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Bears vs. Steelers rewind: What-If game hard to avoid in Week 3 loss

Playing the What If game after the Steelers' loss to the Chicago Bears is pointless, yet, hard to avoid. The Steelers will be in another key moment with the game on the line, will they know what to do?

Justin K. Aller

Playing the "What If" game is dangerous. It creates a false sense of reality; or more to the point it makes games like football out to be something more than a series of razor-thin margins that ultimately decide the outcome.

It's hard to avoid wondering "what if" in regards to the fourth quarter of the Steelers' 40-23 loss to the Chicago Bears.

What If, as Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel mentions in an interview with Ralph N. Paulk in Tuesday's Tribune-Review, the Steelers get more pressure on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on a 3rd-and-12 play in which he hit Brandon Marshall on a beautiful throw and catch?

Keisel gives Cutler credit for the throw, and he rightfully should. Cornerback Ike Taylor did a great job in coverage all night, but he got beat by a very difficult throw - an on-the-money back-shoulder toss from 40 yards away. What If Taylor played a shade closer to Marshall along the sideline? Maybe he's in a better position to make a play on the ball.

What If the pass rush landed on the play the way Keisel mentioned it?

The issue here isn't so much to point out how close the Steelers were to sending out their punt return team with less than six minutes on the clock, down 27-23, their red-hot offense looking to complete the biggest comeback in team history. It's more that football games are oftentimes decided by such slight differences between competitors.

Regardless whether he's well-liked (and he isn't), Cutler played a great football game. Marshall isn't much more appreciated around the league, and he ate turf the vast majority of that game, but they came up with the big play when their team needed it.

The difference between winning and losing, good and bad, isn't large in the NFL. In fact, the Steelers saw two turnovers bounce back to the Bears as if the pigskin was taunting them. Cornerback William Gay forced a fumble of Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery, only to watch the ball land perfectly back from where it came. Vince Williams put a hit on Bears running back Michael Bush that jarred the ball loose, but Bush maintained possession - and scored a touchdown on fourth-and-goal. Bush wasn't marked with a fumble on the play, a subjective opinion that could have gone either way, and that seems more compelling with the Steelers' defense right now.

There is an element of luck to turnovers. Not that turnovers are sheer luck, but with fumbles, the skill is in forcing them. The ball bounces where it bounces - sometimes defensive players are in position to get it, sometimes they are not. The adjustments needing to be made here can be seen in the experienced Bears' defenders. They get to the ball because they expect the ball to be loose. When it is, they have a convoy ready for deployment with the target area to regroup in the back of their opponent's end zone.

Sometimes teams simply get beat on plays. The Bears are a very good football team; the sum of their whole is more than the sum of their parts. The Steelers' parts are more than the sum of their whole, and they are not a very good football team through three games.

Watching their loss to the Bears again, the only conclusion that keeps popping in my head is the ball will eventually bounce the Steelers' way. The questions, though, are will the Steelers recognize it, and what will they do with it?

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