2021 NFL season, Week 9: What we learned from Steelers' win over Bears on Monday night

Pittsburgh Steelers
2021 · 5-3-0
Chicago Bears
2021 · 3-6-0

FULL BOX SCORE


  1. Justin Fields introduced himself to the NFL on Monday night. The Bears appeared doomed in the third quarter, showing few signs of offensive life through the first two quarters and failing to meet their defensive reputation. Then, just as quickly as fries are slapped onto a Primanti's sandwich (because it was in Pittsburgh, ya know?), Fields and the Bears flipped the narrative. The rookie put together all of the lessons he's learned from his short career, bailing out of the pocket and taking off when there was nowhere to throw the ball, rolling away from pressure and flipping his hips to deliver strikes, and quickly moving the Bears down the field on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives Chicago absolutely needed. His best throw of his young career came on the second scoring drive, when Fields dropped to pass, stepped up and ripped a rope over the nearest defender to Allen Robinson streaking down the sideline. The completion set up an impressive touchdown pass to Darnell Mooney to give the Bears the lead and officially put the football world on notice. Fields has the goods and continues to trend upward, and even though the Bears lost, they have to feel good about what they saw from their young signal-caller.
  2. A tale of two halves ended in a pipe dream of a field goal attempt. Chicago spent a half spinning its wheels in the recently re-sodded turf of Heinz Field, and paid the price when the game reached its final moments. The Bears took two quarters to learn to chip T.J. Watt and not call bootlegs to his side when he's unblocked, but fortunately, halftime exists. The Bears reversed course in the second half, unlocking their previously lifeless offense and recognizing Robinson's existence in the process, jumpstarting their attack and their comeback effort. Equal improvement from the Bears' defense and a bounce in their favor put them right back in the game, but Chicago couldn't escape a couple of questionable decisions made by Matt Nagy, who chose to kick a field goal when down 14-3, then opted for a one-in-1,000,000 field goal attempt on the final play of the game instead of giving his strong-armed quarterback one final chance to heave it to the end zone. The Bears lost Monday for many reasons, but they didn't do themselves any favors by essentially wasting a half of football trying to get their feet under them. Hopefully they can get going earlier than the second half in the weeks ahead.
  3. Matt Canada's offense is starting to mature into a palatable attack. Whether it's the sudden improvement from rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth or the pre-snap misdirection that opens up lanes for runs and short completions, this Steelers offense has grown into a creative scheme that's difficult to defend. Gone are the days of swing passes to Najee Harris five yards behind the line of scrimmage. In its place are handoffs to the patient, explosive Harris, well-blocked inside-the-tackles runs and quick deliveries to pass-catchers with the advantage of inside leverage. Freiermuth has become a red-zone weapon, catching two touchdown passes Monday night. Altogether, it's an attack that isn't nearly as predictable or sleepy as it was a month ago, and is a big reason why the Steelers are 5-3 -- even if they struggled to hang onto what ultimately became a close win.
  4. T.J. Watt loves those bright lights of prime time. Watt bested his earlier Week 6 prime-time performance (which included two sacks) by recording three sacks Monday night, pulling within a half sack of league leader Myles Garrett. Watt finished with seven tackles and was a presence that required constant attention from the Bears, who took a half to realize they needed to dedicate more than a single blocker to the game-wrecking edge rusher. Watt's early success helped the Steelers build a lead that stood until late in the fourth quarter and ultimately helped Pittsburgh win its fourth straight. He's worth the money, of course, and extra preparation from each opposing offense he'll face in the weeks ahead. He's also worth your attention every time he takes the field for a night game.
  5. We can't summarize this game without mentioning penalties. The Bears racked up 12 penalties for 115 penalty yards in the loss, which is worth pointing out on its own. Then there's the controversy surrounding at least a handful of penalties, which includes three significant calls that affected the outcome of the contest. First, a touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham was wiped out by a questionable low block penalty called on Chicago's James Daniels. Later, the Steelers were awarded a healthy chunk of field position on a pass interference penalty called on Jaylon Johnson, who was forced to fight through a hand placed on his chest by Diontae Johnson but didn't exactly interfere with the latter Johnson's ability to catch a pass. And most importantly, a third-down sack was erased by a taunting penalty called on recent addition Cassius Marsh, who took down Ben Roethlisberger and celebrated before staring at a sideline populated by his former teammates. Referee Tony Corrente watched Marsh's stare down, waited for the defender to pass him (and bumped into him in the process), then tossed a flag into the air, giving the Steelers enough penalty yards for a first down. Four plays later, Chris Boswell kicked a field goal to make it 26-20 Steelers. They ended up winning thanks to another Boswell field goal that made it 29-27. The Bears played sloppy football all night, getting flagged for lining up offsides four times (two were accepted), but they have a right to be upset about how the penalties impacted the game. We haven’t even mentioned a roughing the passer call that went against them thanks to Roethlisberger laying on the ground after being hit. Chicago wasn't afforded the same treatment with Fields, who took a late hit on a third-down pass attempt but wasn't able to get a similar call.


Next Gen stat of the game: Justin Fields completed 9 of 16 passes of 10-plus air yards for 225 yards and a touchdown Monday night.


NFL Research: T.J. Watt reached 60 career sacks on Monday night, his 69th career game. Only three players reached 60 career sacks in fewer games: Pro Football Hall of Famers Reggie White and Derrick Thomas, and Watt's older brother, future Hall of Famer J.J. Watt.

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