CHICAGO -- Heard something in the Steelers' locker room last night that I've never heard before.
A teammate defending Jeff Reed.
Talk about something that's usually so unnecessary.
"Jeff is a great kicker," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "He's going to win a lot of games for us. He has won a lot of games for us. But even the great ones miss once in awhile."
Or miss twice.
What must Reed have been feeling as he dressed a few feet from Keisel and heard his every word?
Actually, I'll tell you exactly what he was feeling after the Steelers' 17-14 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
"I'm just embarrassed because these guys fought their tails off to win the game," Reed said. "It's a terrible feeling. If there's one player who can single-handedly lose the game, then I'll take credit for it today."
It wasn't so surprising that the Steelers were beaten, their first loss in a meaningful game since their meltdown in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans Dec. 21, four games and one Super Bowl ago.
What was shocking was the way they lost.
Reed -- maybe the most dependable player on the team -- had the worst game of his eight-year NFL career.
You expect him to miss field-goal attempts about as often as defensive end Aaron Smith gets blown off the ball or tight end Heath Miller drops a pass.
It just almost never happens.
"If I make either one of those kicks, we win," Reed said.
It's hard to argue with the man.
Yes, the Steelers' offense struggled to score points, in large part, because the run game again did nothing in the first half before picking it up a bit in the second, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception with the team driving early in the second quarter and star wide receiver Santonio Holmes seemed to drop as many passes as he caught. But it clearly would have scored enough if Reed hadn't hooked a 38-yard field-goal try early in the fourth quarter that would have nudged the Steelers' lead to 17-7 and probably deflated the Bears.
It's also true the Steelers' proud defense, which figures it should win any game when it has a fourth-quarter lead, gave up a tying nine-play, 72-yard touchdown drive, in large part, because it couldn't get off the field on third down and safety Tyrone Carter had a hard time filling in for All-Pro Troy Polamalu, especially after his left thigh was badly bruised late in the first half. But it clearly would have played well enough to win if Reed hadn't missed left again from 43 yards out with the score tied, 14-14, with 3:18 left.
"No excuses," Reed said. "I missed two kicks. I thought the first one was going to sneak in, but I didn't give the second one a chance."
To say those on the Steelers' sideline were stunned would be an understatement of the largest proportion.
"We aren't used to what happened with him today," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who often has said he doesn't watch Reed kick because he knows he's going to make every field-goal try.
"You are surprised when he misses," Smith added, "because he's almost automatic."
This was just the fourth time in Reed's career that he missed two kicks in a game. The most recent time it happened was Sept. 26, 2004, when the Steelers played the Miami Dolphins in Hurricane Jeanne, a brutal storm that rocked South Florida and forced the game to be delayed from afternoon to night.
You know how long ago that was?
It was Roethlisberger's first NFL start.
Dave Wannstedt was the Dolphins' coach.
That's a long time ago.
"Yeah, I am surprised [by the misses]," Reed said. "I strive for perfection. I don't think I kicked well at all today. My kickoffs were bad and I missed those two kicks."
Making things worse for Reed, he had to watch Bears kicker Robbie Gould -- a former Penn Stater -- drill the winner from 44 yards with 15 seconds left after the Steelers' defense gave up one final big third-down play.
"I've been in those shoes plenty of times, and I know how great he feels right now as opposed to how I feel," Reed said.
Then for emphasis ...
"It's embarrassing," he said again.
It should be pointed out that, after Reed missed from 44 and 45 yards on that miserable night in Miami, he came back to kick a 51-yarder for the clinching points that night in a 13-3 win.
The Steelers figure Reed will bounce back again Sunday when they play the Bengals in Cincinnati.
"We're not down on him one bit," Roethlisberger said. "We lost as a team, and we will move on."
Reed said it "means a lot" that Roethlisberger, Keisel and the others have his back.
That didn't make this game any easier for him, though.
This was a completely new feeling for him.
As he put it, "I definitely don't want to feel this way again."
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .