Following each game in the 2021 Steelers season, I will be highlighting the play or event in the game that is the turning point in the game. These aren’t meant to be anything earth-shattering, but meant to take a deeper look at how we arrived at the outcome of the game that may be hard to see during the first live watch.
Following a three and out up 10 points with 6:31 left in the ballgame, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked as if they were about to cruise to a win, keeping their 30+ year streak of ‘Monday Night Football’ victories in Pittsburgh alive.
The Steelers last loss on MNF at home was on Oct. 14, 1991 vs the Giants. #Steelers
— Steelers Depot 🦃 (@Steelersdepot) November 7, 2021
With a two-possession lead, a couple runs from Najee Harris here, and a few screens to Diontae Johnson there, this game can be salted away. Thoughts of sauntering off into a Monday night IC Light-induced sleep start to fill Steelers fans’ minds.
It could all be that easy. However, if you’ve been a Steelers fan for all of two weeks, you know, it is in fact NEVER that easy.
As the punt following the Chicago Bears three and out hung in the air and punt returner Ray-Ray McCloud positioned himself under the ball, on the 20-yard line, it seemed that there was room for a play to be made. Not a single Bears defender was within 20 yards of him as he shifts his momentum up the field.
Great, not only will the Steelers be getting the ball back up 10, but will have decent field position, as well.
Starting to work his way to the left, McCloud then cuts back against the grain, seemingly in an attempt to better set up his blockers, only to fall into a host of Bears. While it looked to have more potential, the 10-yard return wasn’t a terrible outcome, considering it was over a yard more than McCloud’s 8.8 yards per return average (sixth-best in the NFL).
However, it wasn’t good enough for one Steelers fan as you could hear them on ESPN’s TV-broadcast screaming, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?”
Sir, McCloud is about to show you just how serious he is.
Just after McCloud fell to the ground you could see the ball squirt out. From the initial TV angle, McCloud certainly looked down. No reason to worry yet.
Then ESPN cuts to their other angles and all of Steelers Nation joins in with the initial fan’s reaction, “Are you serious?”
As the referee confirms the call on the field of a fumble and the Bears’ field goal team trots onto the field for the extra point, a game that has been in control for all of the first 54 minutes now is seemingly on the brink of disaster.
Still, the Steelers are up a field goal, with the ball. That drive that was being dreamt up before the punt return can still turn into a reality.
Following the kickoff, the Steelers’ drive started out as a promising one, with the offense working the ball to midfield behind three straight first downs and running roughly three minutes off the clock in the process.
Then, the offense sputtered into a 3rd & 8.
Playing a 2-Man defensive coverage, the Bears’ corners were able to be aggressive. Knowing that they had help over the top, they were able to stay under the routes, between the receiver and the quarterback, cutting off any possible throwing lanes.
It was clear Ben Roethlisberger wanted to get the ball to Diontae Johnson trying to work his way open on an inside-stem out route, but against this coverage, there was nothing there.
Roethlisberger worked his way up the pocket into a coverage sack by Cassius Marsh.
Now being forced to punt with the only 3:40 left in the game, this has spiraled out of control for this Pittsburgh team.
Marsh, who started the season with the Steelers and signed by Chicago just six days before the game, knew he just made a crucial play against his old team. No matter how many seconds it took from snap to sack (it was more than five), he wanted to let the Steelers organization know they made a mistake in letting him go. This sack in his eyes was their punishment.
Let ’em have it, Cassius!
Until out of nowhere, the yellow flag indicator popped up on the bottom of the ESPN scoreboard.
From The NFL Rulebook:
taunting – /ˈtôn(t)iNG/ – verb – Any flagrant acts or remarks that deride, mock, bait, or embarrass an opponent.
While the term “flagrant” may be debatable in the sense of the word, it’s hard to argue that Marsh was not indeed “taunting” the Steelers sideline after the play. The rule, along with the NFL’s emphasis on the rule, stinks, yes. However, in that spot, in Week 9 of the season, when you know how strict the NFL’s referees have been about it, one has to know the situation and simply swallow their pride after that sack.
What do we think this Bears’ coach thought about who was at fault?
We could write a whole article about whether this should or should not have been called, but this article is about the turning point, and I indeed feel like this was THE turning point of the game.
As a fan, it sort of left a sour taste in your mouth, as no one wants a game swung on a judgment penalty for an action that had no true impact on the game.
If that penalty doesn’t get called, the Bears get the ball back with a little over three minutes left, along with all of the momentum, only down a field goal.
Instead, the Steelers keep the ball and are able to JUST get into field goal range thanks to this catch and run by Diontae Johnson on a 3rd & 16.
That allows Chris Boswell a chance for his second 50+ yard field goal of the quarter.
While the Bears were able to hold the Steelers to just a field goal, it was still a gut punch to their momentum.
With the Bears driving the length of the field for the lead-changing touchdown late in the fourth, would the Bears have handled their drive differently if they were only down three compared to six?
Would have the Steelers been able to score a touchdown, if they had time at all, instead of being able to rely on the leg of their kicker Chris Boswell?
The hypotheticals are endless, but with how the game was going it’s hard to picture the Steelers pulling out the win without the flag for taunting being thrown.
What did you feel was the turning point of the game? Leave your thoughts and comments below!