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The Chicago Bears thought they had a game-changing sack late in Monday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Instead, a taunting call kept a late Steelers drive alive as Pittsburgh eventually secured a 29-27 win for its fourth straight victory.
Chicago responded to the bad break by securing its first lead of the game on a Justin Fields touchdown pass with 1:06 remaining. But the Steelers capped a wild fourth quarter with a late drive to set up Chris Boswell for the game-winning 40-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining.
Controversial taunting flag a big blow for Bears
A game filled with controversial calls saw the most contentious flag thrown as the Steelers looked to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter. With the Steelers facing third-and-8 near midfield while holding a 23-20 lead, Bears linebacker and ex-Steeler Cassius Marsh sacked Ben Roethlisberger for a 7-yard loss.
As the Steelers punting unit took the field with 3:16 remaining, Marsh appeared to say something to the Pittsburgh players. He didn't make any gestures, and he wasn't in anybody's face. In fact, he wasn't close to a Steeler. Officials flagged him for taunting, nonetheless.
Instead of punting, the Steelers drew a first down with the penalty. The Bears stopped them three plays later, but the Steelers were in field-goal range by then. Boswell connected on a 52-yard kick to extend Pittsburgh's lead to to 26-20 with 2:52 remaining.
Fields responds by leading go-ahead Bears drive
The game was far from over. Fields appeared to secure his first signature NFL moment as the rookie quarterback led a 75-yard drive capped by a go-ahead touchdown throw to Darnell Mooney with 1:46 remaining. The score gave the Bears a 27-26 lead.
But the Bears left too much time on the clock. Pittsburgh responded with the go-ahead field-goal drive, and a 65-yard field-goal attempt by Cairo Santos on Chicago's ensuring possession came up short as time expired.
Calls hurt Bears earlier in game
The taunting call was far from the first to work against the Bears on Monday night. Chicago's would-be first touchdown was wiped off the board on a phantom low-block call in the third quarter. Instead of cutting Pittsburgh's lead to 14-10 on a Fields touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham with 9:14 remaining in the quarter, the Bears settled for a field goal and a 14-6 deficit.
Officials also declined to throw flags on a pair of hits on Fields that could have been called personal fouls. The Steelers, meanwhile, took advantage of their good fortune, extending their lead to 23-13 in the fourth quarter. When the Bears punted with 6:31 remaining while trailing by 10, the Steelers appeared to have the game under control.
But Ray-Ray McLoud fumbled the punt return on a punch-out by Joel Iyiegbuniwe, and DeAndre Houston-Carson returned it for a touchdown to cut Chicago's deficit to 23-20.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) November 9, 2021
The chaos of the taunting penalty ensued on the next Steelers possession.
Marsh takes issues with taunting call, says official 'hip-checked' him
Marsh didn't hold back his thoughts on the taunting call after the game. He also said that referee Tony Corrente intentionally bumped into him before throwing the flag.
“I think that one was bad timing," Marsh told reporters. "It was pretty clear to everybody that saw it that I wasn’t taunting.”
Marsh and Corrente made contact as Marsh ran off the field. Corrente immediately threw the flag after the contact.
Tony Corrente leaned into the contact and then held his flag toss like a walk off three pointer. What a joke pic.twitter.com/MhNlNVewJx
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) November 9, 2021
Marsh told reporters that he believes that Corrente intentionally "hip-checked" him and that he believes a player would be ejected for initiating similar contact with an official.
“I just think that was incredibly inappropriate," Marsh said.
Ref explains flag
Corrente explained his reasoning for calling the taunting penalty after the game.
"First of all, keep in mind that taunting is a point of emphasis this year," Corrente told pool reporter Adam Hoge. "And with that said, I saw the player, after he made a big play, run toward the bench area of the Pittsburgh Steelers and posture in such a way that I felt he was taunting them."
He also said the contact with Marsh didn't influence the flag. He wasn't asked about Marsh's accusation that Corrente initiated the contact intentionally.
"That had nothing to do with it," Corrente said of the contact. "It was the taunting aspect.
Big win for Pittsburgh
The win was critical for the Steelers as they won their fourth straight to improve to 5-3 and remain in the thick of the playoff race. With a remaining schedule including two games against the Baltimore Ravens and matchups agains the Los Angeles Chargers, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh needs every win it can get to stay competitive in a tough AFC North.
For the 3-6 Bears, the loss marks another blemish on a disappointing season, made that much more bitter by the calls that didn't go their way in a game where they outgained the Steelers 414 yards to 280.