By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Some of the names changed, but the story was painfully familiar for the Pittsburgh Steelers during a 40-23 loss to the Chicago Bears Sunday night at Heinz Field.
The Steelers offense continued to find ways to falter, even though Felix Jones started at running back and Heath Miller returned to the lineup at tight end. That didn’t help quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who fumbled away the club’s opening possession in the first quarter and threw a pick six in the second. He also lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger threw his second interception of the game 1:26 remaining in the game and Pittsburgh turned the ball over five times (3 fumbles, 2 interceptions) in the loss. Chicago scored 23 points off of turnovers.
The Steelers actually made a game of it, getting to within four at 27-23 with 10:38 remaining. However, Chicago converted three third-down plays during a nine-play, 74-yard touchdown drive in 4:50 to seal the win. On third-and-10 from his own 26, quarterback Jay Cutler was pressured by LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons. Neither could get him down, and Cutler ran for 13 yards.
On third-and-12, cornerback Ike Taylor was beaten by Brandon Marshall for 41 yards. Taylor had held the big-play Marshall to just 11 yards on four catches prior to that huge, field-changing play to the 22. It looked like the Steelers would hold the Bears to a field goal, but on third-and-five from the 17, Cutler lofted a pass for Earl Bennett with rookie Shamarko Thomas in tight coverage. But Bennett pulled it in, controlled it and got two feet in after a challenge by the Bears confirmed it.
Chicago closed out the scoring by sacking Roethlisberger, who fumbled. Lance Briggs got the sack, and Julius Peppers recovered the fumble. Peppers then rumbled 42 yards for a touchdown to make it 40-23. The point after was blocked.
The Steelers trailed 17-0 after one quarter and 24-3 midway through the second, as Shaun Suisham kicked a 27-yard field goal because Antonio Brown dropped a pass inside the 10 on third down. Brown had four catches for 105 yards and one spectacular 33-yard touchdown grab in double-coverage with 6:27 left before halftime to get the Steelers within 24-10 at the intermission.
Roethlisberger lofted the pass to the back of the end zone to Brown, to stayed inbounds to cap a six-play, 75-yard drive in 2:20. However, the drive never would have advanced had safety Anthony Walters not roughed Steelers punter Zoltan Mesko. Walters hammered Mesko and celebrated like he stuffed a running back on fourth-and-short, but the 15-yard penalty obviously was a huge boost.
Roethlisberger was nearly decapitated on the ensuing play, as right tackle Marcus Gilbert didn’t even touch his guy, and left tackle Mike Adams do-se-doed his pass-rusher. However, Roethlisberger stepped up, way up in the pocket, and drilled a pass to Emmanuel Sanders for a 22-yard gain to the 33. He hit Brown in the back of the end zone one play after an incomplete pass.
The Steelers won the opening coin toss and deferred possession until the second half, and that immediately looked like a mistake. The Bears appeared to be poised to drive 80 yards for a touchdown, but the Steelers finally stiffened after allowing four first downs. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler connected four times to wideout Alshon Jeffery, including a seven-yarder for a first down at the Steelers 30. But safety Troy Polamalu knifed into the backfield to stop the next play for a four-yard loss, and he also pressured Cutler into an incompletion on third-and-nine. Robbie Gould kicked a 47-yard field goal with 8:02 left in the first quarter to cap a 13-play, 51-yard drive in 6:58. But it was only 3-0.
So, it was a minor victory, but that didn’t last. Jones ran for 11 yards on first down from the 20, and Roethlisberger found Miller for six yards to the 37. But on the next play, Jones appeared to miss a handoff, and Roethlisberger was hit nine yards behind the line. He fumbled, and the Bears recovered. On third-and-nine, Cutler found running back Matt Forte open for an 11-yard gain to the 5. Forte ran it in from there to give Chicago a 10-0 lead.
The Bears made it 17-0 after a Steelers three-and-out with a five-play, 60-yard dive in 1:56. The big play was a 55-yard run off the right side by Forte, as safety Ryan Clark had a shot at him and whiffed after just a few yards. It took Michael Bush three shots from the 1, and he finally scored on fourth down.
The Steelers finally got on the scoreboard with a nine-play, 71-yard drive in 3:25. Roethlisberger connected with Brown for gains of 18 and 45 yards for a first down at the 15. After an eight-run run by Jones to the 7, a sideways pass to Sanders lost two. Brown dropped what could have been a first-down pass, and Suisham had to kick the field goal.
After a sack by Brett Keisel, just the second for the Steelers this season, Chicago was forced to punt. But Roethlisberger returned the favor on second down. He tried to force a pass to Jerricho Cotchery, and strong safety Major Wright picked it off. Wright never broke stride on his way to a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown to give Chicago a 24-3 lead.
The Steelers scored on the ensuing drive and trailed 24-10 at halftime.
Jones fumbled away the Steelers opening drive in the second half, but the defense held this time. Gould had to kick a 32-yard field goal for a 27-10 lead.
After that field goal, the Steelers appeared to be poised for a little comeback. However, they didn’t make enough plays, nor did they even try to get a touchdown when they got close. Roethlisberger hit tight end David Johnson down the seam, and that went for 32 yards. Roethlisberger rammed into the line for two yards on third-and-one, just the second third-down conversion on the day, and Dwyer ran for 11 to the 26.
Todd Haley closed his playbook after that. Dwyer ran for two on first down and then was stopped for a yard loss on second. On third-and-nine, Roethlisberger threw it to Miller four yards downfield. He ran for seven, but that was still two yards short. And Suisham was sent on to kick a 36-yarder to make it 27-13.
The Steelers got close with a spectacular three-play, 69-yard scoring drive in 1:30 with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough. Still, it was pretty amazing, as Roethlisberger found Miller open for a 22-yard gain. He then hit Jerricho Cotchery for 26 to the 21, and the final distance was covered on a pass to Brown.
Once again, Brown beat two-deep coverage, and Roethlisberger threw the ball to the back of the end zone. Brown reached out with his right hand and pulled in the pass. He steadied it with his left and got both feet down inbounds for the score. Through three quarters, Brown had five catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns, and he finished with six for 147.
The Steelers continued to stage a comeback as the third quarter came to an end. Roethlisberger connected with Johnson for 19 yards and Brown for 21. On second down from the 35, Roethlisberger was forced out of the pocket and fumbled. He recovered it and gained five yards. And on third-and-three, he hit Cotchery for four yards. But after three straight plays gained no yards, including two incomplete passes and a Dwyer run, Suisham kicked a 44-yard field goal to make it 27-23 with 10:38 remaining.