Steelers Survive the Scrappy Bears

(Photo: Ken Blaze / USA Today)

Much of tonight’s Bears/Steelers matchup went according to expectations. T.J. Watt did T.J. Watt things (3 sacks and 1 key batted ball) all night, wreaking havoc for Justin Fields and the Bears. The Bears D lit up the Steelers O-line with 4 total sacks, and they held the Steelers to 280 total yards. The Steelers led for almost the entire game, keeping the Bears an arm’s length away. The Steelers escaped with a 29-27 home win against a Bears team that refused to give up.

Is Fields Figuring It Out?

Justin Fields was under attack all night from T.J. Watt and the Pittsburgh defense. He threw an interception to Cam Heyward, and took some big hits from the Steelers secondary. But he held his own. When Fields was able to escape the pocket, he showed poise and patience to extend plays and convert first downs. Although it looked like it was going to be a long night for the rookie QB on offense, he kept his calm and slowly worked into a rhythm.

Fields began to lean on both his running game and his TE, as any good quarterback will do. Cole Kmet (6 rec, 87 yds) seemed to consistently get open when Fields needed to get some yards, and the Bears as a team rushed for 136 total yards. Forty-five of these were from Fields himself, who had some smart scampers throughout the game. He still looked skittish in the pocket at times, and missed some throws. But all-in-all, Justin Fields appeared to take a step in the right direction tonight.

Steelers Benefit From Penalty Yardage

The Steelers clearly thought they were going to run away with this one. A first quarter TD from Najee Harris, coupled with a stagnant Bears offense, set them up for early success. But it would be the Bears who would dominate the yardage total (414 – 280). The Steelers relied on twelve Chicago penalties that resulted in 115 yards for the Steelers. These penalties helped them move the ball and win the time of possession battle. Those twelve penalties weren’t all the Bears’ fault, however, as the referees played more of a role than they would intend to normally.

The Bears had a TD from Justin Fields to Jimmy Graham called back due to an illegal low block. Upon review, the broadcast team noted that Bears guard James Daniels legally attempted the block within the tackle box, but was still called for the penalty. The Bears had to settle for 3 points on the drive. The score at this point was 14-6, and the Steelers would extend their lead to 20-6 on the ensuing drive.

Mooney Takes Over the Fourth

Darnell Mooney showed up big time in the latter stages of the game, first by taking a handoff from David Montgomery to score a 15 yard touchdown run. This brought the Bears to within 7 points (20-13). Chris Boswell hit a 54 yard FG for the Steelers on the following drive to extend the lead back to two possessions. The Bears would be forced to punt on their next drive, and it appeared that Pittsburgh would be able to start managing the clock to victory.

However, Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled the punt, and Chicago’s DeAndre Houston-Carson ran it in for a touchdown to bring the Bears within three (23-20). The Steelers were held to another Boswell FG to go up 26-20, and then it was time for Mooney to shine bright again. Justin Fields hit Mooney on a 16 yard TD pass to give the Bears a 27-26 lead with under two minutes remaining. Mooney created just enough separation and was able to drag a foot to stay in bounds and complete the pass.

Every second counted in the end

Giving Ben Roethlisberger 1:46 proved to be too much, as Big Ben put the Steelers in position for go-ahead, 40 yard FG by Chris Boswell. The Bears were left with only 30 seconds and no timeouts remaining. Fields again showed his maturation, getting the Bears into almost field goal range. After a T.J. Watt batted ball stopped the clock with two seconds remaining, Cairo Santos attempted a 65 yard field goal. He left it a few yards short, and Pittsburgh was able to breath a sigh of relief as they improved to 5-3. The Bears fell to 3-6 after the loss.

Who deserves the game ball?

There were a number of potential heroes to choose from for both teams, but you have to win to get a game ball. It’s hard to ignore the impact of both Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt, but I’m going to give the ball instead to rookie TE Pat Freiermuth. His 5 catches for 43 yards isn’t exactly a mind-blowing stat line, but his 2 TDs changes that. He was the only player who never seemed to make a mistake, and his 2nd TD in the third quarter was a clutch play by a clutch player. Freiermuth simply outdueled Bears CB Kindle Vildor on a 50/50 ball, and did not need the pass interference call that was made on the play. Big Ben relied on Freiermuth, and I’m not sure they score on those drives without him as Roethlisberger’s go-to receiver.

Rest of season outlook

If I am a Bears fan I am feeling good about the future of Justin Fields. If he can improve his navigation of the pocket, and tighten up his accuracy, he will be a dual-threat force to be reckoned with. Their defense is already lights out, so even a consistently average Justin Fields makes them a team nobody wants to play.

Even though they won, I am less impressed by the Steelers. Their defense is legitimate, but their offense is too inconsistent. Their offensive line issues will prevent them from making a deep playoff run. However, they have stud at RB in Najee Harris, and their receiving corps has the potential to be top-of-the-line. I predict they make the playoffs, but lose in the first round.

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