Bears' defense comes through in the clutch
PITTSBURGH -- Sunday night's game looked like a blowout win for the Bears over the Steelers -- and then, all of a sudden, it didn't.
The 40-23 victory for the 3-0 Bears may look easy on paper, but it wasn't.
After it appeared the Steelers were on the verge of a remarkable comeback -- or the Bears a monumental collapse -- the visitors reversed the momentum and dropped the home team to 0-3.
The Bears prevailed despite being outgained 459 yards to 258, primarily because they forced 5 turnovers and never turned over the ball. Still, the Steelers drew within 27-23 in the fourth quarter after having trailed 24-3 at halftime.
"After we got up, we kind of got into playing protective-football mode, and I didn't play that great," said quarterback Jay Cutler, who finished with a 90.8 passer rating, his third straight plus-90 game. "We have to keep our foot on the pedal.
"They had some blitzes we hadn't seen, and they got us a few times. But I'm proud of the way the guys played on the outside. It wasn't going the way we wanted for a while, but 'B.' (Brandon Marshall) made a big grab when we needed it, and Earl (Bennett) made a heck of a catch."
Up to that point, the Bears' passing offense had been held to 90 yards. The resurgence started with Cutler scrambling 13 yards on third-and-10 and drilling Steelers safety Robert Golden at the end of the run. Then there was a 40-yard, back-shoulder reception from Marshall, who was tightly covered by Ike Taylor. That set up a miraculous third-down catch in the end zone by Bennett, who somehow got both feet inbounds while fully extended and a defender draped all over him to give the Bears a 34-23 lead with 5:48 left.
Bennett didn't even know he was in, and the Bears had to request a review before it was ruled a touchdown.
"I had to look at the monitor," Bennett said. "I went off the crowd's reaction and I said, 'God, I guess I wasn't in.' We got the call we wanted, and I knew I was going to be 1-on-1 and I had to make a play."
To finish off the victory, Lance Briggs stripped the ball from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Julius Peppers went 42 yards with the fumble for the clinching touchdown.
"It was a tough football game with a lot of emotion spent and a lot of ebb and flow," said Bears coach Marc Trestman. "No. 1, we took care of the football. In the fourth quarter, we were able to stay together. We kept our poise in the noise."
A spectacular one-handed, 21-yard grab in the back of the end zone by Antonio Brown with 1:50 left in the third quarter brought the Steelers to within 27-20 after they had trailed by 21 points. Brown, who had 105 yards on 4 first-half catches, beat Charles Tillman to get the Steelers close, and a Bears offense that sputtered much of the night went three-and-out. The Bears fail to convert a second straight third-and-1 with a futile pass attempt to Marshall, who was blanketed with double coverage.
Finally the Bears' defense, now playing without Tillman (groin) and tackle Henry Melton (knee) held, but the Steelers crawled to within 27-23 on Shaun Suisham's 44-yard field goal with 10:38 left.
But they never got any closer, even though Roethlisberger threw for 406 yards and Brown caught 9 passes for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"He can still play," Bears linebacker D.J. Williams said of Roethlisberger, whom he sacked twice. "He can take an average play, take it back to the playground and run around for 10 seconds and make a play."
The Bears expected the Steelers to come back despite the deficit, but in the end they had enough to stay unbeaten.
"We're still in the evolutionary process of seeing who we are," Trestman said. "We're kind of a work in progress, but it's exciting."
The Bears' defense set up the first touchdown with a forced fumble on a sack and then scored TD No. 3 on an interception return with 8:57 left in the first half for a 24-3 lead.
Roethlisberger overthrew wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery in the middle of the field and Major Wright made a leaping grab at the Pittsburgh 38. Wright angled toward the sideline, picked up a block from James Anderson and sprinted into the end zone.
The Bears came out throwing on the game's first possession, and Cutler dinked and dunked them down to the Steelers' 29-yard line, completing 8 of 10 passes for 45 yards to set up Robbie Gould's 47-yard field goal 6:58 in.