On a night when Ben Roethlisberger appeared for the first time in the preseason, Landry Jones also made his debut and ended any debate about his status as the Steelers’ backup quarterback.
After an oblique injury sidelined him the first two weeks, Jones led the Steelers to 12 points and a second-half lead before throwing a costly fourth-quarter interception in a 19-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Heinz Field.
Jones threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Xavier Grimble and directed two field-goal drives while playing the second and third quarters plus almost all of the fourth. He passed for 163 yards, completing 21 of 31 passes.
At one point, Jones was 15 of 19 for 94 yards.
“I thought he did a solid job in a lot of areas, particularly for a guy that’s getting his first action, not only his first preseason action but he missed a lot of practice time,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “It’s not Landry’s first rodeo. … I wasn’t surprised by that. We’ll continue to push forward, but a solid start.”
Jones rallied the Steelers from a 13-3 deficit, with Chris Boswell’s third field goal giving them a 15-13 lead late in the third quarter.
After the Colts went ahead, 19-15, Jones moved the Steelers 79 yards to the Colts 1. On a slant pass intended for rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, cornerback Chris Milton jumped the route and intercepted in the end zone.
The Steelers re-signed Jones to a two-year contract in March on the first day of free agency. But his oblique injury gave fourth-round draft pick Joshua Dobbs a chance to start against the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons, playing late into the third quarter each time.
Dobbs didn’t do much to show he was ready to unseat Jones, completing 18 of 34 attempts for 170 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions for a 40.1 rating.
Dobbs was 4 of 7 for 24 yards in mop-up duty against the Colts.
Jones ran the two-minute offense late in the half, moving the Steelers 63 yards in 14 plays. Boswell kicked a 41-yard field goal with six seconds remaining. He opened the second half by directing an eight-play, 63-yard drive that ended with Grimble’s touchdown catch.
“He looked good, I was happy for him,” said Grimble, who had three catches for 26 yards. “For him to get back out there and sling it, I was happy for him, and I was happy to catch a touchdown from him.”
On the Steelers’ next possession, Jones moved the offense 52 yards in 12 plays, with Boswell kicking a 37-yard field goal for a 15-13 lead.
A first-team offense still awaiting the return of running back Le’Veon Bell produced three points in the first quarter while Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown were on the field.
Roethlisberger and Brown each played two series.
Roethlisberger completed 6 of 9 passes for 73 yards but lost a fumble. Brown caught two passes for 28 yards.
“I liked some of the things we were able to do,” Tomlin said. “I thought we were able to move the ball fluidly when we were not preventing us from doing that.”
On the first drive, the Steelers showcased Knile Davis, who was signed in March to back up Bell. Davis gained 21 yards on two runs and added another 9 yards on a screen. The Steelers moved to the Colts’ 33 before Roethlisberger was stripped of the ball by outside linebacker John Simon as he cocked his arm to pass. Haasan Ridgeway recovered for the Colts.
The Steelers fared better on the second drive, as Boswell kicked a 36-yard field goal to cap an 11-play, 57-yard march.
“It was okay,” Roethlisberger said. “We got some work. We’d like to put up seven points on the board both times, but it was good. We got done what we wanted to accomplish.”
Roethlisberger got Brown involved, hitting the All-Pro receiver with passes that covered 13 and 15 yards. On the second completion, Brown reached behind to pull in the pass. Roethlisberger also had completions of 12 and 15 to slot receiver Eli Rogers.
The drive stalled at the Colts’ 18 when Davis ran for no gain on first down, and two passes to tight end
Jesse James were broken up by safety Matthias Farley.
One week after the Atlanta Falcons scored 13 points and gained 244 yards, including 197 passing, on three drives against the first-team defense, the Steelers again yielded 13 points in the first half.
The defense permitted 175 first-half passing yards to Scott Tolzien and Stephen Morris. That included 63 yards on a four-play opening drive that produced a 7-0 lead for the Colts.
A 55-yard pass play resulted when Artie Burns’ tackle attempt was interrupted by safety Robert Golden, whose hit freed receiver Donte Moncrief for a gain to the Steelers 7. A pass interference call against cornerback Ross Cockrell on third-and-3 set up Frank Gore’s 1-yard touchdown run. On the penalty, Cockrell grabbed Moncrief’s shirt, although it appeared the pass was uncatchable.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.