PITTSBURGH — The Bears were getting the ball back, down a field goal, with 3:16 to play.
Outside linebacker Cassius Marsh, signed just last week, had sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on third down Monday night at Heinz Field. Marsh, a veteran who has played for eight teams since 2014, celebrated by doing his regular sack celebration — a spinning heel kick — and then ran toward and “postured in a way that I felt he was taunting” the Steelers’ bench, referee Tony Corrente said in a pool report.
Corrente called Marsh for taunting, an emphasis across the league this season. He said it was solely because he gestured toward the bench.
“I think that one was bad timing,” Marsh said after the game. “It was pretty clear to everybody that saw it that I wasn’t taunting.”
Marsh was annoyed that Corrente “hip-checked” him as he was running off the field after the sack. He thought it was incidental contact in the moment, but since saw a video that made him re-think it. He said it was “incredibly inappropriate” and that it was “unfair he has the ability to do that with no consequences.”
Corrente said he said any contact he had with Marsh “had nothing to do” with the flag.
Rather than punting on what would have been fourth-and-15 from their own 46, the Steelers had a first down with a three-point lead. Four plays later, Chris Boswell kicked a 52-yard field goal to put the Steelers ahead by six with 2:56 to play.
The Bears would counter with a touchdown, and the Steelers a field goal. The 29-27 final score meant the field goal — versus the Steelers punting — was the difference in the game.
Marsh’s penalty was the Bears 11th, totaling 110 yards. They finished with 12 for 115 yards.
The Steelers had two at the time for 15 yards — and finished with five for 30 yards..
It was a crippling disparity for a Bears team with zero margin for error.
It raised the wrong kinds of questions for a franchise that had lost its fourth-straight game: does the Bears’ lack of discipline reflect on head coach Matt Nagy, whose job is on the line this season? Or the players, who, by virtue of being the oldest NFL team at the start of the season, should know better?
Whatever the answer is, it’s unacceptable. On national television, the Bears were finally exciting — but for all the wrong reasons.
“It’s a little frustrating,” receiver Darnell Mooney said. “Some of [the penalties], you can see for yourself, it’s kinda like, ‘Why?’”
It’s a great question. As the Bears coaches self-evaluate during the bye week, it’s one of many issues they need to confront head-on.
The ridiculousness started early. After the Steelers took a 7-0 lead on their first drive, the Bears had a false start called on left tackle Jason Peters, followed by a timeout, and then an illegal formation.
Flags cost the Bears points. When quarterback Justin Fields threw a 1-yard pass to Jimmy Graham in the third quarter, guard James Daniels was flagged for an illegal block below the waist. Rather than scoring, the Bears moved back 15 yards. Two plays later, they had to settle for a field goal.
On defense, the Bears committed pass interference on Steelers touchdowns — cornerback Kindle Vildor was drafted over tight end Pat Freiermuth when he caught a 10-yard touchdown in the third quarter. The same violation was responsible for nearly all of one Steelers scoring drive in the final frame; Jaylon Johnson’s 30-yard pass interference made up all but nine yards of a Steelers scoring drive that resulted in a 54-yard Boswell field goal.
On the Steelers’ final possession — which resulted in a Boswell 40-yard Boswell field goal with 30 seconds to play — Robert Quinn lined up offside for the second time in the game. On the very next play, fellow Bears outside linebacker Trevis Gipson did the same thing.
But nothing was more egregious than Marsh’s taunting penalty. Rather than being flagged for being over-aggressive playing the ball, or overeager before the snap, Marsh committed a sin of commission. He stared down the sideline when it had no benefit to the Bears.
In a night of mistakes, it was a spinning heel kick to the gut.
“It sucks,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “We just have to eliminate those. Self-inflicted … I thought it was a B.S. call. [Marsh] has been doing that celebration his entire career.”