By Matthew Marczi
The slow start to the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers dragged to a crawl early on in the first half of their third game against the Chicago Bears as they quickly fell behind 17-0, and then 24-3. However, a 33-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown helped spark some life into the lethargic Steelers, who finished the second quarter down two touchdowns and looking to get off to a fast start in the second half.
Ben Roethlisberger seemed to be looking deep on first down, but once again he had to change his plans and dump it off to Felix Jones, who gained seven yards. However, he put the ball on the ground on second down, and the Bears recovered deep in Steelers territory.
Unlike last week, Vince Williams took the field on defense to start the second half, rather than Kion Wilson. Perhaps this is the new norm. Martellus Bennett broke about four tackles on first down to set up second and three, and Matt Forte made it third and one. On third down, Michael Bush was about a yard short of the mark to force the Bears to settle for a field goal. Still, the score made it a three-possession game at 27-10.
David Johnson caught his second pass of the season, this time down the field for a 32-yard gain across midfield. Roethlisberger’s next pass intended for the back was tipped, however, as the quarterback did not get enough air under the ball. On second down, a bubble screen to Emmanuel Sanders gained nine yards thanks to a nice block by Jerricho Cotchery. On third down, Isaac Redman made his first appearance of the game, and he helped push Roethlisberger forward to convert the first down on a quarterback sneak.
Redman went back to the sidelines as Jonathan Dwyer made some people miss for another Steelers first down into field goal range. He had no room to work with on the next two carries, however, setting up another third and long. The third down pass went to Heath Miller a couple yards short of the first, settling for a field goal to make it a two-possession game once again.
The Steelers came very close to forcing a three and out, and would have if not for an illegal contact penalty on William Gay, who defended the first two plays. Jay Cutler was hit as he threw by Jason Worilds, making the pass uncatchable. Two plays later, LaMarr Woodley got his second sack of the season, and the team’s second of the game, setting up third and 16. Cutler was pressured once again, who tried to dump the ball off to Bush, but he was covered well by Worilds. A facemask penalty on Brown on the punt return set the Steelers back, however.
On the first play, Roethlisberger found Miller for his third reception for 22 yards. He clearly was cautious falling down with his knee. On the next play, Cotchery was wide open for a 26-yard gain close to the red zone. For the third play in a row, the Steelers connected for another explosive play, as Antonio Brown scored his second touchdown of the game. He did a stellar job securing the ball inbounds in the back of the end zone to bring the score to 27-20.
Matt Forte, back in the game with his foot wrapped, carried the ball for nine yards on second down, and the Bears were forced to take a timeout before a potentially pivotal third and one play. On the eventual play, Cutler went play action and targeted Brandon Marshall, who was double teamed on a jump ball attempt, and the pass fell incomplete.
Roethlisberger hooked up with David Johnson for the second time tonight for 19 yards. Two plays later, Antonio Brown got the Steelers past midfield. Roethlisberger then fumbled the ball on a scramble, but had the wherewithal to recover. Both Charles Tillman and Henry Melton were injured on the drive for the Bears, with Melton’s injury occurring on the scramble, which set up third and short.
On the third down play, Cotchery barely converted the first down on a second, or possibly third effort, with an assist by DeCastro. On the next play, Roethlisberger put a bit too much on a shallow throw to Brown, who could not grab the ball, which was also slightly behind him. Dwyer was stopped for essentially no gain on the next play to set up a big third and long. Roethlisberger threw the ball into the dirt after being pressured, and the Steelers had to settle for a field goal attempt from 44 yards out, which was good. The Steelers now trail 27-23.
The Steelers defense continued their nigh-suffocating play in the second half, but Cutler was able to scramble after escaping pressure for a first down on third and long. Gay stopped Forte for a loss of two on the following play, and Woodley nearly got home for another sack on second down, forcing a dump off attempt that was incomplete. On third and 12, Cutler went deep to Brandon Marshall, who beat Ike Taylor for a big completion down close to the red zone. The Steelers quickly forced a third and five, but Earl Bennett beat Shamarko Thomas to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. He was ruled out of bounds initially, but the Bears challenged, and the ruling was rightfully overturned.
Jonathan Dwyer has clearly supplanted Jones and Redman at this point as the back who has not fumbled. He caught a pass and then converted the first down on the ground on the first two plays. On the third, Roethlisberger again found Antonio Brown for 16 yards across midfield. On the next play, however, Lance Briggs came up the middle and stripped the ball from Roethlisberger. The ball was recovered by Julius Peppers and returned for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked, but the score remains 40-23.
The Bears scored 23 points off five turnovers, including three fumbles, two by Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger has thrown four interceptions and lost three fumbles. Everything that happened after this point in the game really did not mean anything, of course, down 17 with less than four minutes to play.
Roethlisberger was able to pad his stats, and Antonio Brown in particular had a big day, which is a good sign for the future, but was not enough tonight. He finished the game with nearly 200 yards and two touchdowns, and Roethlisberger threw for over 400 yards. Even the running game was comparatively effective on a per carry basis despite the ground attack being used sparsely due to the Steelers trailing for nearly the entire game. If the Steelers can simply cut out the turnovers, they do have the tools to win a ball game or two.