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Steelers unravel in Windy City meltdown to Bears

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Following a team protest prior to kickoff, the Steelers never really found rhythm or focus in defeat by the previously winless Bears.

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

Where do you start? Which storyline is the one that captures the essence of Sunday’s hot mess of a Bears 23-17 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I guess there’s some irony in the fact this game was played at Soldier Field, given the Steelers team decision (sans Alejandro Villanueva) to protest by not taking the field for the National Anthem. We’ll address all of that later this week, including the blowback from Steelers Nation.

But that’s really the least of their problems. Once again, as they’ve done so many times in the past under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers underperformed on the road against a non-divisional opponent when they’re considered a ‘favorite.’ And if you’re curious, that mark is 5-19, far below ‘the standard.’

Take the gambling angle out of this equation and you get the Steelers going 11-13 in the games mentioned above. That’s totally unacceptable and it’s been the calling card for anti-Tomlin people for years with good reason.

The problem with blaming the head coach—and he clearly must take responsibility in the end for how his players perform—is that what we saw yesterday was an uninspired bunch of men who appeared almost to be sleepwalking through the entire game.

From missed gap assignments to shoddy tackling technique, plus a fundamental lack of focus, it was quite clear that all of the undertow of what looked bad in the team’s first two games washed ashore in this horrific loss to a Bears team that had run for only 20 yards the week prior and 145 over the first two games of the season.

Nobody mistook Jordan Howard for Walter Payton, or rookie Tarik Cohen for Gayle Sayers, but they sure ran like that against a Steelers’ defense that gave up the final 74 yards of the game on the ground. Seriously now, let me write that again. The final 74 yards gained in this game were given up to a rushing attack that had 20 total yards the week before!

You can’t make this stuff up.

There’s no single starting point to call on, so let’s just go with the defense first. The talk for a number of years has been how suspect the Steelers secondary was. Conversely, the ability of the team’s front-7 to generate a pass rush while stopping the run was viewed as its core strength.

But that got flipped upside down on Sunday. Bears QB Mike Glennon was only 15 of 22 for 107 yards with a TD pass. But he did throw a pick in the fourth quarter, as Steelers safety J.J. Wilcox dove to make a great play, snaring the errant throw and setting the team up at Chicago’s 21, only down by 17-14.

Too bad the offense sputtered away this opportunity to win the game in regulation after the defense had given them their best field position of the day. I’ll admit that I was expecting this week to be a turning point for this team’s offense and all of the weapons it possesses. From their HOF quarterback to Bell, AB and the OL that protects and blocks fairly well.

But instead of taking advantage of the short field, what does this team do on offense? They managed only 7 yards and were forced to kick a field goal that tied the game at 17-17. Given the blocked FG attempt at the end of the first half, along with the wild finish to that play, people were feeling a bit iffy regarding the possibility of a positive outcome.

But there’s little positive to take away from yesterday.

And by little I mean none.

Ben’s simply got to be better. He’s got to do more. He looked off all day long. For whatever reason, Roethlisberger’s play on the road has slipped in recent years. Keep in mind, this guy began his NFL career by posting a 14-0 record in his rookie campaign. This is the same QB who won three road playoff games in his second season as a starter, leading the team to its fifth Super Bowl win.

There’s nothing more that can be done with this game in the books. The best thing the team can do is simply shake it off, forget about it and try to get ready for what will be another knockdown, drag-out, bar room brawl with the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. The only saving grace is that the Ravens should be the favorite on Sunday. Maybe that will make a difference in the attitude needed for Pittsburgh to win on the road in the NFL.

When he’s not fighting crime in the big city, John Phillips enjoys talking about and covering sports in Pittsburgh. You could follow JP on Twitter, but since he’s not on it, you can’t. Funny how that works right?