By Ryan Gojich
On a day that will undoubtedly be remembered in the annals of the shield, not for the contest, disputed between the chalk lines between two historic franchises, but rather the day politics and sports unprecedentedly merged. As water and oil are, the aforementioned, heterogeneous by nature are best left that way.
How were Steelers fans to know that the afternoon would be summarized on the Steelers opening play. Martavis Bryant, who’s arrow had been pointing up after week 2, lined up in the slot of an empty set and exploded threw the Bears cover 2. Ben Roethlisberger’s ball floated for 30 yards as Bryant continued to create separation and eventually found himself with nothing but blades of grass left to defend the end zone. The slightly overthrown ball slipped threw Bryant’s outstretched hands and fell lifelessly to the grass.
As is too often the case with the Steelers teams over the years on the road in match ups against bad teams they play to their level of competition. Penalties, miscues, turnovers and a general lack of focus from the gate, shot the team in the foot early. After the Bears initial offensive possession went three and out, the defense came off the field having done it’s job. The ensuing punt was muffed by Eli Rogers deep inside Steelers territory. Giving the Bears life and a chance to set up shop at the Steelers 29 yard line.
The Bears wouldn’t waste the opportunity, jamming the ball down the defenses throats on 6 straight runs, for 29 yards. Howard took the the 6th run play from the Steelers 3, into the end zone for the Bears first lead of the 2017 campaign.
After having only turned the ball over once threw the first two weeks of the season the Steelers were determined to triple that number on the following offensive series. This time with the offense in Bears territory at their 38, an overload blitz from Roethlisberger’s right on 3rd and 8 would serve up the turn over. Bryce Callahan shot the gap and strip sacked Roethlisberger, Akiem Hicks would be credited with the recovery. The situation worsened however when it appeared Ramon Foster injured his left hand/arm while making a diving attempt to recover the loose pigs skin, his day would officially end as he did not return.
The defense did not allow points to be put up on them after this giveaway. The following 2 drives would continue to show a Steelers team that, for whatever reason, has trouble showing up in opposing stadiums against teams they should beat. The following possession for the offense would begin with an illegal shift and an immediate 5 yard hole for which to work out of. The defenses 4th series was aided in length by a roughing the passer call against Cam Heyward on a 3rd down with a chance to get off the field. Albeit an atrocious call that I vehemently disagreed with. Luckily the defense was able to recover however it added length to their stay on the unseasonably hot field, kick off temperature registering 91 degrees on the field. These are the types of mistakes that can be gotten away with in college football on the road, but not in NFL stadiums, and they are the micro-isms that lead to these road woes.
On the Steelers following possession, they would put together an impressive 13 play drive covering 77 yards while chewing up 7:11 of game time. It was capped off by their most consistent player of the young season Antonio Brown’s nifty reception of a bubble screen to the wide side of the playing field for a 7 yard score. Following the extra point, the game would be tied at 7 a piece. AB’s touchdown reception would be the 51st of his career moving him into a tie for 3rd all time, with Lynn Swann, on the Steelers all time touchdown reception list.
The tie was short lived as the Bears would answer with their own lengthy drive going 75 yards on 9 plays. Quarterback Mike Glennon found Adam Shaheen in the back corner of the end zone for a 2 yard score. I was not overly impressed by the play action that lead to Shaheen being left uncovered in the end zone. The effectiveness of the Bears running attack to this point in the game led to the Steelers linebackers biting down hard on the play fake and Shaheen found himself the recipient of and easy pass and catch for the Bears to retake the lead 14-7.
The Steelers offense would go to work getting the ball back with 43 seconds before half time and 2 timeouts at their disposal. They drove the ball with purpose, a feeling of desperate to put points on the board before they had to return the ball after the break. Passes of 22 and 23 yards to AB, sprinkled in with a 17 yards gained from Bryant allowed the Steelers to call their final timeout with 6 ticks of the clock left. Chris Boswell set up for a 35 yard attempt only to have Sherrick McManis block the kick. McManis’ cohort Marcus Cooper Sr. would scoop the ball up and appear to have a easy touchdown return, no white jersey even remotely intrusive to his clear path to the Steelers defending end zone. However in what could only be described as “Leon Lett Syndrome” decided it was more imperative to his teams success to show up the Steelers by slowly walking the ball into the end zone once he got inside the Steelers 7 yard line on the return. Instead of running full speed to finish off what would have been momentous dagger at this stage of the contest, Cooper Sr.’s antics allowed newcomer Vance McDonald to race back and force a Cooper Sr. to fumble at the Steelers 1 yard line. Punter and place kick holder Jordan Berry also never quit on the play, showing speed while racing back on the play as well to smack the ball out of the back of the end zone after time had expired in the first half.
As this extraordinarily bizarre play continued to unfold, Berry was flagged for illegal batting, and the ball was placed at the Steelers 1 yard line. As the half couldn’t end on a penalty, the Bears were afforded one un-timed down. They rushed to the line of scrimmage to attempt to get the play off as most of the Steelers were already in the locker room, obediently having been sent to their dressing room per Coach Tomlin because he was told by the officials the half was over. Only in a day under such circumstance could this truly mind numbing spectacle have taken place on a football field.
As the Bears offense lined up to finish what the overly celebratory Cooper Sr. didn’t perceive important, their wide eyed excitement couldn’t be contained an extra second. They were flagged for offside and made the appropriate choice to take their 3 points. That was 3 more than the idiosyncratic Cooper Sr. must have reasoned to be of less important than his look at me celebration.
In the 3rd quarter, and the defenses’ 8th drive, Ryan Shazier would bust up the center of the line on a clear fire and wreak the havoc we’ve become accustomed to seeing when he is healthy. Holding the isolating fullback’s block at bay with his left arm, Shazier stripped Howard of the football and recovered the loose ball at the the Bears 16. It’s the type of all-pro play Shazier is fully capable of, show casing the importance of his health to the success of this years Steelers defense.
The offense would take advantage of Shazier’s gift and Le’Veon Bell would punch the ball across the Bear’s goal line on a 1 yard dive to the left 6 plays later. It was Bell’s first touchdown of the season and AB made sure to celebrate with him after the play was finished. I couldn’t help watching the celebration but to ponder if the thought crossed Cooper Sr.’s mind that the appropriate time to celebrate is when the job is complete. I’d be remiss not to point out that Cooper Sr. helped the Steelers cause with a bad play on 3rd down. He was flagged for holding Brown, after he was beat by 2 steps, in the end zone and that extended the drive and led to the Bell touchdown and the Steelers pulling within 17-14.
The teams would trade possessions as the game clock continued counting down in the 4th quarter with the Steelers trailing by 3. Glennon finally made a mistake, under throwing his intended target, Zach Miller and JJ Wilcox came up with the timely pick at the Bears 21. Given the field position it was hard not to immediately think the offense would get 6 out of a touch down. That notion would prove to be wishful think as the offense sputtered and went 3 and out, settling for the game tying 32 yard field goal from the leg of Boswell.
The Steelers would possess the ball twice more in regulation but in both instances failed to break the dead lock. The defense almost bailed them out with a 1:19 left and the Bears pinned at their 38 yard line. Tarik Cohen took the Glennon hand off up the middle, Vance Williams and Shazier blew him up, dislodging the ball. The loose pigskin was scooped up by right tackle Bobby Massie, barely escaping the outstretched reach of Wilcox.
In what turned out to be the Steelers last chance to possess the ball in the contest, they started pinned at their 15, with 52 seconds remaining and one timeout at their disposable. Play one of the drive started with a Bell 4 yard reception and he was tackled in bounds to keep the clock rolling. Inexplicably and so often the case, 25 seconds elapsed from the game clock now acting as the saboteur of a Steelers victory. After a 13 yard pass over the middle to Brown the Steelers finally elected to deploy their last remaining clock stopping timeout leaving only 22 seconds. With no way to stop the clock again, minus escaping the confining chalk lines, the Roethlisberger sack would lead to the clock extinguishing the remaining time in regulation.
A coin flip in overtime won by the Bears would adjudicate the precious possession of the football, first. They would not demonstrate the courtesy of sharing it and refused to be thwarted in their mission to close the game. Howard and Cohen combined to jammed the ball 74 yards down the defenses throats, needing only 4 run plays to inflict the mortiferous blow that would damn the Steelers in the contest.
I will state clearly, I believe holding occurred to set the edge on, what was reviewed and ruled to be, Cohen’s 36 yard scamper. I believe a crystal clear mugging occurred on the edge of Howard’s 19 yard death blow touchdown.
I’ll compare this to boxing for a second if I may. If a fighter allows his/her fight to go the distance and be put in the judges hands to score, human judgment is often imperfect and flawed. The way you keep control over any destiny is by never relinquishing it. End the fight before a decision of the victor is out of your fighting hands to decide.
The analogy applies to the Steelers on Sunday fully. The team comes out flatter than dough with no yeast. Allows an inferior, on paper mind you, opponent to not only hang around, but dictate control of the game early. Allowing the coin flip of overtime to declare the victor of the contest was the Steelers tempting luck to sink them. It is giving an outside force the chance to decide their season’s story, instead of refusing to let anyone but the men in the huddle be the author! Some urgency to preserve the clock at the end of regulation would have at least went a long way to making me believe they understand that concept.
The ineptitude to find that fire and desire could very well be what this 17’ Steelers season will be remembered for come January. Then again maybe not, that is the best part of each season’s journey is seeing what script the men who don the Black N Gold will write. Chapter 3 is now written, a look ahead shows a familiar foe and destination. Lets see what these men write in their story for chapter 4 when they travel down to Charm City to see who really runs the North!