Two of football's most storied franchises will meet in primetime for the first time on Sunday night as the winless Pittsburgh Steelers host the unbeaten Chicago Bears.
Age and injuries seem to have caught up to the 2013 Steelers and Mike Tomlin's current bunch is not in its accustomed spot as one of the heavyweights in the AFC.
Since Chuck Noll's first winning season in 1972 the Steelers have had only seven losing seasons over a 40-year span with the low-water mark being 5-11 in 1988. Over that same time frame Pittsburgh has won 20 division championships, eight AFC crowns and is football's only six-time Super Bowl champions.
This is not an organization used to failure or looking up at the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North standings. In fact, the Steelers have treated the Queen City like a second home over the years, winning 11 of their last 12 at Paul Brown Stadium before last Monday night's 20-10 setback to Marvin Lewis' crew.
Perhaps no team has had a more difficult start to the 2013 season than the Steelers, though, and now the team will try to avoid its first 0-3 start since 2000.
Used to kicking off a new campaign in style, especially at home in Heinz Field, Pittsburgh lost far more than a game in Week 1 when Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, defensive leader Larry Foote and running back LaRod Stephens- Howling all went down with season-ending injuries during an ugly 16-9 setback against Tennessee.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Tomlin said at the time. "Nobody cares about our problems. They're glad we've got them. We need to understand that. We need to stick together and persevere."
Things didn't figure to get much easier in Cincinnati as an old friend, James Harrison, and a strong Bengals front seven laid in wait after a bitter Week 1 hiccup at Chicago.
Despite possessing football's most impressive resume, and its longstanding dominance over the Bengals, you never got the feeling Pittsburgh even had a chance this time around, no doubt a bitter pill to swallow for some haughty western Pennsylvania fans used to nothing but good times.
For once Cincinnati had the more talented team and perhaps more importantly, the healthier one. Rookie running back Giovani Bernard gave the Bengals offense a little juice out of the backfield and scored two touchdowns as Cincinnati shut down Pittsburgh.
Bernard ran for an early score and caught a 27-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton in the third quarter which gave the Bengals a lead they never relinquished.
The real difference, though, was the Bengals defense, which forced two turnovers and limited Pittsburgh to a mere 278 yards and 14 first downs in the club's second home victory over its division rival in the past 12 years.
Ben Roethlisberger, hurried throughout the game, threw for 251 yards with a touchdown and an interception on 20-of-37 passes for the Steelers, who dropped their first two games of the season for the first time since 2002.
It's also the first time Pittsburgh has been two games under .500 since Tomlin took over in 2007.
"They were the better team tonight," Tomlin said. "We'll continue to work and move forward."
Chicago, meanwhile, has been living on the edge, winning for the second straight week in comeback fashion when Martellus Bennett's touchdown catch with 10 seconds to play gave the Bears a 31-30 win over the Minnesota Vikings on a rainy day at Soldier Field.
Jay Cutler was picked off twice and lost a fumble, but finished the game 28- for-39 with 290 yards and three touchdowns for the Bears, who opened the season with a three-point win over Cincinnati.
Bennett finished with seven catches for 76 yards, Brandon Marshall had seven catches for 113 yards and a score, while Matt Forte had 90 yards on 19 carries and 71 yards on 11 catches for Chicago, which has won seven of the last eight games against Minnesota.
"I saw a lot of resiliency today out of this team," said Chicago head coach Marc Trestman. "We had a heck of an opponent today and they gave it their all. This was one of the tougher games I've ever had to coach."
Chicago leads its all-time series with the Steelers, which dates back to 1934, with a 20-7-1 mark. The rivalry has been much more evenly contested in the modern-day NFL, though, with the teams splitting 10 meetings since 1971.
This is only the Bears' second trip to Heinz Field and just the fourth meeting between these two teams since 1998. The only other time the Bears played in Heinz Field was in 2005 when Pittsburgh won 21-9.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
When Tomlin said he and his team will continue moving forward, they are doing so with a veteran QB who doesn't like offensive coordinator Todd Haley, an offensive line in shambles, and a running game that's non-existent -- an almost sacrilegious development for a franchise which has always prided itself on its ability to run the football.
Tomlin has never suffered through a losing season as a head coach, earning four playoff appearances, two Super Bowl berths and the Super Bowl XLIII championship in his previous six years at the helm in the Steel City.
In good times or bad -- like last season's .500 finish -- Tomlin has always preached accountability.
"There's a certain amount of misery with the position that we're in," Tomlin said after watching his team fall to 0-2. "We'll wear it. We don't like it. We'll wear it."
The badge they are currently wearing says the offense has scored a total of 19 points and rushed for 75 yards, and the defense, although solid, has yet to record a takeaway. Only sad sacks Cleveland (16) and Jacksonville (11) have scored fewer points in the NFL season, and the running back by committee approach featuring Felix Jones, the now-injured Stephens-Howling, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer has rushed for a paltry total of 70 yards on 27 attempts.
"We need some guys to step up, older guys to step up and younger guys to get it going and avoid the road we're going down," Roethlisberger said.
The Steelers could get a boost by the possible return of Roethlisberger's favorite target, tight end Heath Miller, who is just about ready after tearing his ACL late in the 2012 season. Rookie running Le'Veon Bell remains out with a foot injury, however.
"There's been a problem with our functioning," Tomlin said. "There's been a problem with our production. There's been a problem with our points. You can point to whatever you want to point to in regards to that, and obviously if the plays aren't working well then we're susceptible to that judgment. I'm not going to lose a whole bunch of sleep over that."
Bears rookie coach Trestman may have had a few sleepless nights wondering when the luck is going to run out on his team.
With a win in the Steel City Chicago will be 3-0 for the first time since 2010, when it reached the NFC Championship Game. They could just as easily be 0-2, however.
"We've seen a unique team resiliency, an ability to keep our poise, an ability to just move onto the next play without what happened on the last play inhibiting us," Trestman said.
That and an opportunistic defense which has forced six turnovers in two weeks after leading the . the NFL with 145 points scored off 44 last season has Trestman sleeping soundly for now.
The Bears have been living on the edge, but they also must be living right, something which should continue this week.
Cutler is 2-0 against the Steelers in his career and will be aiming for his third straight game with a passer rating over 100.0 against them, a mark that serves as a bit of a death knell for his opposition. Cutler's teams are 26-1 when he has 100-plus passer rating.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 20, Steelers 17