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Special teams came up short in Steelers OT loss to the Bears

There is plenty of blame to go around when discussing the Steelers 23-17 overtime loss to the Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday, but this article focuses on the ugly performance of the special teams.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When the Steelers lose a game like they did to a supposedly inferior Bears team, 23-17 in overtime on Sunday, there is plenty of blame to go around.

If you want, you can focus on the run defense that allowed an astounding 220 yards.

If you'd like to go in another direction and criticize an offense that is supposed to be high-powered, but has been anything but through three weeks, including Sunday—scoring only 17 points at Soldier Field—please, have a field-day with that.

But I'm going to focus on an area that few people rarely think will be the difference in a game when discussing it throughout the week (even though it often is), and that's special teams.

The one thing you should never do is give a decisive home underdog any hope early in the game, and Eli Rogers did just that on Sunday, when he muffed a Pat O'Donnell punt, and the Bears' Sherrick McManis recovered at the Pittsburgh 29-yard line.

Six plays later, running back Jordan Howard scored a touchdown from three yards out to give the Bears a 7-0 lead.

And with 9:09 left in the first quarter, everyone watching in the stands and on television knew it would be a hard-fought battle in-which the home underdog likely stayed in it until the bitter end.

That's exactly what happened.

Late in the second quarter, after the offense drove down to Chicago's 18-yard line, Chris Boswell trotted onto the field to attempt a 35-yard field goal with six seconds left that would have pulled Pittsburgh to within four points at the half.

Unfortunately, McManis came through again for the Bears and blocked Boswell's field goal, and it bounced right into the waiting arms of Marcus Cooper who looked to have an easy 73-yard touchdown return that would have put his team up 21-7 at the break.

Yes, Vance McDonald finally showed that great speed everyone said he had when Pittsburgh traded for him a few weeks ago, and Cooper showed off his best Leon Lett by inexplicably stopping at the one-yard line, allowing McDonald to run him down and knock the ball into the end zone. But since punter Jordan Berry made an instinctual move by batting the ball through the end zone, Pittsburgh was penalized on the play, and the Bears were given one un-timed down to turn it into points. (NFL rules dictate that a team can't recover its own fumble for a touchdown in the end zone other than the player who fumbles, so unless Cooper was able to fall on his own hot dog, he and the rest of his teammates would have been forced to head to their locker room leading by just seven.)

After a false start while attempting to score six points on that untimed down, the home team settled for three instead and a 10-point lead at halftime.

In the second half, the Steelers did everything they could to wrestle the game away from the Bears, while the Bears did just about everything they could to oblige.

But by the end of regulation, the score was merely tied, and those three points ultimately proved to be vital.

When you don't score a lot of points and you don't tackle the opposing running backs very well, you open yourself up to the special teams factoring into the outcome of a close football game.

After playing an important role in its first two wins of the season, the special teams were directly responsible for 10 points in Pittsburgh's first loss of 2017.

Again, you can point a lot of fingers in a lot of different directions, but the performance of the Steelers special teams was just too ugly to ignore on Sunday.