tested his left knee and ankle on the sideline after a brief evaluation. He ultimately went back to the locker room before halftime and was ruled out in the third quarter.

Coach Mike Tomlin didn’t have any updates on Fitzpatrick’s status after the game.

On the play that prompted his ejection, Kazee came flying in and collided with Pittman hard despite adjusting his body to lead with his shoulder instead of his helmet. Officials immediately threw flags from all directions, and Kazee was penalized for unnecessary roughness and ejected.

After the game, Tomlin said he believes the decision to eject Kazee “came from New York.”

After being tended to by medical staff on the field, Pittman was evaluated and later ruled out with a concussion.

“Was tough, obviously, to see that with Pitt,” Colts coach Shane Steichen said. “But to see him get up and walk off that field, I mean the guy is tough as nails and it’s over and over and over again, what he does, the toughness he shows, just the credibility he brings to this football team year in and year out.”

With Kazee and Fitzpatrick out, the Steelers turned to former practice squad player Trenton Thompson and shifted Peterson to free safety. With safety Keanu Neal already on injured reserve, the only other available safety was special teams ace Miles Killebrew. Thompson also left for a couple of snaps with a stinger.

“When you’re in the thick of the game, you don’t have time to really think about all that stuff,” T.J. Watt said, downplaying the turnstile of defensive players. “It’s hard to sit there and be like, oh who’s in the game? You just have to keep going.”

And not only is the secondary depth thin, but the Steelers came into Saturday’s game with a void in the middle of their defense because of earlier season-ending injuries to inside linebackers Kwon Alexander and Cole Holcomb. While Elandon Roberts has stepped up into being a three-down backer, replacement inside linebacker Mykal Walker has been inconsistent and gave up a touchdown when he was beaten by running back Zack Moss out of the backfield.

Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward, who didn’t miss a snap, was also evaluated postgame and placed in the concussion protocol.

“The injury bug is real,” Peterson said. “You got a pretty good battle right now. It’s truly next man up man. We just have to find the right lineup. We have to find the right matchups from guys who play well together, and that’s Coach Tomlin and [defensive coordinator Teryl Austin] and all the guys on the defensive side of the ball, on the defensive coaching staff. That’s their job.

“I’m sure we’ll have guys in better position next week. Got to see how guys come back off injuries and things like that. So got our hands full.”

And though the Colts were without their top two running backs, starting quarterback and top wide receiver, they moved the ball at-will against a short-handed Pittsburgh defense, outgaining the Steelers 372-216. Because of that defensive attrition, Tomlin said, in the fourth quarter, the Colts ran the ball on 13 consecutive plays, eating up nearly nine minutes off the clock in a drive that resulted in a field goal and an insurmountable lead.

“They just continued to smash the run, and we weren’t able to stop it, and they were able to continue to dictate what they wanted to do,” Watt said. “And when you’re not able to stop something, they’re going to continue to do it.”


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