The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the game vs. Chicago attempting to fend off three opponents: The Bears, themselves, and their first 0-3 start since 2000.
The Steelers failed on all three fronts. Now they share the 0-3 mark of Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert’s inaugural squad. A lot has happened since then, but there are both promising similarities and disquieting asymmetries shared by these two editions of the Steelers, separated by 13 years.
Looking Back at the Steelers Last 0-3 Start
Unlike in 2013, the Steelers entered the 2000 season as an afterthought. No one wondered “Can this team still be a contender?” “Can they surroned their quarterback with enough talent to win?”
The early going was rough:
- Baltimore defeated the Steelers at home in the opener 16-0. Make no mistake about the score, it wasn’t even close.
- Week 2 saw the Steelers, unable to kick a last second field goal, drop a 20-23 decision to the Browns
Week 3 brought a Tennessee Titans team to town that had fallen about a foot short of victory in the Super Bowl. The Steelers were to be Tennessee’s sacrificial lamb. Yet Cowher’s squad stubbornly refused to follow the script.
Instead they want toe-to-toe with the AFC Champions, holding a 20 to 26 lead late into the fourth quarter on the strength of two Kris Brown field goals and touchdowns by Stewart and Bettis.
What’s more, poetic justice was being served, as Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington had picked of Neil O’Donnell 3 times and Jason Gildon sacked him, knocking him from the game as the two minute warning loomed….
The Windy City Blows Up Against Big Ben
Steelers Nation remembers the last two weeks all too well. Any positive preseason prognosis for Pittsburgh included the caveat “As long as the offensive line stays healthy…” And of course good health only lasted 7 plays.
Against Cincinnati, the class of the division, the Steelers played to a 10-10 half time tie in spite of their efforts to make it easy for Cincinnati by giving them the ball. In the second half the Steelers gave it their best shot, and came up short.
The Steelers treated their guests to similar hospitality turning over the ball twice and giving up a long run.
- Before the first quarter was even over, the Steelers were down 17-0.
Dale Lolley’s tweet summed up the story of the game perfectly:
Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have invested heavily in the offensive line via the draft. Yet Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert both proved woefully inadequate. The result was Ben Roethlisberger personally spotting the Bears 14 points.
All hope seemed lost, yet then a funny thing happened.
Echo’s of ‘00er’s Resiliency
Like their predecessors from 13 years earlier, the Steelers refused to fold, fired after Zoltan Mesko drew an illegal contact penalty.
Roethlisberger first hooked up with Emmnauel Sanders for 22 and then he found Antoino Brown in the end zone. Almost on cue, guys began to step up.
- David Johnson hauled in not one, but two long catches
- Jonathan Dwyer helped shore up the pass protection – and ran as if his NFL career depended on it
- LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel reintroduced the sack into the Steelers lexicon
- David DeCastro started throwing crushing blocks and pushing guys past the pylons
Late in the third quarter Ben Roethlisberger threw deep to Antonio Brown for another show stopping catch. The Steelers held the Bears and the offense tacked on three.
In a game that once saw Steelers down 23-3 now had knocking at heaven’s door, 27-0….
3 Throws and 2 Runs = 0-3 for the 00er’s
…Steelers Nation can be forgiven if they cheered at the sight of Gildon forcing a bloody Neil O’Donnell from the field.
But the Catholic nuns and monks that instructed the Rooney boys will tell you that the Good Book tells us not to wish ill for anyone, and Steelers Nation got a lesson why.
Steve McNair came into the game. McNair would prove himself to be a “Steelers Slayer” and this game showed why, as it only took him 3 passes and 2 runs to reclaim the lead and the game, for Tennessee.
- Bill Cowher was close to tears and Steelers Nation distraught.
Yet the ’00 Steelers were far from done. The following week, left for dead by the NFL, they traveled to Jacksonville, and with their backs to the wall won the game. They just missed the playoffs, but that Jacksonville victory set the tone for the decade (click here for recap.)
Many factors contributed to that turn-around, but one sticks out. The 00’ Steelers had fallen victims to two last second touchdown drives by McNair and Tim Couch. One constant in those drives had been the presence of safety Scott Shields in the dime defense.
He rode the pine after week 3, and the Steelers late-game defense was the better for it. One small change made a big difference.
Cutler Tough, Ben Butterfingers
…The Steelers appeared to have the Bears on the ropes, forcing a 3rd in 10 when heavy pressure flushed Jay Cutler from the pocket. Cutler of course scrambled with it, lowered his shoulder, and nearly KOed Robert Golden in the process.
That allowed Cutler to hit Brandon Marshall for 41, and then Earl Bennett for a 17 yard touchdown. 34 to 23 with 5 minutes left to play is daunting, but not impossible.
Especially if you have a big game, comeback tested quarterback.
- Which everyone knows Roethlisberger is. Right?
Unfortunately, Ben Roethlisberger fumbled, with the Bears returning it for 6….
…Steel Curtain Rising isn’t ready to give up on Ben Roethlisberger yet. God knows he’s had zero time to throw. But the fact is that he has not played well since his return from injury last season.
- Worse yet, the turnover, instead of the touchdown has become Ben’s signature play in late “come from behind” drives which used to be Ben’s strength.
Perhaps that weakness can be rectified by shifting around the tackles and/or shifting Kelvin Beachum into the line up, just as Bill Cowher improved things by benching Shields.
Steelers Nation had better hope so, because Ben Roethlisberger is not so easily replaced.