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Steelers again fail to bear down against weak opponent

Another face plant against a cellar-dwelling opponent.

Another collective face palm across Steelers Nation.

The Steelers did it again. They lost to yet another team they should have had no problem beating, upholding a dubious tradition that’s been an unfortunate undercurrent of Mike Tomlin’s tenure as head coach.

With sole possession of first place in the AFC North right there on a silver platter after the Ravens’ 44-7 loss to the Jaguars in London, the Steelers fell 23-17 to the Bears in overtime at Chicago on Sunday.

The Steelers lost to a winless team (0-2 or worse) for the fifth time in the last six years. Since 2012, they’ve lost nine games to teams that have finished the season 6-10 or worse. There’s a good chance this becomes the 10th.

This has passed the point of getting tedious. What can we say now that we haven’t said after all those previous flops?

Plenty.

For one thing, Mike Glennon improved to 6-15 as a starter. Two of those wins have come against the Steelers. It was obvious early in this game that the Steelers (2-1) haven’t learned from their history against inferior teams, and history repeated itself in an uncanny way.

On the first play of the game, Ben Roethlisberger threw a deep ball that went through Martavis Bryant‘s fingers. Maybe a little overthrown, but Bryant should have had it. Like the Steelers, the Bears (1-2) went three-and-out on their first drive, but Eli Rogers muffed the punt.

Now, the Steelers are used to Bryant letting them down, but Rogers? It was a costly mistake by the reliable slot receiver, because the Bears needed just 29 yards to take a 7-0 lead on a 3-yard run by Jordan Howard, who gashed the Steelers for 138 yards and two touchdowns, including the 19-yard game winner in OT.

When Glennon and the 0-3 (and eventually 2-14) Bucs visited Pittsburgh in 2014, Roethlisberger was strip-sacked on the third play of the game and the Steelers spotted Tampa Bay a 10-0 lead in a game they eventually lost 27-24 on Glennon’s game-winning touchdown pass with seven seconds left.

Glennon didn’t have to be a hero Sunday. He threw for only 101 yards. Instead, it was Howard and Tarik Cohen, who added 78 rushing yards on 12 carries.

The Steelers’ epic fails in their run defense and on special teams almost weren’t enough to lose this game. The Bears did all they could to hand this game to the Steelers. They fumbled the ball five times, but the Steelers could only recover one of them. The Bears also pissed away four points at the end of the first half when Marcus Cooper recovered a blocked field goal and ran it back for what would have been a touchdown if he hadn’t slowed down to start his celebration before reaching the goal line. Vance McDonald knocked the ball out of his hands and into the end zone and punter Jordan Berry knocked it out of the end zone.

With the first half apparently finished, the Steelers went into the locker room, but after the play was reviewed, Berry was penalized for the illegal hit. The Bears were awarded an untimed down at the half-yard line. They committed a false start penalty and had to settle for a field goal and a 17-7 halftime lead.

If it weren’t for those three points, the Steelers would have won 17-14 because they held the Bears scoreless in the second half. Had Berry just recovered the ball in the end zone, it would have been a touchback and the half would have been over. It would have helped if Berry knew that, but it’s not exactly a shocker that someone doesn’t know the rules on a team that’s second in the league with 29 penalties, including an illegal formation and an illegal shift on Sunday and an illegal formation on a field goal attempt in Week 2.

Perhaps the players should be quizzed on the rules this week as they prepare for their game at Baltimore. A lot of the guys would be taking this quiz in the trainer’s room. Who knows how differently this game would have turned out if T.J. Watt and Stephon Tuitt were healthy and if Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster were protecting Roethlisberger. Foster left the game in the first quarter with a thumb injury. The other three guys were inactive.

With boys of summer Chris Hubbard and B.J. Finney trying to protect him, Roethlisberger was sacked three times Sunday. The first led to a fumble. The second came on third-and-3 with the Steelers in Bears territory with 11 minutes left in the game. The third came on a three-man rush with 22 seconds left in regulation, squashing any chance at a game-winning field goal.

On their previous possession, the Steelers had the ball at their 38 with 5:12 left and the score tied 17-17. They could have worked the clock for the game-winning score, but Hubbard was called for holding on the first play of the drive and the Steelers went three-and-out.

This supposedly explosive offense is 25th in the league with a 32 percent conversion rate on third downs and 16th with 21.3 points per game. Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Bryant have been on the field together for three straight games. They hadn’t even played together in two straight games since 2014. The problem now is the offensive line can’t stay healthy. If Gilbert and Foster aren’t back soon, or if Hubbard and Finney don’t break through those training-camp ceilings, it’s only a matter of time before Roethlisberger misses some games and the Steelers once again find themselves having to win nine straight just to make the playoffs.

Then again, it won’t take the 1985 Bears or the 1975 Steelers to win the AFC North in 2017. The Steelers still can own first place in the division if they win at Baltimore Sunday, and at least they’re not looking for answers in the wake of a 37-point loss. The Ravens had built their 2-0 record by beating the Bengals and Browns, 0-3 both. Based on that, as well as their rendition of the London Sillynannies on Sunday, the Ravens might not be that good.

But right now, neither are the Steelers.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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