PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers never make it easy.
Monday night’s 29-27 win against the Chicago Bears was no exception. The Steelers, twice up 14, saw their two-score lead evaporate in the fourth quarter. It took a 40-yard field goal from Chris Boswell, recovered from the concussion sustained a week earlier, with 26 seconds left on the clock to put the Steelers back on top for good.
"Bos is a serial killer," defensive lineman Cam Heyward said of Boswell. "He's too calm in some situations, and I love Bos' demeanor. The moment is never too big for him."
Boswell is 12 of 15 on field goals of at least 50 yards at Heinz Field, and the 54-yarder he made earlier in the fourth quarter was the second longest at Heinz Field -- falling only behind Boswell's 56-yarder earlier this season.
"I know everybody talks about the guy up in Baltimore," Heyward said. "He's a great kicker, but Bos is a great, great kicker as well. We always tease him, they're 1A and 1B, Bos is yet to prove that he's 1B. A lot of games left to be played, but can't say enough about the way Bos plays."
The Steelers (5-3) have never blown a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead at home, but they came dangerously close after allowing three fourth-quarter scores: a 15-yard touchdown by Darnell Mooney, a fumbled punt return by Ray-Ray McCloud that turned into a scoop-and-score by Chicago’s DeAndre Houston-Carson, and a 16-yard pass to Mooney from rookie quarterback Justin Fields.
"Made it a little closer and more stressful than we needed to," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said, "but I am proud of the guys, the way they fought all the way until the end. Team football."
The Steelers entered Monday night as a significant favorite over the woeful Bears and came out on the other side with a win. But it was hardly a dominant performance over an inferior opponent. They have one more easy one coming up: a Sunday afternoon date at home against the woeful Detroit Lions, and then it gets really tough against strong AFC opponents.
To keep their playoff hopes alive, the Steelers have to win the easy ones, the ones against the rookie quarterbacks and rebuilding teams. They almost didn’t do that Monday night.
"We're finding ways to win the game," Roethlisberger said. "Playing well enough, you know, but not great. But offensively speaking, we're doing just enough right now."
Describe the game in two words: Meltdown. Why use two words when one will suffice? The Steelers led by two scores in the fourth quarter and gave up three touchdowns.
Buy on a breakout performance: Buy Pat Freiermuth stock, and buy it now. Freiermuth followed up his fourth-down touchdown in Cleveland with two touchdown catches against the Bears, including an impressive combated catch in the end zone late in the third quarter. Roethlisberger targeted him a team-high six times, and he finished with five catches for 43 yards.
"He's a good combat catch guy," coach Mike Tomlin said of Freiermuth. "He delivers in those moments, and it's just good to watch him develop and write his story in that way."
The rookie tight end had a two-touchdown game against the Lions in the preseason, and then was pretty quiet in the early part of the regular season. But once JuJu Smith-Schuster went down, Freiermuth’s involvement in the game plan increased dramatically. Couple that with Eric Ebron’s injury, and Freiermuth has been getting the lion’s share of tight end snaps and targets. Even when Ebron is healthy, expect Freiermuth’s surge to continue as he builds rapport with Roethlisberger and shows he’s a reliable target.
Pivotal play: Turnovers haven’t been easy to come by for this Steelers defense, but defensive lineman Cam Heyward swallowed up a Fields throw just beyond the line of scrimmage in the first half for the team’s third interception this season.
"I just told [Tomlin], 'I've got hands,'" Heyward said with a laugh. "Maybe we can run the fake field goals to me now."
And it’s not just that Heyward picked off Fields, it’s that the offense capitalized on the play and scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive for the first time all season. Roethlisberger and the offense had to labor through nine plays to cover 36 yards in 3 minutes, 41 seconds, but they finished in the end zone with a touchdown throw to Freiermuth.
Pivotal play II: The Steelers' special teams was a roller coaster Monday night, and it went into a straight free fall midway through the fourth quarter when McCloud fumbled a punt, and Chicago scooped it up and ran it back 25 yards for a touchdown.
"You can't turn the ball over and give up scores in the kicking game," Tomlin said. "You do that, and there's a high probability you're going to lose, let alone be in a tight game. We've got to hang on to the ball. We can't give up scores in the kicking game. When you do, boy, you'd better knuckle up. And they did."
With that, the Bears pulled within three points with six and a half minutes to go. The Bears continued that momentum and scored a 16-yard touchdown to take their first lead of the game soon after.
Eye-popping NextGen stat: Roethlisberger and Fields each had 63 passing yards at halftime, yet Fields was averaging 15.8 air yards per attempt, while Roethlisberger averaged 3.2. Roethlisberger aired it out a little bit more in the second half with a 42-yard heave to James Washington -- underthrown but it got there. Roethlisberger had a right shoulder injury that first popped up on the practice report Friday. Tomlin said they would manage the injury, and that seemed to mostly come in the form of short passes in the flat and designed runs for the wide receivers. Roethlisberger finished the game completing 21 of 30 passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. It marked the first time in his career Roethlisberger has won four consecutive starts without throwing an interception.