The Bears went long stretches without doing much, but at the end of the night, they had the better quarterback on the field, and that made all the difference.
While Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger struggled to hang onto the ball, only to make the game interesting, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler kept the game boring for long stretches, but made plays when it mattered most.
Cutler’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett capped a nine-play drive late in the fourth quarter, helping the Bears secure a 40-23 win over the Steelers.
Cutler didn’t break into triple digits in passing yards for the longest time, but kept his team from making silly mistakes. He also scrambled for a first down on the game-clinching drive, and hit Brandon Marshall downfield as they converted third down after third down.
It wasn’t statistically pretty (159 yards passing isn’t going to do much for his fantasy teams), but it was smart, and collected, and other qualities that haven’t always been attributed to Cutler.
While we’re still three games into his relationship with head coach Marc Trestman, they’re 3-0, and having the quarterback doing smart things with the ball is a large part of the reason why.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Any beef Steelers wideout Antonio Brown had with offensive coordinator Todd Haley is probably over, for good reason.
Brown had a monster night, finishing with nine catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
He also made one of the highlight plays of the season so far, an amazing one-handed touchdown grab which made you grateful for automatic replay reviews of scoring plays, because it allowed you to see it many more times.
He and Haley appear to have made up.
2. There have been many changes in Chicago, but they still play an opportunistic style of defense.
Major Wright’s interception return for a touchdown was one of five turnovers forced on the night, and two of them ended up in the end zone immediately.
Part of that can be attributed to the Steelers offense, which is moving out of ineptitude, albeit slowly. But Wright also forced a Felix Jones fumble, showing the kind of aggressive and instinctive play the Bears were known for under former coach Lovie Smith. Defensive end Julius Peppers returned a fumble for a score late, showing they can make plays from many angles.
If defensive tackle Henry Melton’s knee injury is serious, it throws a kink in their plans, but they still have many playmakers on that side of the ball, and cornerback Charles Tillman isn’t 100 percent because of a groin injury.
3. The Steelers entered the game with 102 combined starts among their offensive line.
And they’re still working out how to best deploy those kids.
They used Kelvin Beachum at both tackle spots during the first half, replacing both Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams at different points.
The season-ending injury to center Maurkice Pouncey is something beyond their control, but some of the other problems are well within their grasp.
Figuring out a combination of five would help, but it also points out that the Steelers haven’t hit on some recent picks at quite the rate they’re generally given credit for.
Gilbert and Adams are second-round picks, picked when you’re counting on players being solid starters, at least. Watching them struggle shines a little light on a personnel process that is traditionally good, but isn’t flawless.
4. Speaking of offensive lines, the Bears’ looks utterly professional.
That hasn’t always been the case, but after plugging a pair of rookies into the right side, the Bears are protecting Cutler and running the ball well after three games.
First-round guard Kyle Long and fifth-round tackle Jordan Mills have held up and then some, as part of a rebuilt group. Bringing in free agents Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson to go with holdover center Roberto Garza has given them an entirely new look up front, and it’s a good one.
5. It sure looked like Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer was guilty of a penalty for lowering his head and leading with the crown of his helmet in the first half.
But it’s entirely possible officials are still wrestling with how to call it, especially in the wake of last week’s Jackie Battle call (the Titans back was fined but not penalized on the field).
For a rule so heavily discussed this offseason, it’s hard to tell anyone understands it well enough to call it consistently.