“Catastrophic mistakes.” That’s how Mike Tomlin characterized the non-linear series of events that ultimately led to his team’s demise at the hands of the Chicago Bears who, bless their hearts, tried their absolute best to gift the Steelers a victory. In honor of Tomlin’s proclivity for hyperbole, we’re outlining the 10 most ruinous happenings from Pittsburgh’s 23-17 loss last Sunday:
Calamity No. 10: The Steelers lose the overtime coin toss
Ben Roethlisberger, a believer in schoolyard principles, selected “tails” for the overtime coin toss, presumably because it never fails. The coin rebuked Roethlisberger’s demands, landing heads-up and granting Chicago the first – and ultimately only – possession of the overtime period. Perhaps if Roethlisberger had done some in-depth research on coin-flip probabilities, the Steelers would be 3-0. Let me explain.
According to a group of researchers from Stanford University (very prestigious), coins flips are not 50/50—in fact, the actual odds are slightly in favor of the side that was facing up prior to the toss. Therefore, Roethlisberger should have made his decision based on this statistical rationale, not the “tails never fails” philosophy.
(Unless, of course, the coin was tails-side-up, in which case you can probably disregard this entire paragraph. If the Steelers need a pseudo-statistician who’s good at reading academic papers written by smart people, hit me up.)
Calamity No. 9: Ben Roethlisberger is sacked, fumbles the ball
On their second offensive drive of the game, the Steelers were operating in Chicago territory, just on the precipice of Chris Boswell’s field goal range. On 3rd-and-8 from the Bears’ 38 yard-line, Roethlisberger dropped back to pass and was promptly obliterated by Bryce Callahan. The ensuing fumble was recovered by Akeem Hicks, ending what was a very promising drive for the Steelers.
Allowing a sack in this situation was an unfortunate circumstance in and of itself, as it not only knocked the Steelers out of field goal range, but also rendered them incapable of attempting a play on fourth down. Had Roethlisberger not fumbled, though, Pittsburgh would have had the opportunity to punt and pin the Bears inside their own 10-yard line. Fortunately, Chicago was unable to translate this takeaway to points.
Calamity No. 8: Jordan Howard scores a 19-yard touchdown, ending the game in the process
This particular play, which was Chicago’s fourth offensive play of the overtime period, is ranked so low because it was such a predictable conclusion. Behold:
A lot to unpack here. First, we have the Bears running yet another stretch play—a concept that they ran to perfection for the duration of Sunday’s contest. Next, feast on the cavernous aperture that appears between Adam Sheehan (No. 87) and Charles Leno (No. 72). You could drive a tank through it. Seeing this hole, Howard took the misdirection snap and reached the second level untouched, at which point Mike Mitchell, a cruise missile with legs, attempted to make a tackle. Howard, whose posture while running is so pristine that even the most callous of Catholic nuns would beam with pride, altered his path to the end zone ever-so-slightly, effectively taking Mitchell, whose tackling path was strangely parabolic, out of the play. At Chicago’s eight-yard line, cornerback Artie Burns is seemingly being held by Deonte Thompson; though, given Burns’ tackling issues up to this point, it is unlikely that he would have made a game-saving stop, anyway.
The abridged version: the guy who handled 90 percent of Chicago’s touches was allowed to score an uncontested game-winning touchdown.
Calamity No. 7: Mike Mitchell drops a late interception
With 1:23 left in the fourth quarter, Mitchell got his mitts on a characteristically-awful Mike Glennon pass, but failed to secure the catch. Had Mitchell nabbed this interception, the Steelers would have regained possession with 80 seconds on the clock and permitted Roethlisberger, who has the 10th-most fourth-quarter comebacks in NFL history, with an opportunity to win the game in regulation.
Calamity No. 6: The Steelers fail to score a touchdown following J.J. Wilcox’s interception
Unlike Mitchell, Wilcox did record an interception, which allowed the Steelers to tie the game at 17-all with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Being that the game ended in the aforementioned deadlock, a touchdown here would have been significant. The fact that the Steelers were forced to kick a field goal underscores their generally bad third-down offense (they converted only four of their 11 third-down attempts against Chicago) as well as their generally mediocre red-zone offense (the Steelers are currently ranked 14th in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage).
Calamity No. 5: The offensive line allows a sack at the end of regulation, sending the game to overtime
If only Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones played for the Bears. Sigh.
Calamity No. 4: Eli Rogers muffed a punt, leading to Chicago points
I don’t want to come off as too acrimonious, because in terms of adorable fumbles, this one easily ranks among the top five. In a vacuum, muffed punts aren’t a huge deal, and they’re certainly not insurmountable. Nonetheless, the series off events that followed Rogers’ fumble kind of exacerbated its significance. We Steelers fans are an especially notable breed of inveterate pessimists, so it’s safe to assume that we’ll be collectively holding our breath for the remainder of Rogers’ punt-handling career.
Calamity No. 3: Ben Roethlisberger overthrows a wide-open Martavis Bryant by several millimeters
On the very first play of the game, Bryant managed to gain about five yards of separation from Marcus Cooper. Recognizing this, Roethlisberger flicked his wrist and sent a gorgeous, arching pass in Bryant’s direction. What happened next was, retrospectively, pretty controversial. On one hand, it could be argued that Bryant, as he is wont to do, slightly decelerated near the top of his route as he was tracking the ball. It could also be argued, however, that Roethlisberger put just a wee bit too much mustard on his throw. Regardless, the ball ended up on the ground and the Steelers punted the ball away two plays later.
Calamity No. 2: Tarik Cohen ends the game, is screwed over by the call on the field
Standard stuff, here: Chicago ran a stretch play (this time with the offensive line shifting left), the running back fielded a misdirection snap, and found the second level by attacking a gaping maw off-tackle. Let’s break it down:
-Roughly four seconds into the video, look at the middle of your screen: that sure looks like Josh Bellamy holding Joe Haden. It also appears that had he not been held, Haden could’ve made a play on Cohen. If nothing else, Haden was in a good spot to impede Cohen’s motion (I called this particular hold “irrelevant” in my stock report article, but I’m having second thoughts).
-Seven seconds in, it becomes clear that Wilcox is a disciple of “The Mike Mitchell School of Bad Tackling Angles.” Everyone at that school failed geometry.
-At the 10-second mark, Superintendent Mitchell takes his shot at Cohen near the sideline. Cohen, a wizard, orchestrated a nifty little back-juke, causing Mitchell to tackle a patch of oxygen.
-At the 11-second mark, we see Vince Williams, who is showing appreciable hustle, make his attempt to tackle Cohen. To escape this, Cohen did this crazy high-step thing, causing Williams to fall forward sans Cohen while simultaneously tripping Wilcox, who had inexplicably re-entered the fray.
-At the 15-second mark, Artie Burns throws his hat in the ring. Foolishly, he tried to attack Cohen head-on, which allowed Cohen to execute yet another flawless juke. Bewildered and with his ankles miraculously still intact, Burns fell to the turf, utterly defeated.
Of course, the officials ruined this ridiculous, game-ending touchdown run by ruling Cohen out-of-bounds at Pittsburgh’s 37 yard-line. Although the play was upheld by a booth review, it is pretty clear that it would have stood if refs had simply awarded the touchdown in the first place. By this point, the game definitely felt over, and Howard’s touchdown run two plays later cemented this outcome.
Calamity No. 1: Marcus Cooper becomes an instant laughingstock, still gets the last laugh
I’m sorry, but I will trade a Steelers win for the following footage 100 times out of 100. I mean, seriously:
You’ll notice that Xavier Grimble (who is the leftmost player on the field goal unit) did not even make contact with Sherrick McManis, who blocked the kick. Permitting a special teams gunner a free path to the kicker is not ideal.
This was a very critical mistake on the part of Pittsburgh’s special teams unit. If Vance McDonald did not momentarily transform into an actual superhero, the Steelers would have entered halftime down 14 points. This, too, is not ideal.
On the bright side, the Steelers lost a game that, frankly, most of us expected they would lose, so at least they’re on the right track. All we need now is a home loss to New England and the No. 3 seed in the AFC and it’ll be business as usual.