PITTSBURGH — LaMarr Woodley tried to sound upbeat. He even did the math in an attempt to prove his point.
Standing in a quiet locker room after the Pittsburgh Steelers fell to 0-3 with a 40-23 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday night, Woodley didn’t hesitate when asked if his team could dig its way out of such a deep early-season hole.
“We’ve got a chance to go 13-3,” Woodley said.
When pressed if that was possible, the linebacker nodded.
“That is realistic,” he said. “We’ve got 13 more games.”
True. Just not many winnable ones if Pittsburgh can’t find a way to hold onto the ball.
The Bears (3-0) forced five turnovers, returning two of them for touchdowns to send the Steelers to their worst start since 2000. Pittsburgh outgained the Bears 459-258, but spent all night scrambling after falling behind by 21 points in the first half.
“We can’t, I can’t turn the ball over, plain and simple,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger completed 26 of 41 passes for 406 yards and threw two touchdowns to Antonio Brown but also fumbled twice and threw two interceptions.
Chicago defensive back Major Wright returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and defensive end Julius Peppers pounced when linebacker Lance Briggs stripped the ball out of Roethlisberger’s hands. Peppers raced 42 yards for a score with 3:57 left to play to end the competitive portion of things.
“We’re disappointed, but we’re not going to lose our confidence,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re going to have to put it together and put it together fast.”
The Steelers travel to London this week to play the winless Vikings. Only a handful of teams have escaped from an 0-3 start to reach the postseason. At the moment, Pittsburgh has enough trouble winning a game let alone worrying about the playoffs.
“Our job is not to play football,” safety Ryan Clark said. “Our job is to win football games, and when you don’t, things change, people change.”
Jay Cutler passed for 159 yards and threw a 17-yard touchdown strike to Earl Bennett with just under 6 minutes remaining to give the Bears breathing room after the Steelers drew within 27-23 on Shaun Suisham’s 44-yard field goal with 10:43 to play.
Chicago’s offense, which generated little after a 17-point outburst in the first quarter, responded behind Cutler.
The quarterback scrambled for 13 yards on third-and-10 to start the drive. Cutler then hit Brandon Marshall for 41 yards on third-and-12 to move into Pittsburgh territory. Facing third-and-5 at the Pittsburgh 17, Cutler found Bennett in the back corner of the end zone.
Officials ruled the pass was incomplete, but the play was overturned after replays showed Bennett deftly dragged his right foot before sliding out of bounds.
“The (defensive) back was there, but the throw was perfect and I was able to make the play,” Bennett said. “The way we played in the fourth quarter, that really shows how resilient we are.”
Pittsburgh tried to get back into the game, but Briggs stripped Roethlisberger, and Peppers picked up the ball. The veteran defensive end followed a parade of blockers down the sideline for Chicago’s second defensive score of the night and third in two weeks.
“I wouldn’t call it blazing speed, but I happened to be at the right place at the right time and the ball bounced to me,” Peppers said. “I got a hand on it and took it in, so there wasn’t much else to talk about. That was the longest run I had with the ball, yes, I will tell you that.”
The Bears rode a pair of fourth-quarter comebacks to a 2-0 start. A rally wouldn’t be required this time after the Steelers continued to bumble their way through a miserable September.
Roethlisberger’s second interception on a late stat-padding drive was Pittsburgh’s ninth turnover through three games. The Steelers defense, meanwhile, hasn’t recorded a takeaway through 12 quarters.
It’s a recipe that rarely leads to victory.
“As of right now, we have way too many turnovers and it goes both ways,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “We’ve got to find ways to get the ball. That’s what great defenses do.”
Pittsburgh’s mistakes started early. Pittsburgh turned it over twice in the first half. D.J. Williams stripped Roethlisberger in the first quarter, leading to a 5-yard touchdown run by Matt Forte.
Chicago was up 17-3 midway through the second quarter when Roethlisberger threw off his back foot in the face of a blitz. The ball sailed into the hands of Wright, who sprinted down the sideline for a touchdown to give the Bears a commanding 21-point lead.
The score marked the second straight week and the 10th time since the start of the 2012 season that the Bears returned an interception for a touchdown, easily the most in the NFL.
NOTES: Steelers tight end Heath Miller caught 3 passes for 35 yards in his first game back from torn ligaments in his right knee. ... The Bears lost defensive tackle Henry Milton to a knee injury early in the fourth quarter. ... Pittsburgh outgained the Bears 459-258. ... Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown finished with nine receptions for a career-high 196 yards and two touchdowns.