By David Todd
The Steelers lost their third game 40-23 to the Chicago Bears at Heinz Field Sunday night dropping their record to 0-3 for the first time since 2000. Since 1990, 115 teams have started 0-3 and only three have made the playoffs, none since 1998. The Steelers out-gained the Bears 459-258 yards, Ben Roethlisberger led all NFL quarterbacks in week three with 406 yards passing and Antonio Brown led all receivers with 196 yards in receptions, but the only number that mattered in this one was five. The Steelers turned it over five more times and again forced none. The Bears defense scored twice and in total Chicago turned the miscues into 23 points. The silver lining for the Steelers was they finally played 30 good minutes of football after staking the Bears to an early 17-0 lead. They fought back to cut the deficit to 27-23 with just over ten minutes to go, but three times the Bears and Jay Cutler converted third downs on a sustained scoring drive and then a couple more turnovers sealed the Steelers fate.
The Steelers again appeared to come out of this one in fairly good shape. Heath Miller made his season debut and was on a snap count but appeared to come through this one in good shape. Mike Tomlin did not note any injuries in his postgame press conference.
*Antonio Brown had a huge night. The Steelers wideout tied his career-high with nine catches and set a personal best in receiving yards with 196, only the fourth 100-yard receiving game in his 41-game career and his first since 12/8/11 when he had 151 yards against Cleveland. Brown also had his first two touchdown game and both of his scoring catches were highlight reel plays, the one-hander late in the third quarter one of the best I’ve ever seen.
*The Steelers run game finally showed some signs of life chalking up 80 yards on 21 carries. Jonathan Dwyer, getting his first substantial playing time of the season, carried 12 times for 39 yards including a long of 25 yards on which he should have been penalized for leading with the crown of his helmet as he destroyed Bears safety Chris Conte.
*The Steelers had trouble with the Bears pressure packages all night, but on both touchdowns Dwyer did a great job of picking up the blitz allowing Ben time to find Antonio Brown for scores.
*As mentioned Heath Miller returned to action and finished with three catches for 35 yards and added a dimension the Steelers have been lacking as an in-line blocking tight end while David Johnson added two catches for a career-high 51 yards.
*Despite throwing for 406 yards and two TDs, Ben Roethlisberger didn’t have a good night. He turned the ball over four times, twice on strip sacks and twice on interceptions. No doubt Ben was the reason the Steelers were able to get back in the game and he was scrambling for his life behind a porous offensive line, but he has to do a better job with ball security. He again was uncharacteristically inaccurate with a lot of short, easy throws, one in particular early in the second quarter to Brown on a shallow cross that forced the Steelers to settle for a field goal.
*In what is becoming a familiar refrain, the offensive line continues to struggle mightily. They had no answer to the Bears blitz packages and seemed to constantly blow assignments. Multiple times the Steelers had two men blocking one guy while another ran free. Ramon Foster had a terrible first half and both tackles again looked over-matched. Kelvin Beachum joined what became a tackle rotation early on, but it didn’t appear that he was any better.
*Felix Jones again did some good things but his fumble on the second play from scrimmage of the second half gave the Bears another short field and put the Steelers in an even bigger hole.
*The pass defense continues to be solid even in the absence of Cortez Allen. They limited Jay Cutler to 5.3 yards/attempt.
*Both LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel registered sacks and the defense hurried and hit Cutler often, particularly after the first quarter.
*Troy Polamalu continues to look like the Troy of old making splash plays all over the field.
*No turnovers. Three games, no turnovers.
*When it mattered most, with all the momentum on the Steelers side having cut the Bears lead to 27-23, they couldn’t get a stop. Jay Cutler converted a 3rd-and-10 with a 13-yard scramble, a 3rd-and-12 with a great throw and catch to Brandon Marshall for a 41-yard gain and a 3rd-and-5 for a TD to Earl Bennett who made a catch almost the equal to Brown’s in the same corner of the end zone. At the biggest moments of the season the Steelers defense has come up short.
*Matt Forte carried 16 times for 87 yards including a 55-yard gain in the first quarter. Running a cross-blitz Lawrence Timmons got picked up and Ryan Clark badly missed a tackle near the line-of-scrimmage. William Gay tried to punch the ball loose instead of tackling and completely whiffed. It’s the second time in two weeks Clark is directly responsible for a huge gain.
*Down 10-0 in the first quarter the Bears went for it on 4th-and-1 on the Steelers one. Lawrence Timmons hit Michael Bush behind the line and Vince Williams had a chance to wrap him up and stuff the play. They didn’t get it done. As has happened often this year, the Steelers couldn’t wrap up a ball carrier and make a tackle-for-loss. Bush’s second effort resulted in a TD putting the Bears up 17-0.
*Troy wasn’t perfect. On a 3rd-and-9 from the Steelers 16 after the first Roethlisberger fumble, Troy ran with the wrong man, leaving Matt Forte coming out of the backfield who caught a short pass for an 11-yard gain. The Bears scored on the next play to go up 10-0.
*The Steelers coverage units continue to be outstanding. They had a plan in place to neutralize one of the most dangerous return men in the game in Devin Hester and it worked perfectly. The Bears returned five kicks for only 73 yards, a 14.6 average. Hester returned two for only 26 yards.
*Sushi continues to be automatic. 27, 36 and 44. That’s 15 straight from 40-49, a personal best.
*This was not Zoltan Mesko’s best effort. He did draw a roughing penalty that was huge, but he punted twice for only 38 and 21 yards. He has to do better.
*The team continues to hurt itself with special teams penalties. Chris Carter was called for a hold on a punt return. Rather than starting on their own 42 the Steelers started at their own 25. Three plays later Major Wright intercepted Ben and returned it 38 yards for a score. Antonio Brown was called once for the rarely seen offensive face mask and also committed a personal foul after Ben’s second INT. Brown has to do a better job of keeping his emotions in check.
*It’s hard to put this one on the coaches. The offense had by far their most productive game, but turned it over five times. The defense again can’t couldn’t come up with the big play, but the gameplan on both sides of the ball appeared to be sound.
*In another late game move that was unlikely to effect the outcome, the Steelers should have tried a 42-yard field goal down 40-23 with 2:27 left. It was a three score game and a FG cuts the lead to 14. Mike Tomlin obviously was not conceding as he used his timeouts on the defense side of the ball after they turned it over. Was it likely to change the outcome? Of course not, but Tomlin should at least make the right decision there if he is goal is to continue to compete.
Big Officiating Calls:
*The officials went to the video review after the Earl Bennett touchdown catch that was initially ruled incomplete. It was a difficult call to overturn, but I wonder if the Bears would have challenged had they not seen the replay on the Heinz Field scoreboard. Was it a great catch? Absolutely. Was it conclusive? I’m not as sure of that.
Up Next: The Steelers take on the Minnesota Vikings at Wembley Stadium in London, England September 29. Kick-off between the two 0-3 teams is scheduled for 1:00 EST.
Reminder: You can hear me and Tom Bradley on the postgame show on the Steelers Radio Network after every Steelers game. You can listen on the Steeler Gameday app, the Steelers Nation Radio app on iHeart Radio or DVE or 970 ESPN in Pittsburgh. You can hear me weekdays on 970 ESPN from 4-7 pm and you can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.