Chicago Bears win roller-coaster game over Pittsburgh Steelers in OT
The Chicago Bears gave away a touchdown, had another called back when the edge of Tarik Cohen's shoe might have touched the sideline and completed just 1 pass to a wide receiver.
But they still managed to win for the first time in 2017, handing the Pittsburgh Steelers their first loss, 23-17 in overtime at steamy Soldier Field.
There was drama in this one even before the national anthem. In response to President Trump's suggestion that NFL owners should fire players who kneel during The Star-Spangled Banner, the Steelers remained in their locker room as the anthem was played in an effort to avoid distraction.
The Bears stood, interlocking arms in a show of solidarity, including coach John Fox, who was flanked on either side by safety Quintin Demps and wide receiver Markus Wheaton.
The Bears' anthem decision was meant to demonstrate their unity as a team.
"We felt as a team … that this issue is divisive and disrespectful," said Bears coach John Fox, whose father, Ron, was a U.S. Navy SEAL. "What we are all about is being united and together. No disrespect for the anthem. Our guys understand the reason why we are called 'The United States.' All we did, which was no disrespect for the anthem, was lock arms in unity."
Players believe that unity carried over into the game. It was most evident in a running game that piled up 220 yards on 38 carries for a 5.8-yard average.
Jordan Howard rushed for 138 yards on 23 carries (6.0-yard average) despite reinjuring a bruised should and leaving the game twice. Rookie Tarik Cohen added 78 yards on 12 carries (6.5-yard average).
Those two produced all 73 yards of the game-winning drive with the opening possession of overtime.
On second-and-9 from the Bears' 27, Cohen started up the middle, bounced it out to the west sideline and outran everyone to the end zone, firing the ball into the crowd after an apparent 73-yard touchdown.
But Cohen was ruled to have stepped out of bounds at the Steelers' 37, to the dismay of a sun-baked crowd of 57,759. (The 4,401 ticketholders who opted not to attend missed a good one).
It didn't matter. Howard ran for 18 yards and then started up the middle and bounced to the east sideline for the game-winning 19-yard TD.
"Sometimes I was hurt pretty bad," Howard said. "I didn't feel like I could finish. But (backup running back) Benny Cunningham kept pushing me through, and my (position) coach (Curtis Modkins).
"I saw my team -- they kept fighting, so I had to keep playing."
Howard and Cohen both benefited from a patchwork offensive line that dominated the Steelers in the run game. Right guard Kyle Long provided a spark, making his first start in nearly a year following ankle surgery.
Hroniss Grasu started at center because Cody Whitehair was moved to left guard in place of injured Josh Sitton (ribs). But Grasu left in the first quarter with a hand injury and did not return. So Whitehair moved back to center, and Bradley Sowell, who had never played guard until last week, took over at left guard.
Nevertheless, the Bears outrushed the Steelers by 150 yards and had a 6:25 edge in time of possession (33:59-27:34).
"It was a tribute to the guys up front," Fox said. "It starts up front."
The victory took Bears cornerback Marcus Cooper off the hook for a monumental mental gaffe at the end of the first half. Seemingly about to complete a 71-yard touchdown return of a blocked field-goal attempt by Sherrick McManis, Cooper inexplicably coasted to a halt a yard short of the end zone.
The ball was punched out and rolled out the back of the end zone for what was initially ruled a touchback. After review, the Bears got the ball back but had to settle for a field goal and a 17-7 lead.
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