Week 9 of the 2021 NFL season was chock-full of upsets, and there was nearly another one on "Monday Night Football," with Bears rookie Justin Fields exploding in the fourth quarter to guide a comeback attempt in Pittsburgh. But the Steelers had the last laugh on a scrappy night full of big hits, polarizing penalties and special teams blunders, with Chris Boswell sealing a 29-27 victory for the home team, giving Pittsburgh its fourth straight victory and inching the AFC North contenders one step closer to the division-leading Ravens.
The Bears fall to 3-6 on the season with Monday's narrow defeat, their fourth straight. The Steelers, meanwhile, are officially on a hot streak after opening the year 1-3, even if their journey to this point has never looked pretty.
Here are some immediate takeaways from Pittsburgh's Monday night win:
Why the Steelers won
It wasn't smooth, as they repeatedly refused to put the Bears away, but they won chiefly because they played their kind of game: control the ball on offense, and get nasty on defense. Ben Roethlisberger was uneven and rarely threatening, as is often the case these days, but he offset his blunders (a near-pick, some big sacks, a near-fumble on a pump fake) with tight spirals and even a splash of mobility on some key downs, particularly during a third-quarter touchdown drive to put Pittsburgh up 20-6. Najee Harris struggled to find holes but enabled the Steelers to win the possession battle. And the "D"? Things started to crack late, when Justin Fields started airing it out, but the usual suspects still contributed splash plays to disrupt Chicago's offense: Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick combined for 17 tackles, three sacks and a pick. Boswell, meanwhile, was poised throughout to headline special teams, recovering a fumble on a kickoff and nailing all of his field goals, including a 54-yarder and the game-winner.
Why the Bears lost
Poor coaching. There were other issues, of course, but none bigger than that one. Case in point: Fields had his second straight coming-out party as an NFL QB, but only after enduring pretty lifeless play-calling for a whole half of action, in which Matt Nagy's staff seemed uninterested or incapable of making the rookie comfortable. Nagy's clock management also left something to be desired, but even worse, penalties set them back time and time again, costing them 115 yards, to be exact. Some were bad calls (Jaylon Johnson pass interference, Cassius Marsh taunting), but others (Robert Quinn offsides twice) showcased an apparent lack of discipline. Chicago fought hard, there's no doubt, with Fields and, really, the entire defense coming to play in crunch time, but it's fairly easy to see this team lost because of the decision-makers up top -- the guys who assembled and oversee this roster.
There were a lot of potential turning points deep into the second half: Jakeem Grant coughing up the ball on a Bears kick return, Ray-Ray McCloud doing the same thing on a Steelers return-turned-Bears score, Fields floating a perfect deep ball to Allen Robinson on a crucial third-and-2 late in the fourth. But back-to-back offside calls on Chicago during Pittsburgh's final series probably sealed the deal, helping push Pittsburgh into field-goal territory with the clock in their hands. Boswell went on to nail his 40-yard go-ahead try, and the Bears struggled to make best use of the 26 seconds with which they were left.
Play of the game
Steelers rookie Pat Freiermuth was busy on Monday, hauling in five passes and two scores for an otherwise ho-hum offense. His second TD of the night was big-time. But Fields was the most electric player of the entire night, as evidenced by his scramble to set up a scoring toss to Darnell Mooney:
The Steelers (5-3) will stay at home in Week 10, when they play host to the Lions (0-8), who are coming off their bye following a 44-6 drubbing at the hands of the Eagles. The Bears, meanwhile, will rest up on their bye before returning in Week 11 to play host to the Ravens.