Just like the game, the tape of Monday’s battle between the Bears and Steelers is a tale of two radically different halves, making it particularly difficult to hand out single grades. It is further complicated by having to deal with the horribly poor and dramatically one-sided officiating that literally reversed the rightful outcome.
QUARTERBACK: Justin Fields’ 291 passing yards on the evening were a career high, and the 228 he racked up in the second half also were more than he’s had in any full game this season. That total was punctuated by Fields completing at least one pass of 20 yards or more to five different receivers. After going 1 of 7 on third down in the first half, the Bears were 3 of 5 in the second half. For 30 minutes, he played like the great ones do. Grade: A-
RUNNING BACKS: David Montgomery returned and ran like he’d never missed a snap. Khalil Herbert only got four carries but rattled off a nifty 8 yards on one of them, and the three-back wildcat with Ryan Nall joining them on the field was effective every time it was called. Grade: B+
RECEIVERS and TIGHT ENDS: Those five big plays downfield from Fields along with rare Allen Robinson and Jimmy Graham sightings were exciting and productive. Marquise Goodwin finally ran a fly pattern, and Fields hit him for 50 yards. It would have been a touchdown if the ball wasn’t a bit underthrown. Tight ends Cole Kmet and Graham combined for seven catches and 115 yards. But Graham also dropped a TD he should have had, forcing a field goal in the red zone. Even with his TD, Darnell Mooney was a little quieter than usual. Grade: B
OFFENSIVE LINE: This was a bit of a mixed bag. James Daniels never should have been flagged on the penalty that took the Graham TD off the board, but he missed the block, and it was close enough that he probably shouldn’t have tried. A fourth ineligible downfield penalty in three weeks just can’t happen. But Fields could not have done what he did in the second half without a relatively clean pocket and the run blocking was good. Grade: B-
FRONT SEVEN: Robert Quinn again played like the defensive MVP. Eddie Goldman owned the line of scrimmage. Bilal Nichols, Angelo Blackson and Khyiris Tonga were all active with Akiem Hicks on the sidelines much of the second half. Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan were everywhere. Mario Edwards Jr. got hosed on the roughing call to start the second half, as did Cassius March on the taunting call. But Quinn can’t line up in the neutral zone once in key game situations, let alone twice. And on the Steelers’ game-winning drive, the group was more spectators than defenders. Still, four sacks and a 3.3-yard rushing average isn’t a bad night’s work. Grade: B
SECONDARY: Eddie Jackson was missed, and Kindle Vildor was overmatched more than once or twice. It seemed like nobody covered tight end Pat Friermuth all night, and somebody missed their assignment on the 42-yard toss to James Washington that set up the Steelers’ third and final touchdown. Grade: B-
SPECIAL TEAMS: Kick and punt coverage was acceptable, and Pat O’Donnell punted well (41.2 net on five kicks), but Jakeem Grant’s fumble on the return after the Steelers went up 23-13 could have been a dagger had the defense not bowed its neck.
But the forced fumble from Joel Iyiegbuniwe that led to DeAndre Houston-Carson’s 25-yard TD return to make it 23-20 was the biggest play of the game.
Cairo Santos was perfect again until asked to try an impossible 65-yarder on the game’s final play. Grade: B+
COACHING: There were inexcusable faux pas in the first half, particularly burning a timeout when Fields couldn’t get everyone lined up properly and then getting an illegal formation penalty out of the timeout. But the second half doesn’t happen without excellent halftime adjustments, taking the training wheels off Fields and getting the ball downfield. The Bears showcased some creativity, like the use of the wildcat, and the way the defense stood up in the second half in spite of the holes the officials kept putting them in until that final drive. Grade: B+