Conservative play-calling and mental mistakes cost the Chiefs a victory in primetime.
By JEFFREY FLANAGAN FS Kansas City
Few teams have to work so hard to get a ... loss.
Seriously, the Chiefs' agonizing 16-13 overtime loss to the
Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night was one of the most hard-earned defeats in franchise history.
The defeat, which left the Chiefs at 1-8, also will stand as Exhibit A as to why this 2012 Chiefs version may also be one the dumbest teams in franchise history.
As the Chiefs piled up mistake after stupid mistake Monday night, announcers Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico were left virtually speechless at times. I mean, what can you say when a team gets penalized 15 yards for a team end-zone dance on a defensive touchdown that eventually gets over-turned by replay?
Team end zone dances? Really? Are we suddenly back in 1988 to the Bengals choreographing around the Ickey Shuffle?
And here's the best part: That Chiefs' touchdown, on a fumble return by Justin Houston, was reverted back to an incomplete pass, which would have made it fourth down, forcing a Steelers punt deep in their own territory. But the 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for the group celebration instead gave the Steelers a first down.
It was that kind of night for these you-can't-make-this-stuff-up Chiefs.
And, of course, the Chiefs saved their best for last. After maligned quarterback Matt Cassel offered his most encouraging moment of the season when he led his team to a game-tying field goal in the closing seconds, he promptly proved moments later why Chiefs fans have long since tossed him under the bus.
Just 39 seconds into the overtime, Cassel heaved a pass intended for Dwayne Bowe into a crowd of Steelers defenders – seriously, I dare you to count them all – that was easily picked by linebacker
Lawrence Timmons. Actually, with so many black-and-gold defenders in the area, it's remarkable that Cassel even spotted a white and red uniform. Good eye, Matt.
Timmons took the pick to the KC 5, and on the next play Shaun Suisam bunted home a 23-yard field goal to give Pittsburgh the win, though the Steelers not so much escaped with a win as they stood, with eyes closed and arms extended, accepted the gift most graciously.
The Steelers, of course, will take it gladly, having played almost the entire second half without quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger, who left with an injury and was replaced by Byron Leftwich, who may have disappeared from the radar for quite some time yet is still fully capable of missing a receiver by 20 to 25 yards.
Leftwich was able, though, to engineer the Steelers' go-ahead ahead drive late in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter. To be fair, however, the Chiefs' defense simply wouldn't allow Leftwich and the Steelers to leave the field on that drive. Twice the Chiefs' seemingly stopped the Steelers on third down. But each time, the Chiefs committed yet more stupid penalties to extend the drive.
And just to be completely sure, on the second failed third down at the Chiefs' 27, the Chiefs committed a roughing-the-passer penalty AND a defensive holding penalty – both automatic first downs.
As it were, the rest of the Chiefs, most notably offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, seemed oblivious that the wild-tossing Leftwich was even in the game.
Daboll, rather than trying to checkmate the Big Ben-less Steelers with a go-ahead touchdown in the second half, instead employed his now familiar run-run-run-punt offensive scheme, much to the chagrin of Gruden, who seemed tempted to rush onto the field and grab Daboll's headset.
"C'mon, you're 1-7," Gruden implored. "Open it up! Take a shot!"
The Chiefs did not, even before that, when they unleashed the slowest two-minute offense Gruden probably has seen to end a first half.
After the Chiefs reached the Pittsburgh 48 in a 10-10 game with no time outs and 1 minute, 27 seconds left, Daboll had his offense huddling after a Jamaal Charles 2-yard run off tackle. Eventually, as the clock wound down to 41 seconds, Cassel threw a short incompletion and the drive came to a quizzical end.
Again, Gruden and Tirico seemed puzzled.
Chiefs fans, though, have seen this tease before, at the end of the first halves against both the Ravens and the Raiders when the Chiefs each time drove near the opponents' 40 in the closing seconds only to pass on a long field goal or a Hail Mary pass. The first time the Chiefs punted on the final play. The second time, Cassel took a knee.
Really, we're not making this up.
Maybe Daboll's ultra-conservative approach stemmed from hoping to save the Chiefs any more embarrassment near the end zone, such as the otherwise well-executed 22-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Bowe that would have put Kansas City up 17-10 early in the third quarter.
That touchdown was nullified, though, when tackle Branden Albert was flagged for a holding call that appeared suspect. But no worries – Bowe, before crossing into the end zone, reached the football back to taunt the Steelers defenders and likely would have been busted for taunting anyway.