More from me about the particulars of Pittsburgh's disappointing 14-17 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field later, but to start a few thoughts from me about the defending champion's first loss of the 2009 season.
The loss was, in a word, disappointing. Disappointing for several reasons, the first one being obviously that they left at least 6 points on the board in the 4th quarter with missed field goal attempts by the usually money Jeff Reed. It was also disappointing because they played so well in the 1st quarter. Big Ben hit eight or nine straight completions early on. He was on target distributing the ball to Hines, Santonio and Heath. A bootleg toss to Matt Speath on 4th and 1 from the goal line capped Pittsburgh's opening drive and it appeared as if the Steelers were going to run away from the Bears early on.
Wasn't meant to be. Kudos to Jay Cutler and the Bears offense for not panicking, sticking to their game plan of striking in the short and intermediate passing game, picking on the weak links on Pittsburgh's defense - Tyrone Carter and William Gay namely - and then doing just enough on defense to disrupt Big Ben and the Steelers for the remainder of the game.
Losses like this one have a way of bringing out the Chicken Little fans. Those who are ready to lament every last miscue. I even read one fan write that he was ready to turn in all his Steelers memorabilia because of the way the team was playing. Yikes.
What we really saw is how this team is not really championship caliber on defense without the services of Troy Polamalu. Tyrone Carter deserves credit for playing hard and making a few plays. He's done just that for a number of years now and it's safe to say that the Steelers wouldn't have had all the success they've had without his contributions in a reserve role. But he's no Polamalu and that was apparent today. I've also written on numerous occasions that William Gay might not look quite as glossy and ready for the bigtime without Polamalu getting his back.
Despite missing our most important defensive player and despite being on the road in a game that was oh so important to the Bears, Pittsburgh still had Chicago on the ropes. They let one slip away and cost themselves a precious road victory. It happens. There were enough positive developments from the game to keep me far, far away from the ledge. The main reason, quite frankly, is we have Ben Roethlisberger on our team. He continues to play outstanding football. He's making better choices with the ball, still competing his guts out and looks utterly comfortable with what we're trying to do offensively.
Winning in the NFL is about finishing though. Finishing plays, drives, and ultimately games. We've seen time and time again that this squad isn't going to blow teams out, so chances are the team will soon again be in a dogfight that comes down to field position, 3rd down efficiency on both sides of the ball and steady kicking.