From Arrowhead Stadium
There were things going in the right direction for the Chiefs Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
First they were at home, and although fans of the Steelers are everywhere, they knew the Arrowhead crowd would give them a boost. Even though they are playing with a roster that lacks some of the best players who have been lost to injury, they faced a Pittsburgh team that had similar problems. Pro Bowl names like OLB LaMarr Woodley, SS Troy Polamalu and C Maurkice Pouncey out of the lineup and off the field and their quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a broken right thumb.
None of it ended up working in the Chiefs favor, as the Steelers slogged their way to 13-9 victory.
A thing of beauty it was not, certainly not in any standard football sense. But for a team that was dealing with injuries and needing backup players to step forward and get things done, the Steelers showed they had what head coach Mike Tomlin called “starters and starters in waiting.”
The Chiefs showed their shallow talent pool, just as they have throughout the now four-game losing streak that threatens to bring a very early end to their 2011 season. On a night when Pittsburgh needed help, the Chiefs provided presents in the form of four turnovers â€“ all off the hands of starting QB Tyler Palko. The three interceptions and one fumbled snap made it impossible for Todd Haley’s team to beat Pittsburgh, even with the Steelers in a depleted state.
“Our guys gave it everything they had,” Haley said. “They stuck together. They didn’t get down. We kept playing hard, sticking to the game plan and in the end we had a chance there moving the ball across the 50 to potentially win the game. We turned the ball over offensively, when you do it four times, you generally don’t have a chance in the end. “
That last chance came with possession of the ball, 38 seconds to play and the Chiefs offense had a 1st-and-15 at the Pittsburgh 37-yard line. Palko threw to his right side for WR Dwayne Bowe and the pass was intercepted by Lewis at the Steelers 14-yard line with 28 seconds to play.
For the Chiefs to even be in that position does speak to their willingness to not give up, to keep playing when the horizon doesn’t look so good. But ultimately it came down to the Chiefs on offense or defense not stepping forward and making plays when they were needed.
And despite their problems with Woodley inactive due to a hamstring pull, and losing Polamalu (concussion) and Pouncey (illness) in the first quarter, the Steelers had players step forward and make plays.
“We are excited about the win, excited for the men, particularly in the manner which it unfolded with the signature plays defensively down the stretch,” Tomlin said. “We know as we push into December football, those are the kind of plays we are going to need to get out of stadiums with wins.”
The outcome left the Steelers at 8-3 and tied with New England, Baltimore and Houston for the best record in the AFC. They trail the Ravens in their own division because they’ve lost twice to Baltimore. But with five weeks left in the season, it was a necessary outcome for a team with post-season plans.
They had a touchdown catch from TE Wesley Saunders, a guy who had just two catches coming into the game. They had a late interception from CB Keenan Lewis who came in late and grabbed his first interception of the season. They had LB Jason Worilds step in for Woodley and he had six tackles and a sack. S Ryan Munday replaced Polamalu (possible concussion) and finished as the Steelers leading tackler with 10 and an interception.
One thing the Steelers got in this game that they’ve struggled with is takeaways. Entering the game, they had just six takeaways in 10 games. Against the Chiefs and QB Tyler Palko, they had three interceptions and a fumble recovery, pushing their total to 10 takeaways on the season.
It was the fourth consecutive defeat for the Chiefs, who are 4-7 on the season and now three games behind AFC West front-runner Oakland.
“It’s hard; there’s no explanation for it,” said LB Derrick Johnson. “We’ve had some close games that we should have won. It’s tough trying to stop this bleeding. We’re bleeding right now and we’ve got to stop it.”
The first half was highlighted by both defenses as there were a combined four turnovers and only 292 offensive yards and one touchdown between the teams. The Chiefs broke the scoreboard first on their initial possession of the game, as Palko drove them 57 yards on 11 plays before Ryan Succop made a 41-yard FG. As has been typical with the Chiefs, their inconsistent offense moved the ball to the Steelers 27-yard line and then produced just three yards in the next three plays.
Pittsburgh was going in for a score when RB Mewelde Moore fumbled on a hit by OLB Tamba Hali at the Kansas City two-yard line. The ball rolled into the end zone and was recovered by CB Javier Arenas. But the Chiefs gave it back five plays later, when Palko fumbled a snap from center and Steelers DE Brett Keisel recovered the football. The Chiefs defense held the fort and Pittsburgh punted.
But on the last play of the first quarter, Palko badly under threw WR Steve Breaston and the pass was intercepted by CB Ike Taylor. In four plays the Steelers had a 23-yard FG from Shaun Suisham, to tie the score at 3-3.
Palko came right back and threw another interception, Munday grabbed an errant pass and the Steelers had possession at the Chiefs 24-yard line. In five plays, Roethlisberger had the Steelers in the end zone on the two-yard TD pass to Saunders. The PAT kick gave Pittsburgh a 10-3 lead.
Near the end of the first half, the teams traded field goals, as Succop hit from 49 yards and Suisham matched that distance on the final play of the first half, sending the teams to the locker room with the Steelers leading 13-6.
The only scoring in the second half was a 40-yard FG from Succop. The nearest the Chiefs offense got to the end zone was reaching the 22-yard line, setting up the field goal.
The defense got the ball back for the offense and Palko drove them to the Pittsburgh 37-yard line, but then threw his third interception and ending the Chiefs comeback attempt.
“We can’t have it happen in critical situations like that because that’s what ultimately beat us,” Haley said. “Everything else aside, we were in a position to win the game.”