Steelers special teams cost them in loss to Bears
CHICAGO — 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.
Steelers fans show their colors against the Bears on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017, at Soldier Field in Chicago. For more images from Week 3, visit the Trib's photo gallery.
Photo by Chaz Palla
They did appear poised to pull to within four as the first half was winding down when Chris Boswell attempted a 35-yard field goal. Boswell and holder Jordan Berry said that the snap and hold were crisp.
But McManis came clean from around the far left side of the Steelers' field-goal formation, around Xavier Grimble.
"A miss by me," Grimble said.
What followed were several bizarre minutes — the details of the ensuing return, fumble and penalties are not germane to the ultimate result of a Bears field goal that turned what would have been a 14-10 score into a 17-7 Bears halftime lead.
Put together with the touchdown soon after the Rogers punt-return muff, and that's a minus-13 for the Steelers when it comes to net point margin from its special teams gaffes in the first half.
"If you look at it that way," Berry said, "we wouldn't have been in an overtime situation."
"We lacked a little bit of execution there, obviously," said tight end Jesse James, who's typically part of the field goal team but was not on the field for that one because he suffered a minor shoulder injury. "In the NFL, field-goal blocks will kill you every time. Big play. And the game is not defined with one play, one phase, but we got to get better so something like that doesn't kill us down the road."
Special teams errors have killed the Steelers in losses to inferior teams — not unlike how big special teams plays the past two weeks helped them win games against the Browns and Vikings.
"We know that to be a good team, things like (what happened Sunday) can't happen," Berry said.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.