Those who don't learn from the past are bound to repeat it. After Sunday's slate of games resulted in numerous huge upsets and near misses across the league, I felt certain that the Steelers were taking notes. Teams like the Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys suffered surprising and humiliating losses with underwhelming performances all around. The whole "Any given Sunday" is definitely alive and well. There are valuable lessons to be learned from other team's struggles, if taken to heart. The Steelers almost had to learn their lesson the hard way on Monday night at Heinz Field.
Thankfully, the Steelers best players took turns stepping up at the biggest moments in the game. It took a total team effort and the aforementioned heroic efforts to keep the Steelers home winning streak on Monday Night Football alive, for Mike Tomlin to move into second place on the Steelers all time wins list with his 150th victory, and the Steelers became the winningest franchise in Monday Night Football history with their 50th victory on the primetime stage. Those are all great accomplishments, but the numbers that meant the most in the end were the 29-27 winning tally for the good guys in the snazzy Black and Gold uniforms that currently sport a 5-3 overall record. It wasn't pretty, but it sure beats a loss.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Heroic tendencies
There were numerous clutch performances and moments for the Steelers on Monday night that warrant mentioning, and I will attempt to do each one justice in this portion of the article.
When Justin Fields easily marched the Bears down the field for a TD to take the fourth quarter lead, it felt like a coming out moment for the talented young man. He has franchise QB type talent, but he just needs better talent surrounding him.
He engineered a great drive to give the Bears the lead with less than two minutes to go. He did all he could do, and announced himself as the Bears long awaited answer at QB, in a huge pressure situation in front of a primetime audience. That's great news for the Bears.
The bad news for the Bears was the fact that the Steelers had a future first ballot HOF QB standing on the other sideline, waiting for his opportunity to orchestrate the 50th game winning drive of his NFL career, tying him with Tom Brady for third all time. He had plenty of time on the clock and a timeout at his disposal. When the stakes are the highest, the greats want the ball in their hands.
Ben Roethlisberger reminded everyone smart enough to realize, that even as a 39 year old physically diminished QB, he still has all time great tendencies and capabilities on occasion, when it matters most.
Similar to Justin Fields, Steelers TE Pat Freiermuth announced his NFL arrival to the nationwide audience in a big way. He secured 2 TD receptions from Big Ben, with one being another of the spectacular variety. He also had numerous key blocks throughout the game, further evidence supporting his all around TE1 potential. I believe it is now safe to say that potential has turned into reality.
In case anybody failed to fully realize how much his presence was missed in the second half last week against the Browns, or that he is arguably the second best kicker in the NFL, Chris Boswell gave everyone a quick reminder of his greatness. Yes, I said greatness. There have been precious few 50 yard FGs made at Heinz Field, notoriously renowned as one of the toughest places to kick in the NFL. That undeniable truth makes Boswell's reliability that much more impressive.
He is the definition of a clutch performer, a trait he shares with his franchise QB. He even recovered a fumble on a kickoff, and held onto it even after taking another big hit. Thankfully he wasn't injured on the recovery. The Steelers are blessed to have his services at their disposal.
Speaking of clutch performances and lucky to have their services, T.J. Watt is proving worthy of every penny of his massive contract. The Steelers defense is merely average without his presence, proven during his game and a half absence earlier in the season. He sacked the uber athletic Fields three times on the night, hit him an additional three times, and basically harassed him throughout the game. He is easily the Steelers MVP, and he is having another DPOY campaign. We can only pray he remains relatively healthy moving forward.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Special team's miscues
The Steelers had numerous shortcomings on the night; ranging from the offensive line suffering an undeniable regression, which severely limited the offensive game plan and effectiveness, to multiple defensive blown coverages in the second half. Each played a critical part in the Bears staying in the game and eventually taking the lead, but they weren't the main culprit. That distinction goes to numerous special teams gaffes.
The easiest way to lose a game to a undermanned and overmatched opponent is by turning the ball over and creating favorable field position, especially if there is a defensive or special teams score surrendered. Also, by leaving points on the field by missing extra point attempts. The Steelers not so special teams had the misfortune of doing all of the above.
Monday night's game was the first time this season that I felt rookie punter Pressley Harvin lll struggled with the magnitude of the moment. He was called on to flip field position on two separate occasions, and he promptly shanked both opportunities. The Steelers defense did a good job limiting the damage, but the Bears were able to keep the Steelers pinned deep in their own end as a result, effectively stifling the Steelers offensive momentum. Simply put, the young man needs to step up to the challenge and be more consistent moving forward.
The biggest failure by far for the Steelers special teams units was the fumbled punt return by Ray Ray McCloud that was returned by the Bears for a TD in the fourth quarter. This singular blunder instantly flipped momentum and kick started the Bears impressive comeback. Instead of stepping on the throats of the opposition, the Steelers held the door open for the Bears potential upset.
Thanks to the heroics mentioned earlier in this article, the Steelers were able to overcome these miscues enough to walk away victorious, but they might not be so fortunate next time. Mistakes can have merit if valuable lessons are learned in the process. Hopefully that will be the case with the Steelers moving forward.