2021 Steelers Season Recall: Controversial win over Chicago extends streak to four straight

Steel City Underground presents our 2021 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.

The stage was set in Week 9 of the 2021 NFL regular season as the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted another primetime matchup, this time against the visiting Chicago Bears.

Winners of three-straight, the Steelers improved to a 4-3 record over the Cleveland Browns one week earlier, and were on the cusp of contention now after starting their season 1-3 over their first four games.

Now it was time to see if they could go 4-0 in the next four and extend their winning streak. Everything was on pace to do just that, as Pittsburgh scored on its opening drive: a 6-play, 59-yard drive capped off by a ten-yard Najee Harris touchdown run.

The Steelers defense, which forced a three-and-out to start the game, kept the Bears in check again, setting up Ben Roethlisberger and company with great field position – but as had been the case with an offense that just proved us wrong with a scoring drive to open the game, they would be inconsistent and run six plays for a total of 8 yards… and punt.

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Chicago, with rookie QB Justin Fields under center, felt the pressure of the Heinz Field faithful, as Cameron Heyward would get the ball right back with a rare defensive lineman snagging an interception.

The Steelers offense would continue to struggle, but made due with hitching their wagons to Harris, who would start the drive after the turnover with four consecutive runs, including a 4th-and-1 conversion. Benny Snell would make it five runs, with a five-yard gain, that would place Pittsburgh on the doorstep of another trip into the endzone, as TE Pat Freiermuth grabbed the short pass to put them up 14-0.

The Bears would answer eventually, as both teams traded two punts apiece before the Bears got within striking distance, but had to settle for a Cairo Santos field goal from 30 yards out.

The Steelers would take the field first to start the second half, but would quickly give the ball back following a three-play series that netted an entire seven yards.

The Bears found new life, driving 89 yards, but the Steelers defense pinned with a 3rd-and-15 that resulted in another Santos chip shot.

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Up 14-6, the Steelers offense took a deep shot on the very next play, as Roethlisberger connected with James Washington for a 42-yard gain. Freiermuth struck again, this time with a ten-yard touchdown reception, but Chris Boswell would knock his extra point attempt wide left, leaving the Steelers up 20-6.

Chicago came back out and punched Pittsburgh in the mouth, driving 82 yards in only six plays, to close the gap to 20-16.

A pass interference call on an attempted deep shot to Diontae Johnson led to Chris Boswell’s redeeming 54-yard field goal, as long attempts in the unlikely Steelers stadium had become his calling card.

That field goal gave the Steelers a 23-13 lead with 11:54 left in regulation time.

On the ensuing kickoff, CB James Pierre was able to strip the ball from Bears returner Jakeem Grant. The ball, officially a forced fumble, rolled right to Boswell. The kicker, on his knees, protected the ball and took a hit to essentially recover his own kickoff.

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Unable to capitalize, the Steelers would eventually punt the ball back. That’s when the most ridiculous of events would occur, mostly surrounding questionable, if not controversial officiating.

The Steelers defense would force a three-and-out, and with 6:47 remaining in the game, a win was all but a formality.

Steelers PR Ray-Ray McCloud would cough up a fumble, which was actually pinned to his hip when his wrist/elbow made contact with the ground. McCloud would also fall on top of the ball as well, but that amount of movement was a fumble unlike a “possession” shown (or not) by WR Marquise Goodwin earlier in the game, which allowed a Bears scoring drive to continue. (Mike Tomlin would lose what looked like a slam dunk challenge on the Goodwin play.)

McCloud’s fumble led to a Bears touchdown, as they now trailed 23-20.

But wait, there’s more!

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On the next possession, Ben Roethlisberger would be sacked on third down, all but leading to punting the ball back to the Bears, However, the zebras would call taunting penalty on former Steelers LB Cassius Marsh.

Marsh celebrated his sack by extending his “welcome” in the backfield, followed by a roundhouse kick in the air, then carried on and continued toward the Steelers bench, giving a stare down with a bit of a head bob. As he retreated back to his own sideline, the defender bumped referee Tony Corrente, who was already on his trigger to throw a flag.

The event would spark debate all week about the league’s overaggressive willingness to penalize taunting all season. It would also allow Boswell to kick another 50+ yard field goal, this time from 52 yards out, to extend the Steelers lead to six.

Six points wasn’t enough, as the enraged Bears sideline came out with a fury. Fields would find Allen Robinson on 3rd-and-2 for a 39-yard shot, then Chicago would score on another pass on the next play, 16 yards to Darnell Mooney.

The Santos PAT would put Chicago up by one point.

The stunned home crowd was near riot level, as the Steelers offense sputtered to put the steady Boswell into field goal position again, with a 40-yard strike being the difference maker with 30 seconds remaining in the game.

Yet, the Bears made one last stand, with a couple of chunk plays, before Santos trotted out for an unlikely 62-yard field goal – that wasn’t anywhere near close to making it through the uprights, at least for the people in attendance. Home viewers were bilked for a short few moments as the announcers claimed the impossible just happened!

It wasn’t even close.

The Steelers would win their fourth-straight despite an ugly fourth quarter, and improve to 5-3 on the season. A date with the winless Detroit Lions was next on the calendar, and it was all but a given that this team would continue to climb up the rankings…

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