CHICAGO -- It's easy to look at the Pittsburgh Steelers' three consecutive seasons of double-digit wins and ignore the occasional lapse. But curious losses against inferior teams are making that difficult.
The Steelers' 23-17 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field -- thanks to an overpowering Chicago rushing performance in overtime -- was Pittsburgh's sixth loss against a sub-.500 team since 2014.
Bears running back Tarik Cohen's apparent 73-yard walk-off touchdown was called back after he stepped out of bounds, but Jordan Howard sealed it a few plays later with his 19-yard, game-winning score.
The Bears looked in command all game, which reveals an ugly truth about the Steelers' insistence on playing down to competition.
After Howard's game-winning touchdown run through a sea of defensive backs, Steelers cornerback Artie Burns flung his helmet and walked to the locker room without it. Safety Mike Mitchell lay by the end zone, his face mask buried in the grass.
Despite some efforts to cure the Bears' early run success and creating two turnovers in the second half, the Steelers looked outmatched on the final drive.
"We got our asses kicked," defensive end Cam Heyward said.
The offense didn't fare much better.
With 52 seconds left in regulation, one timeout remaining and 85 yards from the end zone, the Steelers walked to the line of scrimmage looking like a high-powered offense should. The result? They gained 17 yards on two passes, called a timeout, and took a sack off a three-man rush before regulation ended.
"We thought we were going to go score and win the game," tight end Jesse James said .
The Steelers just can't reach back and consistently overpower teams on the road. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger finished with one touchdown pass, the ninth time in his past 11 road games he has had one passing score or less.
The Bears tried to lose this game at several points, including back-to-back penalties on a fourth-quarter drive. This was a game Pittsburgh probably should have won convincingly.
As the Steelers were late out of the tunnel pregame, their play reflected as much early in the game. The Bears' gaping running holes were alarming for a Steelers defense that prides itself on stopping the run. Howard & Co. burst through those holes for 114 rushing yards in the first half despite no Bears receiver recording a catch before halftime.
The Steelers' second-half adjustments reduced those holes, forcing Bears quarterback Mike Glennon to throw uncomfortably from the pocket without much downfield help. Credit the Steelers' defense for attacking the ball carrier.
Antonio Brown was brilliant once again, but the Steelers are waiting on the brilliance of others, too.
Through the season's first eight quarters on the road, Roethlisberger 21-of-25 for 291 yards and a touchdown when targeting Brown, but just 25-of-50 for 206 yards and an interception when targeting everyone else.
A 25-yard strike to rookie JuJu Smith-Schusterr early in the fourth proved crucial. Le'Veon Bell's steady but unspectacular play continued for the most part; he was good after contact and his 13-yard run late in the fourth quarter helped the Steelers out of a first-and-20 situation and kept a crucial drive alive.
It wasn't enough.
The Steelers' offense looked most comfortable in the no-huddle that Roethlisberger loves. That setup dominated a 13-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a Brown touchdown in the second quarter. But the rest of the offensive attack was mostly uninspiring. Who would have thought one of the most feared NFL offensive attacks would be searching for its 2017 identity through three games?