By Chris Emma—
CHICAGO (CBS) – “What, are we going for two or something?”
Electrifying Bears rookie running back Tarik Cohen was left puzzled as longtime team equipment man Tony Medlin pulled him from the sidelines back out toward the field. He couldn’t have even been joking with that inquiry given how bizarre the Bears’ 23-17 overtime victory against the Steelers was at Soldier Field on Sunday.
Cohen had just finished a highlight-reel play in which he rushed to the right sideline with speed toward the edge and made a man miss. He next sped forward 25 yards and then cut to the inside, with two more Steelers whiffing on tackles. His acceleration then led to the middle of the field, then one more cut made Steelers cornerback Artie Burns a victim.
Soldier Field celebrated what it thought was the Bears’ first September victory since 2014 – and the shades of Devin Hester it had just witnessed – and Cohen threw the ball somewhere in the vicinity of section 324 (he has a fine coming for that) before sprinting over to his sideline. That’s where Medlin came with the bad news.
Cohen was ruled to have stepped out at the Steelers’ 37-yard line, as confirmed through video replay. The game wasn’t over after all.
“I hope it’s not a fine since it didn’t count,” Cohen joked later.
The Bears (1-2) had endured setbacks like this all game long. Connor Barth missed a 47-yard field goal and left three points on the field. Just shy of the goal line as the clock struck zero in the first half, Marcus Cooper fumbled what would’ve been a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown due to an inexplicable lapse in judgement, and his team had to settle for a field goal on an untimed down gifted by a penalty.
Twists and turned ensued through a wild game at Soldier Field that was too much for just regulation. So, there the Bears were, the game-winning touchdown ripped from their hands, needing to bounce back again. They hadn’t trailed all game long and played the game on their terms – if not for their own self-inflicted wounds.
It felt like so many Bears losses in the past, in which an inspired effort would come up short thanks to a laundry list of gaffes. But this time, it was different. The Bears closed the game emphatically after Cohen’s touchdown was called back.
Jordan Howard, who kept getting up after taking hits to his injured right shoulder, helped the Bears bounce back. He took a carry 18 yards to the Steelers’ 19, then finished the job by marching those final 19 yards to the end zone.
Considered one of the AFC’s best teams, the Steelers were done. Howard had finished the job.
“It definitely wasn’t how you draw it up,” Bears coach John Fox said. “It wasn’t perfect. But our guys hung in there, stuck together. It was great to come up with a win.”
Fox and his team have just a few days to get their played cleaned up before a primetime contest against the Packers at Lambeau Field on Thursday. There’s plenty to re-evaluate, namely on offense. Mike Glennon finished 15-0f-22 for 101 yards, a touchdown and interception. He averaged 4.6 yards per attempt and had just one completion to a wide receiver, a nine-yard strike to Deonte Thompson on deep coverage that finished seven yards shy of the marker on a third-and-16.
Fortunately for the Bears, they have a potentially special tandem at running back. Howard finished with 23 rushes for 138 yards and two scores, while Cohen tallied 12 carries for 78 yards, including that game-changing 36-yard run in overtime that set the table for Howard.
“I feel like we can be the best running back tandem,” Cohen said. “The things he does great, I can complement that.”
The Bears’ defense turned in a strong performance against the Steelers’ high-octane attack. Ben Roethlisberger went 22-of-39 for 235 yards and a touchdown, while Le’Veon Bell – arguably the league’s top running back – had 61 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. That had Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks smiling after the game.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s plan appeared to be giving All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown his catches – 10 on 14 targets – but keeping him from the big play. His longest reception went for 23 yards. The Bears also forced two turnovers, matching the Steelers’ total.
Sunday’s game started with the Bears and Steelers uniting together in their own ways to condemn the remarks of President Donald Trump against player protests in the NFL. The Bears locked arms during the national anthem, while the Steelers weren’t on the field for it, instead waiting behind before emerging from the tunnel as the American flag was furled on the field.
Emotions were running high on the Bears’ sidelines for many reasons – personal and political, collective and football. A game that started with the Bears linked as one saw them stay together until the very end for an important victory.
“We are truly becoming a team,” Hicks said. “Not just 53 guys that play together. We’re truly becoming a unified team. Everybody’s playing for each other.”