The Steelers are in the driver’s seat to take an early hold on the AFC North with the Ravens being blown out earlier today in London, falling to 2-1. Heading to Baltimore next week, it is in their control to take a two-game lead in the division race by the quarter-mark of the season.
But in order to set themselves up for that, they first have to win in Chicago today, and they have to do so minus three starters in right tackle Marcus Gilbert, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, and outside linebacker T.J. Watt.
Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who is a decorated war veterans with three tours of active duty, was permitted to stand outside the tunnel to participate in the pre-game national anthem presentation while the rest of the roster remained in the locker room.
The Steelers received the opening kickoff, fielded by JuJu Smith-Schuster for a touchback to start the game. From the 25, Ben Roethlisberger launched a deep ball to Martavis Bryant on the first play of the game, who steaked past the secondary, but was unable to bring in the ball, for what I would consider a drop. Le’Veon Bell was given the carry on second down for three yards. On third and seven, Jesse James was on the ground when Roethlisberger targeted him. Lack of replay makes it difficult to determine what actually happened. Darrius Heyward-Bey forced Tarik Cohen to call for a fair catch after a good punt from Jordan Berry.
Vince Williams and Tyson Alualu combined to stop Jordan Howard on first down for a short loss. From the 25, Artie Burns buried the receiver on a screen pass. Now third and 11, Joe Haden was in coverage with Markus Wheaton the target of an incomplete pass. Disaster struck on the ensuing punt as Eli Rogers allowed the punt to bounce right off him and directly into the chest of a Bears coverage player, recovering at the Steelers’ 29.
On first down, Cohen picked up about four yards working off the right side. Howard was able to find the edge on the left side for a first-down run of about 10 yards. At the 14-yard line, a botched handoff forced Glennon to keep the ball, moving forward for two yards. Howard picked up eight more on second down. On first and goal, he was hit hard by Ryan Shazier and Mike Mitchell at the line of scrimmage, but more or less walked in on the second play with a clear hole off left guard. The Bears claim the early lead and seven points off of the turnover.
Terrell Watson took the kickoff out of the end zone but came up short of the 25, but the Bears were flagged for…something. Anyway, it put the Steelers at the 37. Roethlisberger looked like he was trying to throw the ball away, but Bryant dove for it and was able to draw a pass interference penalty for 10 yards. He checked it down to Bell in the left flat for a pickup of six or seven. He was bottled up at the line of scrimmage on second down, picking up just a yard. On third and short, Roethlisberger found Brown to move the chains.
From the Bears’ 40, Roethlisberger misfired down the field, much too high on a slant to Brown. On the draw, Bell was again stuffed after a short gain. Now third and eight, five wide, ROethlisberger was sacked from behind, stripped and recovered by the Bears at midfield. Ramon Foster was injured trying to recover the ball.
With J.J. Wilcox back, he was inserted in place of Mike Mitchell as he did in the season opener before leaving with a concussion. Howard picked up a yard on first down. He found the hole stretching the run far left for a first-down run to the 36.
Shazier knifed in on the following play to cut him down after a short gain. L.T. Walton did the same on second down. On third and five, Javon Hargrave’s pressure up the middle forced Glennon to scramble short of the first down. A Conner Barth field goal attempt was pushed wide right, sparing the Steelers of more points off of turnovers early in the game.
After a penalty on first down, Roethlisberger threw high to Bryant on the right sideline. On second and 15, he looked deep for Brown, with the pass falling incomplete down the right sideline. Smith-Schuster was given a screen pass that picked up 14 yards, just short of the first down. Heyward-Bey was again down the field to force a fair catch inside the 20.
Cameron Heyward harassed Glennon in the pocket on first down to force him to throw it away. Howard was taken down after about two yards. On third and long, however, Glennon had time to throw and found Markus Wheaton. It looked to me like he caught it, though apparently he dropped it, but Heyward was also flagged for roughing the passer.
An illegal block in the back on Bears rookie tight end Adam Shaheen set them back a bit, pitting them with a first and 19 to open the second quarter. From the 26, Anthony Chickillo picked up his third sack of the season for a loss of 10, Glennon never looking back. He seemed to be unblocked. on second and 29, Shazier made a good stop on a screen pass for four yards. Shazier again made the tackle after about 10 yards. Rogers was still back to field the punt.
A pair of completions to Brown and Bryant got the drive going with an early first down. A five-yard crossing route to Brown and a five-yard carry up the middle by Bell put the Steelers across midfield with a first down. A pass to Bell picked up another 9, and he finished it off on the ground on second and inches, with a rare hole to work with.
From the 29, a crossing route to Bryant picked up about eight, with the receiver shaking off one tackler, but the nice effort was negated by yet another illegal formation penalty. After a 14-yard completion to James, Roethlisberger was incomplete deep to JJSS, then Watson checked in for short-yardage duty, converting for three yards on third and one. And eight-yarder and a two-yard run from Bell set the Steelers up with first and goal.
In the end zone, Smith-Schuster’s target in the end zone could not be completed. A bubble screen to Brown and he beat his man in coverage to stretch into the end zone and bring the score to a tie at 7-7. James also left the game with a shoulder injury.
Glennon looked for Wheaton deep against Burns on first down. Burns got away with pass interference, but Wheaton could have come down with that catch and failed to. On the surprise draw, Howard picked up eight up the middle with a full head of steam. The defense then failed spectacularly, hitting Howard in the backfield multiple times but failing to bring him down, allowing him instead to pick up several yards.
From the 42, Cohen was able to find space and ran away from Heyward after reversing field, Mitchell only barely cutting off his angle at the 32. Glennon fumbled the snap and had to pick up and run, Williams bringing him down for a loss of one. The pass to the tight end was broken up by a big hit down the field, but after a penalty, the Bears were able to complete down the field to the 21.
Just outside the red zone, at the two-minute warning, Howard bounced off defenders for a six-yard gain. He was able to hit a crease down the the two-yard line on the next play. Against the goal-line defense, Glennon hit Shaheen completely uncovered in the left middle of the end zone to take a 14-7 lead. Awful drive for the defense with 43 seconds left in the half.
Roethlisberger looked to hit Brown deep on first down, the cornerback getting a hand on the ball first. Off play action, he found Bryant on an intermediate throw for the first down to the 42. Roethlisberger evaded a sack and threw deep to Bryant for a jump ball that went incomplete. Brown was flagged for a false start prior to the second-down pass. Brown got free on a corner route down to the Bears’ 40. Another hit to Brown over the middle took them well into field goal range, using their final timeout to set it up.
Chris Boswell’s field goal attempt was blocked and returned for what should have been a touchdown, only the Bears player returning the ball foolishly slowed before crossing the goal line, Vance McDonald stripping the ball. The ball then trickled out of the end zone. After a great deal of discussion, because of an illegal batting penalty, the Bears got possession of the ball with no time remaining at the spot of the foul, plus half the distance to the goal, as about the half-yard line. Amazingly, though, the Bears were flagged for a false start, pushing them back to the five-and-a-half, then settling for a field goal attempt. At last, the Bears finished off the first half with a 17-7 lead, getting the ball to start the second half as well.