Da Bears Hold the Steelers at Bay—Again
photo via Steelers.com
Well, I said that we shouldn’t let history be our guide in determining whether the Steelers were likely to lose to the Bears. The same Bears who are 12-1 against the Steelers in Chicago since 1934. But I guess we might well have, since the outcome was the same this time.
What a game! I’ve never seen so many weird goings-on in a single game in my entire Steelers-watching career. There were turnovers galore, player stupidity, a regular rota of trainers on the field and players heading down the tunnel, and plenty of flags to add to the festive mood. But the game itself may have been overshadowed by the events (or lack thereof) during the National Anthem.If you have no access to social media and didn’t see any games today, you might not be aware that a wave of protests is sweeping the NFL after President Trump’s tweets this weekend. Let’s just say they weren’t well-received by both the NFL front office and the players.
Teams have chosen different ways to protest. The London game featured players locking arms and kneeling during the anthem, only to stand for “God Save the Queen.” On some teams, some players knelt and some stood. Mike Tomlin announced before the game that the Steelers would stay in the locker room during the anthem, because they couldn’t decide as a whole what to do and he didn’t want anything divisive to distract them. The sole member of the Steelers organization on the field was Mike Tomlin. But Alejandro Villanueva chose to stand at the head of the tunnel during the anthem. The Steelers were jeered as they ran onto the field.
I have plenty to say about all of this, but I’m not going there. I only related this because it was part of the weirdness that was Steelers/Bears this afternoon. So let’s just get going with the Acceptable, the Objectionable, and the Appalling:
Topping this list is Vance McDonald and Jordan Berry, who combined for one of the biggest plays of the game on special teams. This play was preceded by one of the biggest plays in the game, in a bad way. Chris Boswell’s field goal attempt, which should have been an easy kick, was blocked, and the blocker grabbed it and ran for the opposite end zone. He was waayyy in front, and should have scored easily, but he decided to relish the moment, apparently, and slowed up about five yards before the goal line. This gave sufficient time for McDonald to race up and knock the ball out. Jordan Berry came rushing in behind and knocked the ball away from a CHI player who was trying to grab it in the end zone. He got a penalty for batting the ball out of the end zone, but prevented a touchdown. Or a safety. Or whatever.
This is where it gets weird. John Fox wanted it called a safety (although since a Chicago player didn’t actually have it in the end zone, I’m not sure what his point was.) The initial ruling was that the Steelers would get a 5-yard penalty in the second half for batting the ball out of bounds, the runner fumbled short of the end zone, and the half was over. Tomlin sent the players into the locker room right away, presumably with the idea of cementing the call, but Fox made enough fuss that the officials agreed to review the play, and decided to give the Bears another down with the ball at the 1 yard line.
At this point Darrius Heyward-Bey re-emerged from the tunnel, all by himself. The Bears, who had never left the field, were lined up, and in theory the officials could have started the clock and the Bears could have run a play against a single defensive player, and a wide receiver at that.
Fortunately the officials weren’t that tone-deaf, and waited for the Steelers to get back on the field. A false start call on the offense moved the ball back to the 6 and the Bears kicked a field goal.
This was huge, both ways. The Bears could have been ahead by 17 points at halftime if the young man hadn’t decided to show off. Or the Steelers could have been behind by only a touchdown had the officials not reconsidered. Crazy times.
You never know how the second half would have played out in either scenario, but if it unfolded in a similar matter, either the Bears or the Steelers might have won it in regulation, because the Steelers defense held the Bears without a point in the second half, more due to some timely turnovers than to completely shutting them down.
On to the next Acceptable winner—Antonio Brown. His second reception in the game was his 650th in his career, which makes him the fastest to that mark in NFL history. He also had his 51st touchdown, bringing him to No. 3 all-time in Steelers history, tied with Lynn Swann.
I have to give a shout-out to my man Terrell Watson, who entered the game on a 3rd and 1 and got three yards. That’s what a running back like Watson is for. I get that Le’Veon Bell needs to get back into game condition, but I would like to see James Conner (who didn’t have a single touch today) and Watson get some more chances. What does a guy have to do to get into the game? Conner got nine yards on his lone carry last week. But what do I know?
Although Le’Veon Bell certainly isn’t back to his old self, there were glimmers of hope today. Although he only ran for 61 yards, the yards/attempt was up over 4 yards per carry, and he had a touchdown. He also caught (almost) everything thrown to him, garnering 37 yards on six receptions.
Ben didn’t throw a pick, in a road game against a good defense. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, though. And he did lose a fumble, although he was blind-sided by the hit which caused it. So while this is definitely modified rapture, (as is most of today’s Acceptable category,) it’s definitely a step in the right direction. (Last season he had an average of 1 pick and almost 1 fumble per road game…) And Ben looked almost spry on the run to get the first down.
On the other hand, J.J. Wilcox got his first Steelers interception, at a very timely moment, and Ryan Shazier forced two fumbles, one of which he recovered.
Penalties were way down, to 40 yards on six penalties. (One of those was a somewhat questionable Roughing the Passer on Cam Heyward, at least it seemed to me.) For the first time this season, the Steelers had fewer penalty yards than rushing yards…
Juju Smith-Schuster took a while to get going but had a pair of big catches. You go, Juju!
More injuries. There were loads of them today, on both teams. Chris Hubbard started at right tackle for Marcus Gilbert, and then Ramon Foster was hurt and replaced by B.J. Finney. Jesse James had to leave, but managed to come back later in the game. Sean Davis left with an ankle injury. If anything, the Bears lost more guys than the Steelers. I hate injuries…
I’m not sure how to say this, but why can’t the offense seem to get everyone going at once? I’m thinking it isn’t likely to begin next week, playing a pissed-off and humiliated Ravens team at their house.
Part of the problem with this is leaving the defense on the field. On a hot day where they were being constantly battered by a bruising running back, in alternation with having to chase down a tiny shifty one, they could have used some more rest. I’m guessing that’s what happened in overtime—they were just used up. It sure would have been nice had Ben called heads. But even had the Steelers had the ball first, one doesn’t feel confident at this point that they would have punched it into the end zone.
I hate to say it, but Eli Rogers muffing a punt, giving the ball to Chicago on the PIT 29 yard line, leading to the first touchdown of the game, was not a good thing. At all. I was interested (and glad) to see that AB wasn’t sent in for subsequent punts, and Rogers did subsequently get some decent yardage. But that was a killer.
I guess I just don’t like the Appalling category. I could mention some sloppy playing on both sides of the ball, or a myriad of specifics, but I’m worn out. And really, truly appalling things should probably be reserved for truly bad losses. Wondering what a truly bad loss is? Check out my post later this week, in which I give the definitive explanation (this is a much more detailed and scientific update to the addenda in last Friday’s post) and discuss whether Mike Tomlin really is bad against bad teams.
So is this another example of his putative disregard for bottom-feeding teams? Is it appalling that the 2-0 Steelers went into Soldier Field and were beaten in overtime by an 0-2 Bears team? Happily, I don’t think so.
Obviously a win would have been preferable, but this didn’t have the feeling of a “trap game” or bad loss. Chicago isn’t, so far as I can tell at this juncture, a bad team, they just hadn’t won yet. I may have to re-evaluate at the end of the season. But a close loss, in overtime, on the road, is seldom an embarrassment. Unlike, say, a 44-7 loss when the losing team has the No. 1 defense in the NFL, the opposing quarterback is not particularly well-regarded, and both teams are on the road.
So on to Ravens week, a week that is scaring the crap out of me. I hope the results prove me wrong…