CHICAGO – This is the way it's done. If the goal is to go on the road and lose a game to a struggling team, to a team fighting to avoid irrelevance before the NFL calendar flips over into October, the Steelers provided the blueprint on Sunday at Soldier Field.
And it's really quite simple, and rather foolproof if followed to the letter. Make some mistakes early to give the opponent reason to believe it can be their day. Then later on, after things seemingly have settled down and you've begun to assert your superiority, squander some opportunities to pull away. Then get hit for a big play at the end to decide the outcome, preferably in a dramatic way that doesn't allow for a final chance at redemption.
Put it all together, and what you can end up with is something very much like the Steelers' 23-17 overtime loss to the Bears.
The Steelers came into the game at 2-0 and the Bears limped into the game at 0-2, but the home team's limping was about more than just their record. Injuries had the Bears starting a third-team inside linebacker against the Steelers, and injuries had so ravaged their corps of wide receivers that they actually were excited about the return of Markus Wheaton to the lineup. A quarterback controversy pitting the big-money veteran free agent signing vs. the No. 2 overall pick in the draft seemed inevitable, and their coach was on the short list every time a prognosticator was asked to predict the first to be fired this season.
And then the game began.
The Bears won the coin toss and made a decision that should have blown up in their faces and started them down the path of here-we-go-again. The Bears chose to defer after winning the coin toss, which meant the Steelers got the ball first. After the kickoff went for a touchback, the Steelers went on the attack, but fired the first salvo directly into their foot.
First play from scrimmage: Ben Roethlisberger arches a pretty pass deep down the right side of the field to Martavis Bryant, who has run past the coverage with seeming ease. The ball arrives … but it goes through his fingers. What should have been 7-0 and a deep cut into the Bears psyche turns out to be nothing more than second-and-10.
The Steelers end up punting, and the Bears respond by losing 1 yard on their first three offensive plays before they return the punt. Ah, but Eli Rogers muffs the punt, and the Bears recover at the Steelers 29-yard line. It takes six straight running plays to cross the goal line, as it is becoming apparent the Bears have decided quarterback Mike Glennon's passing is to be avoided whenever possible, and as the scoreboard clicked over to 7-0 the needle on the hope meter on the home team's sideline has begun to move.
Game action photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 3 game against the Chicago Bears.
Just to make sure the Bears stayed confident, the Steelers turned the ball over on their ensuing offensive series – this time on a sack-strip of Roethlisberger on a third-and-8 from the Chicago 38-yard line, which effectively prevented any cutting into the deficit.
Then it was time for the next phase: the squandering of opportunities to pull away, which pretty much is how the Steelers spent the second and third quarters.
Antonio Brown's touchdown capped a seven-minute drive and tied the game with five minutes left in the first half, but the Bears re-took the lead on a touchdown drive of their own in which 72 of the yards and the points came on running plays. Down, 14-7, the Steelers again seemed on the verge of cutting into the deficit, only to have Chris Boswell's 35-yard field goal blocked, and even though Vance McDonald's hustle combined with Marcus Cooper's Leon Lett imitation to save the Steelers from being on the wrong side of a 10-point swing, the fact is what should have been a 14-10 halftime deficit in fact was a 17-7 halftime deficit.
That difference turned out to be significant, because in the third quarter a Ryan Shazier forced fumble and recovery put the Steelers in business for a short, 16-yard touchdown drive, but again, instead of taking a 17-14 lead, all that did was cut the deficit to 17-14.
There was more of the same in the fourth quarter. An interception by J.J. Wilcox set up the offense at the Chicago 21-yard line, but the Steelers ended p settling for a red zone field goal and a tie game. Then the defense had a chance to flip the field when a Jordan Berry punt pinned the Bears back on their own 9-yard line with 3:26 remaining.
But Glennon converted one third down with an 11-yard pass, and then the Bears got lucky at the two-minute warning when Shazier forced another fumble, but this one was reeled in by tackle Bobby Massie at the Chicago 39-yard line just before Wilcox scooped it up.
Soon after it was overtime, and in the extra period the matchup of the Bears running attack vs. the Steelers run defense looked like Alabama vs. Vanderbilt. On four snaps, the Bears covered 74 yards, all on the ground, and went home with the victory.
As always in these situations, there is plenty of blame to go around, and Steelers Nation will be typically enthusiastic about assigning it. But as Chuck Noll always said, when you lose, everything they say about you is true, and so the bashing of the coaching staff and the play calling and the lack of fire and whatever else can continue unabated, but what is far less irrational is this:
At some point in December, this game, this loss to the Bears, is going to come back to haunt the Steelers. It's going to cost them something, quite possibly something significant. Because that's always the way it turns out with a loss that coulda, shoulda, woulda been a win. But wasn't.