Monday Night Football reaction: Steelers can contend in wide-open AFC

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth
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Ricky Dimon

NFL· 1 month ago

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Since graduating from Davidson (The College That Stephen Curry Built), I have been writing about sports--just about any and all you can think of!--and coaching tennis in Atlanta, Ga. Beyond the four major sports, I am an avid tennis fan and cover the ATP Tour on a daily basis. If I'm not busy writing, you can generally find me on a tennis court or traveling the world wherever a sporting event takes me.

Beating the Chicago Bears at home really isn’t going to tell you much that you didn’t already know. This was one of those cases where a loss would have pretty much been a season-ender, while a win doesn’t do anything aside from keeping you afloat. Such was the reality of the situation for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were basically in survive-and-advance mode on Monday Night Football. They were thoroughly underwhelming against Chicago, but a 29-27 victory and ensuing 5-3 record means that the Steelers are still very much in the mix.

Let’s recap what happened in Pittsburgh on Monday night and break down what it means.

Land of the Freiermuth

Honestly my main takeaway from Monday Night Football is that I held on for a victory in my fantasy matchup (I had a 15-point lead going into it with Diontae Johnson in action, while my opponent was down to Najee Harris).

It would have been much less of a sweat if Pat Freiermuth was my starting tight end. Freiermuth scored 2 touchdowns in the first half and finished with 43 yards on 5 receptions.

This one progressed similarly to the Falcons-Cowboys game a little more than 24 hours earlier. In that contest, Atlanta led 24-6 in the fourth quarter only to find itself trailing with just a few minutes remaining. The Falcons eventually avoided disaster with a last-second field goal to win 27-25. Fast forward to Monday and Pittsburgh squandered all of a 20-6 fourth-quarter advantage and fell behind 27-26 with less than 2 minutes remaining. Ben Roethlisberger and company ended up having one more drive left in them and it resulted in a 40-yard boot from Chris Bosworth that proved to be the game-winner.

Just barely beating Chicago isn’t great, but the Steelers are 5-3 and host winless Detroit next weekend. Barring complete disaster next Sunday, they will be 6-3 through 9 weeks of the season. Although the schedule gets much tougher after that, any team that is 6-3 is in good shape. Additionally, only one AFC team is better than 6-2 right now and the 7-2 Tennessee Titans just lost Derrick Henry probably for the whole season. The combination of those factors means you cannot discount head coach Mike Tomlin’s team (+2200) from conference contention.

Fields of gold

The Bears are basically out of the playoff picture now that they are 3-6. Aside from that, however, there is a lot to like if you are a Chicago fan. One, your team probably wasn’t playoff-bound anyway (not when you were 3-5 with a game at Pittsburgh followed by three of the next four against Baltimore, Arizona, and Green Bay). Now you’re in line for a better draft pick.

Two (and speaking of draft picks), Justin Fields delivered the most impressive drive of his career to date when Chicago went 75 yards in 2 minutes to take a 27-26 lead with 1:46 remaining. The No. 11 overall selection in this year’s NFL Draft threw for 291 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception to go along with 45 yards on 8 keepers.

On the other side of the ball, the Bears limited Pittsburgh to 103 rushing yards on an anemic 3.3 yards per carry and they got a 25-yard fumble return for a TD by DeAndre Houston-Carson in the fourth quarter.

If not for some absolutely horrendous officiating, Chicago could have and probably would have won this game. It didn’t, and as a result they can all but kiss 2021 goodbye. But the future — both the not-too-distant and the long-term— is looking pretty good.

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