By F. Dale Lolley
PITTSBURGH – Ben Roethlisberger and company were looking for some kind of spark, some kind of way to get the ball into the end zone more often than they had in their first two games.
They found it Sunday night against Chicago at Heinz Field.
But it was a two-edged sword as the Steelers, who had scored just two touchdowns and 19 points in their first two games, found their offensive groove against the Bears, rolling up 459 yards of offense.
Pittsburgh’s offense, however, was also its own worst enemy, as the Steelers turned the ball over five times, four of which led to points for the Bears in a 40-23 victory over the Steelers.
“You’re not going to win football games when you’re turning the ball over in the manner in which we did,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who saw his team drop to 0-3 for the first time since 2000.
“It produced direct points. It produced other point opportunities. You’re not going to beat anybody in the NFL playing like that.”
Certainly not the Bears (3-0).
The Bears only gained 258 yards on offense, but took direct advantage of the Pittsburgh turnovers – returning two for touchdowns – to score 23 points.
“I can’t turn the ball over, just plain and simple,” said Roethlisberger, who completed 26 of 41 passes for 406 yards and two touchdowns.
Roethlisberger also had two interceptions, one of which was returned for a score that made it 24-3 early in the second quarter by safety Major Wright. He also fumbled twice, the second of which was returned 42 yards by Julius Peppers in the fourth quarter to set the final score.
As bad as it was, the Steelers still had a chance to win the game, after falling behind 27-10 early in the third quarter on a 32-yard Robbie Gould field goal.
The Steelers sandwiched a pair of Shaun Suisham field goals around a beautiful one-handed touchdown catch by Antonio Brown in the back of the end zone to cut the score to 27-23 with 10:38 remaining in the game.
But Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who completed 20 of 30 passes for 159 yards, scrambled for 13 yards on third-and-10, then threw a 41-yard completion to Brandon Marshall on third-and-12 to put Chicago in scoring range.
He finished the Steelers off with a 17-yard TD pass to Earl Bennett in the back corner of the end zone that was originally ruled an incompletion that would have forced a field goal.
Chicago challenged the call on the field and it was overturned, putting the Bears back up by 10.
“We needed to make that play,” defensive end Brett Keisel said of the scramble. “We need to find a way to get him on the ground and keep him in the pocket. That’s our responsibility up front.
“You’ve got to give Jay credit. They made the plays at the end, we didn’t.”
As a result, the Steelers find themselves in an 0-3 hole.
“I don’t know if we can dig out of it,” said Roethlisberger. “We are going to have to give it everything we got to get out. It’s a deep hole and it’s getting deeper. I’m not going to quit.”
Odds and end zones
Brown finished with career highs in receptions (9) and yards (196) while also scoring both Pittsburgh touchdowns. … The 400-yard game was the fourth of Roethlisberger’s career. … Tight end Heath Miller returned for the Steelers and had three receptions for 35 yards. … Pittsburgh’s running game, which had produced 75 yards in the first two weeks, had 80 yards. Felix Jones started and had 34 yards on seven carries, but also lost a fumble. Jonathan Dwyer gained 39 yards on 12 carries. … Keisel and LaMarr Woodley had sacks for the Steelers.