The defending Super Bowl Champions were coming off another Ben Roethlisberger-led never-say die dramatic come-from-behind victory. The Chicago Bears were coming off a beating at the hands of arch-rival Green Bay Packers where star quarterback Jay Cutler threw 4 picks.
The Steelers were 1-11 in Chicago, but had won their last three games against the Bears.
Which trend would prevail?
Today, the long-term memory of this series, which began in 1934, carried the day as the Bears beat the Steelers 17-14.
In professional sports, however, trends do not assert themselves, but rather those who play on the field create them.
Thus was the case Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as they squandered a host of opportunities and in the process yielded sole control of the AFC North to the Baltimore Ravens.
Yes, it was a game of sloppiness that led to missed chances, and provided ironies both spoken and unspoken.
Roethlisberger is Mortal
Ben Roethlisberger started the game in clockwork fashion, leading a 13 play 92 yard drive that resulted in a touchdown. After the Steelers defense forced a punt, he looked set to do it again, until he went deep and badly underthrew Mike Wallace then Cedric Tillman picked him off.
Whether it was because this was his first pick of the season, or for some other reason, Ben sort of seemed to fall into a funk. The stat sheet shows that Ben had a decent game, completing 65% of his passes and going one-for-one on picks and TDs.
But he’s lucky he did not have more interceptions, as far too many passes were high, short, or just off target.
Certainly Ben was the victum of at least one too many drops, namely Santonio Holmes drop in the endzone. But as Gerry Dulac pointed out in his 2 Minute Drill, Holmes had 14 passes thrown in his direction. He had 5 catches, 3 drops, which leaves seven errant passes...
The irony here is that Steel Curtain Rising not only spent the summer defending Ben, but we finished our summary of the victory over the Titans concluding that the game represented a sterling reaffirmation of Roethlisberger’s ability to deliver.
But Ben failed to deliver against the Bears.
That’s no reason to bail on Ben: He simply had a subpar game, revealing that Roethlisberger is in fact mortal.
As the Pass Rush Goes, So Goes Cutler
In contrast, Jay Cutler threw as if his hands had been touched by God, completing over 70% of his passes, and hitting two very good touchdowns.
Culter deserves every ounce of credit he gets for making swiss cheese of the Steelers pass defense. But those pretty numbers do not belie another fact – when the Steelers pass rush got in his face, he was unable to move his team.
It really was that simple.
Bettis Vindicated, Half Way
Jerome Bettis lashed out at the Steelers running game last week, and categorically declared that the defense would not be able cope with the loss of Troy Polamalu.
It seems like everyone had a piece of the Bus’ commentary, from Dan Giger’s Blog and Gold to Ron Cooks column. And herein lies the silent irony: Steel Curtain Rising was set to chime in with its own assessment, but did not have time.
Perhaps its better that way, as we were prepared to agree with the Bus on the running game, yet take issue with him on the defense.
As it turns, out, the opposite happened.
No, the running game has not returned to its former glory, not by a long shot. But it did show signs of life. (Mendenhall also showed heart on that pass reception, and then followed it up with a nice 39 yard run.)
As for the passing defense, it is hard to assess how much the Steelers are missing Troy Polamalu.
Steel Curtain Rising harshly criticized Tyrone Carter after playoff loss to Jacksonville, and he was the primary cover man on both receivers who scored touchdowns. But really, both of those touchdowns were more cases of excellent throws by Cutler than anything else.
But even if its not right to come down too hard on Carter, it's also hard, very, very hard not to think “Troy would have broken up at least one of those passes up….”
Snake Bitten Special Teams
Can the Steelers return a kick without a penalty? And what’s up with Jeff Reed? This man regularly makes long kicks under pressure in the slog at Heinz field, the most difficult place to kick in the NFL. It is rare for him to miss one kick, but two?
Stefan Logan showed that he really does have the talent to be something special as a return man. But he also revealed that he has a lot to learn. In a couple of cases it looked like he was trying to do too much.
And he needs to protect the ball. He did well enough on that final return to give Ben a decent shot at a Hail Mary, instead the game ended with Chicago taking a knee.
What Does Sunday's Defeat Mean?
As Steel Curtain Rising mentioned during our profile of recent Steelers-Bears history, games against the Bears have frequently marked turning points for the Steelers.
Victories over the Bears were key to streaks to the Super Bowl in 1995 and 2005.
Interestingly enough, wins and losses themselves are not always sign posts, as the 20-0 shut out in 1989 preceded a run to Chuck Noll’s final post-season appearance, and the lack-luster victory over the Bears in 1998 foreshadowed the demise of the Steelers' Cowher-Donahue era.
What significance will Sunday’s defeat hold?
Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison and company will make that determination.
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