Steelers plagued by miscues as they lose to Bears, drop to 0-3
Partly because they hadn't seen a first quarter at home this bad since 1999, the Steelers are 0-3 for the first time since 2000.
Now they're about to find out if briefly making something out of a game that seemed long since lost will help them turn around a season that's already looking to be a lost cause.
Reaching early-season depths not seen since Kent Graham was their quarterback, the turnover-troubled Steelers (0-3) fell behind the unbeaten Bears (3-0) by three touchdowns Sunday night at Heinz Field, amid booing that was loud and persistent.
They rallied behind the Ben Roethlisberger-to-Antonio Brown passing combination to get within four points midway through the fourth quarter, but two late Bears touchdowns secured Chicago's 40-23 victory.
No opponent had scored that many points on the Steelers at home since they lost to the Titans, 47-36, to end the 1999 season.
“I don't know if we can't dig out of it,” Roethlisberger said. “We're going to give it everything we can to get out. It's a deep hole. It's getting deeper, but we're not going to quit.”
Major Wright's 38-yard interception return of a Roethlisberger pass was the fifth touchdown off a turnover by the Bears in three games — there would be a sixth — and it put Chicago up 24-3 with nearly half of the second quarter remaining.
The Steelers outgained Chicago, 459-258, but turned it over five times, the Bears none.
“Obviously, we're a good offense,” Emmanuel Sanders said. “We've got to stop turning the ball over. That's the obvious part.”
The Bears opened a 17-0 lead, the biggest first-quarter deficit for the Steelers at home since a 1999 loss to the Seahawks. A year later, with Graham at quarterback, the Steelers opened the season with consecutive losses to the Ravens, Browns and Titans, a start that brought on Kordell Stewart.
That was their last previous 0-3 start. Until now. They didn't made the postseason in any of the previous 12 seasons they were 0-3, and only once — in that 2000 season, when they ended 9-7 — did they recover to achieve a winning record.
It's no secret why the Steelers keep losing — they keep losing the ball. Their turnover deficit is a startling minus-9, with nine turnovers committed and none forced. The team record for a season is minus-30.
The Steelers made a game of it Sunday as Brown made a succession of big catches — two for touchdowns — against a Bears secondary that had no answer for him.
Brown ended with nine catches for 196 yards, while Roethlisberger was 26 of 41 for 406 yards and two interceptions. And the running game failed to produce 100 yards for the ninth straight game.
“ I always believe in us no matter how much we're down,” Brown said. “The second half we came back, did some positive things, but it just wasn't there yet.
“We've got to continue to fight to make this thing right.”
It appears Brown knew what he was doing when he appealed to offensive coordinator Todd Haley to get him more involved in the offense, a plea first heard during their 20-10 loss in Cincinnati on Monday.
At that point, with their defense throttling a Bears offense that was propelled early on by two Roethlisberger turnovers — a fumble and an interception — and a fumble by Felix Jones, the Steelers actually were in a position to win it.
“We were moving the ball, converting, making plays, we got it to four (points), but we couldn't finish,” Roethlisberger said.
But the Bears' offense, limited to fewer than 200 yards through three quarters, suddenly reawakened as Jay Cutler found ace receiver Brandon Marshall in single coverage downfield for 41 yards.
Three plays later, Cutler hit Earl Bennett in the upper left corner of the end zone to restore the Bears' double-digit lead at 34-23 with 5:48 remaining.
Now it's on to London for a matchup with the winless Vikings (0-3) as the Steelers attempt to avoid their first 0-4 start since 1968, when they dropped their first six en route to a 2-11-1 record under coach Bill Austin.
That season brought on the Chuck Noll era. It's too early to tell what this 0-3 start will bring on.