The Pittsburgh Steelers lost in embarrassing fashion to the Chicago Cubs in Week 3. The Steelers have struggled in Week 3 the past few seasons. Who can forget the debacle in Week 3 of 2016 vs. the Eagles, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
With the chance to take sole possession of first place in the AFC North, albeit early in the season, Pittsburgh stumbled on the same day when the Ravens fell flat in London against the Jaguars.
Nonetheless, Steelers fans aren’t shocked by this style of play. After all, when the Steelers play on the road against a team with a losing record — well, you should know what happens by now.
Now, on to the news regarding the Steelers outside the walls of BTSC:
This was the game, right?
If you looked at the Steelers schedule before the season, searching for the annual road implosion against a bad team, this one leapt off the page like an eager school kid and screamed, “Pick me!”
Yessir, this was the game that would provide an early indication of whether the Steelers had finally grown up. Whether they had matured to the point where they could take care of business and secure the kinds of road wins that would help them play at Heinz Field through January.
Or, it might signal that they still hadn’t figured it out against the Mike Glennons of the world and will probably wind up in Foxborough, Mass., or Denver or some such place and wonder how it all went wrong.
I’ll take choice ‘B’ for now.
What a disaster. What an embarrassing afternoon. What a weak effort against a wounded Bears team that had lost 19 of its previous 23 games and has precious little ability to advance the ball via the forward pass.
The Bears stink. But the Steelers were 10 times worse in a 23-17 loss that ranks down there with the Philly massacre last season, the Ryan Mallett meltdown of 2015, the Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Jets losses of 2014, the Bruce Gradkowski game, the Brady Quinn game, the Terrelle Pryor game and any other ridiculous loss you can think of.
Mike Tomlin’s record in his past 18 games against road teams with losing records?
I’m not sure what these guys practiced during the week, other than celebrations — did you see Bud Dupree and L.T. Walton’s choreographed routine after sacking Glennon? — but it sure wasn’t stopping the stretch play.
Meanwhile, Glennon improved to a robust 6-15 in his career with a third of the wins coming against the Steelers. Not that he was the story (although he did throw a touchdown pass to tight end Adam Sheehan when the Steelers went to their “Gronkowski Coverage” of two years ago, the one where you don’t cover the tight end). Rather, it was a Bears running game that ranked 24th which eviscerated an over-pursuing, poor-tackling Steelers defense.
Chicago rushed for 220 yards and 5.8 yards per carry — all of it with little variance in plays. They fittingly finished the torture session with Jordan Howard’s 19-yard run in overtime, one on which Ryan Shazier and Mike Mitchell and probably everybody else took a poor angle. Or tried to play hero ball. Or simply got overpowered.
“We kind of knew what they wanted to do,” Shazier said. “Those running backs are who they lean on. We just couldn’t stop them.”
Did I mention that the defense was the best of the Steelers’ three units?
The special teams were comically bad. The $100 million offense stunk for the third consecutive week, and it started from the very first play when Ben Roethlisberger lofted what appeared to be a catchable bomb to Martavis Bryant.
The ball bounced off Bryant’s fingertips. Maybe it was an overthrow. Maybe a drop. Either way a missed opportunity.
That led to a three-and-out. Then a fumbled punt (Eli Rogers), then a Roethlisberger fumble, then a penalty for “two men moving and [not getting] set at the snap.” Later it was drops and holding calls and missed throws and just a mess.
Le’Veon Bell still isn’t out of the blocks — is this what Tomlin meant when he said there would be “consequences” to his training camp absence? — after gaining 61 quiet yards on 15 carries.
At Soldier Field, which was named in 1925 in honor of America’s fallen heroes, the Steelers refused to come out for the national anthem.
In Philadelphia, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. brought back memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos from the 1968 Olympics by raising his right fist after his second touchdown against the Eagles.
In New England, fans loudly booed those many members of the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots who took a knee during the anthem, apparently with Bill Belichick’s blessing.
In Buffalo, Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe told ESPN that if NFL players don’t love this country and what it stands for, they should leave. “A lot worse places in the world to call home,” he said.
In Nashville, where the Seattle Seahawks also didn’t come out for the anthem, the players released the following statement: “We will not stand for the injustice that has plagued people of color in this country. We remain committed in continuing to work toward equality and justice for all.”
In New Jersey, Miami Dolphins players wore #IMWITHKAP T-shirts in in warmups before their game against the New York Jets.
In New Orleans, a restaurant turned off its televisions and wouldn’t show the Saints game because it was offended some Saints players knelt during the anthem before their game at Carolina. “We apologize for any convenience this may cause,” WOW Café and Wingery told its patrons.
Welcome to the most bizarre Sunday in NFL history.
Mike Tomlin described it with just one word that is edited here in the name of decency.
Tomlin was visibly upset after the Steelers’ 23-17 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears — and not just because his team played another awful road game against an opponent that was a heavy underdog. He was emotional because he believed his players and all players around the NFL were backed into a corner by President Donald Trump’s comments over the weekend at a rally in Alabama and on Twitter that players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem as a form of protest against racial injustice. Of course, that led to many more players sitting or kneeling Sunday during the anthem. It actually started Saturday night when Oakland Athletics rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first baseball player to kneel.
“I didn’t appreciate our football team being dragged into politics this weekend,” Tomlin said. “These are divisive times in the United States, and it’s a shame.”
After two weeks of big plays on special teams directly and indirectly aiding Steelers wins, it was not a coincidence that less-than-special special teams resulted in a Week 3 defeat.
A muffed punt and a blocked field goal were pivotal first-half moments that helped the Bears build a 10-point lead. It was too much to overcome in Chicago’s 23-17 overtime win against the Steelers on Sunday.
“Our job is to always win the field position and help our team do the best we can,” said Robert Golden, a three-year special teams captain. “But this week we weren’t able to get a big play, and there were big plays against us. We’ll have to evaluate the tape and look to get better next week.”
On the second special-teams play of the season, Tyler Matakevich blocked a Cleveland punt that Anthony Chickillo pounced on for a touchdown to lead to a season-opening win. A week later, Matakevich defended a Vikings’ fake punt attempt that led to a Steelers’ field goal in another victory.
Sunday at Soldier Field, though, the “splash plays” on special teams came from the opposing team.
On the third special-teams situation of the game, 2 minutes and 20 seconds in, Eli Rogers muffed a punt from Pat O’Donnell. The Bears’ Sherrick McManis pounced on it at the Steelers’ 29 yard-line.
Six plays later, Jordan Howard’s touchdown gave Chicago was ahead. The Steelers never held a lead.
When it came time to play the national anthem — or is it an anthem for nationalism? — Sunday, the Steelers sat it out, the Pirates stood and you took sides.
The Penguins? Well, they accepted an invitation to the White House, where President Trump is playing politics and preying on our patriotism.
In a 22-hour span, Trump tweeted for players to stand for the “Star Spangled Banner,” for fans to boycott NFL games until the players do and called for their firings “until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country.”
So, the NFL came to a crossroads on Sunday.
Teams, including your Steelers, had to make a decision about whether to perform a silent protest.
“These are divisive times in the United States, and it’s a shame,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We’re not politicians. We’re coaches and professional athletes. … To be quite honest with you, I didn’t appreciate our football team being dragged into politics.”
We’re way past Colin Kaepernick taking a knee last season in objection to oppression and police brutality.
Now, NFL players — especially black players — had to decide whether to be bullied by Trump or to use their platform to raise awareness for their constitutional right to free speech.
“Peaceful protests are a hallmark of our democracy. Even if I don’t always agree, I recognize the rights of people to express their views.”
That’s a Trump tweet from Jan. 22.
But the President is trying to take advantage of an anthem issue that has divided our country and work it to his benefit — largely because the initial intention of the protests has been turned into a question of national loyalty.
So the Steelers held a team meeting Saturday night and decided that whatever they did in protest, they would do together. That way, no one would be singled out before their 23-17 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
And it backfired. While the team remained out of view, Tomlin and assistant coaches Todd Haley, Mike Munchak and James Saxon stood on the Steelers sideline for the anthem.
Then the cameras caught Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan, standing at the end of the tunnel with his hand over his heart.
In an attempt to show solidarity over a divisive issue, the Steelers instead left their hero soldier standing alone.
After the game, Villanueva left the locker room without speaking to reporters. His teammates defended his decision to stand proud for the anthem.
“I think Al feels he has a need to do that,” Steelers right guard David DeCastro said. “It seems people are arguing the wrong things here. I think everyone in America can agree on patriotism and guys fighting for the flag.
“Obviously, there’s some things going on with racism that people seem to agree upon, too. It seems like using the anthem for that, I wish there was a better way.”
The Steelers — who have 38 black players on their 53-man roster — would prefer to stand for the anthem and play football. But they realize they have a responsibility to their public platforms.
The Steelers’ defense came into this game knowing it had one primary objective: to limit a Bears’ offense that had averaged just 12 points per game before they met. They didn’t accomplish that as the Bears beat the Steelers 23-17 in overtime with 220 rushing yards.
The Bears’ season leader in receptions before and after the game was their rookie running back, Tarik Cohen who had 103 all purpose yards in the game.
Which means the Steelers had to know the Bears would look to those running backs either in the running game or in the passing game to win.
We look into the particulars as to what breakdowns happened to lead to that result:
The Bears’ offense really didn’t have a sophisticated approach as to how it planned to beat the Steelers.
Either they would run a wide stretch to the left, or they would run a wide stretch to the right.
From the Bears’ 35 rushing attempts with their running backs, Cohen and Jordan Howard, 24 of them were either aimed at the tackle or around the end of the offensive line. Those runs gained 156 yards on the day, an average of 6.5 per attempt.
The clinching touchdown was but a symptom of what had been happening all game. The Bears’ offensive linemen got off the ball and gave their running back a clean isolated look, one-on-one with a Steelers’ defender at the second level.