Sunday Night Football featured the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, with the Steelers coming in as the heavy favorites. But I've said it before this season and I'll say it again: the Steelers, for the good and bad, like to keep things exciting. As a fan, I did feel like this game was going to be more close than the experts predicted. The Steelers have been winning, but most of the games certainly haven't been pretty. Supposedly they wanted to "make a statement," just as the New England Patriots did in their 34-3 win over the Chiefs last week. Well, they didn't.
Coming off the bye, the Steelers were either going to look hot or need to take some time to get into rhythm. After this game, it was definitely the latter, regardless of the massive amounts of turnovers by quarterback Tyler Palko. Can you imagine what this game would have been like against a slightly more seasoned quarterback? You gotta wonder how much focus the Steelers lost after the bye week + massive amounts of turkey + late Sunday night game + them being the Steelers.
Palko fumbled a snap and threw three interceptions, giving the Steelers the gift of amazing field position from the first two interceptions and effectively ending the game with the last. After that second interception, I started feeling a little bit badly for Palko, especially because we used to watch him play as a Pittsburgh Panther and the guy grew up in Pittsburgh. He was also the reason Joe Flacco transferred from Pitt to Delaware. However, as the Chiefs were driving down the field with only minutes to go, making our defense look tired and, dare I say it, kind of old, I felt less and less bad for him. But a game-deciding interception by Keenan Lewis sealed Palko's fate. I had to give Palko credit, though. He kept things close when it counted.
The three turnovers in the first half came on three consecutive offensive plays for the Chiefs in Kansas City territory. Ike Taylor picked him off to end the first quarter, while Ryan Mundy got the second pick with 13:22 left in the second.
But the Steelers couldn't score touchdowns off the turnovers. They didn't score at all in the first quarter. The Chiefs defense was just that tough, and they didn't let up during the entire game. During the second quarter after Mundy's interception, Ben Roethlisberger threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Weslye Saunders, a rookie, the only touchdown in the game. Shaun Suisham kicked field goals of 21 and 49 yards, the second on the final play of the half. Also in the first half, the Steelers lost two starters -- safety Troy Polamalu to a head injury and center Maurkice Pouncey to illness. Seeing Polamalu crumple like that after a hit gave me heart palpitations. Hopefully both of them, plus LaMarr Woodley, out with a hamstring injury, will be okay next week.
The Steelers were inside the Kansas City 10-yard line for multiple drives and couldn't get into the endzone, the worst coming from Mewelde Moore's fumble at the Kansas City 2. The ball was stripped loose by Tamba Hali and Javier Arenas recovered in the end zone for a touchback. The Chiefs were able to put away a couple of long field goals, making the score 13-6 at the half. (Of note: they have yet to score a touchdown since playing Denver three weeks ago.)
The second half didn't start well either. As the Steelers were driving on their first possession, Roethlisberger threw a pick right to Travis Daniels. Still, the Chiefs went three-and-out, and the Steelers too were unable to score. Even though the Chiefs managed to convert on fourth down with a fake punt attempt, the second half remained rather lackluster until the end. There was no score in the third quarter. Neither team could establish any type of rhythm and many of the drives were marred by at least 30 penalties (okay, there were 10, but still).
But at the last quarter, that's when the Chiefs' offense came to life, of course. That final drive made me way too nervous and got me pacing around the room for the rest of the game. How could a game against the 4-6 (now 4-7) Chiefs be this damn nerve-wracking? With Troy Polamalu out, it seemed the defense became complacent, uncreative, and tired toward the end, perhaps getting frustrated with the offense's inability to convert all these turnovers they were creating. But then Jackie Battle ran into his own guy on 3rd and 2nd, and they had to settle for a 40-yard field goal, making the game 13-9 with 7:11 left.
After the Steelers failed to do much on offense against the stingy Chiefs defense, the Chiefs marched across midfield down to Pittsburgh's 37. Oh crap, I thought. We could lose this one. But then Palko threw for Dwayne Bowe and it went high and behind him. Bowe pretended like he had no arms, letting the ball sail right over him, not even trying to make the catch or at least break up the pass. Thankfully, Lewis remembered he had extremities and was able to make the interception, pretty much ending the game and giving the Steelers more turnovers in one game than pretty much the entire season.
So, whew, time to take a breath. The Steelers are still tied for the AFC North with Baltimore, but with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns coming up, the Steelers are going to have to shake their tryptophan-filled week and get focused again. There were multiple dropped passes by Mike Wallace, who really should keep to himself at the beginning of games (he had a scuffle with a few Chiefs before it even started), Rashard Mendenhall only rushed for 57 yards, they couldn't score in the red zone, the defense seemed kind of boring without Troy in the game, even though I'll give them tons of love for creating turnovers and winning it at the end, and the game was simply too close against a struggling team with a backup quarterback, even if he did go to Pitt.
Of course, you never know what will happen from week to week, and the Steelers did come away with a huge "W" in terms of the playoff race, so I guess that's all that really matters. The Bengals next week will present a huge challenge for them. But the Steelers did hold on just long enough to win it, and who knows, that could be the story for them all the way to the Super Bowl.