PITTSBURGH (AP) For 60 minutes the Kansas City Chiefs avoided what has plagued them all throughout their luckless season.
Then, in one instant of an errant throw by Matt Cassel just 39 seconds into overtime, the Chiefs were again victimized by their propensity to turn the ball over.
And with it was gone a chance at a big upset.
Lawrence Timmons returned turnover-prone Cassel’s first interception of the game 23 yards to the Kansas City 5, setting up Shaun Suisham’s field goal as Pittsburgh escaped with a 16-13 victory at chilly, rainy Heinz Field on Monday night.
“I think we played well in all phases, we took care of the football for the most part — obviously, until overtime,” Cassel said.
Jamaal Charles had 100 yards rushing and a touchdown on 23 carries for a Kansas City team that sustained its sixth consecutive loss despite a 290-249 advantage in total yards.
The Chiefs (1-8) hadn’t led in regulation at any point this season before taking a 10-0 first-half lead on a Steelers team that had won its previous three games.
The Chiefs protected the ball for 60-plus minutes after having an NFL-worst 29 turnovers through eight games — until the second play of overtime when Timmons stepped in front of Cassel’s pass intended for Dwayne Bowe.
“Turnovers have been the big red ink for our offense,” Chiefs receiver Dexter McCluster said. “Overall, we ran the ball well. Our line held up. In those conditions, everyone was catching the ball and doing their best. It’s unfortunate it had to end on a turnover.
“We fought to the end and gave ourselves a chance to win in overtime.”
Cassel drove the Chiefs 52 yards in the final two minutes of regulation to get into range for Ryan Succop to hit a tying 46-yard field goal. Succop lined up with 2 seconds left after Cassel spiked the ball to stop the clock. The entire offense sprinted to the line after Cassel hit Bowe for 27 yards to the Pittsburgh 28 on fourth and 15 from the 45 with 22 seconds left.
“If the guys keep playing that way, we can definitely get this ship turned,” Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel said. “That’s what it takes on a weekly basis, and if we’ll do that we’ll get it turned because we’ll clean up some of the things that we screwed up and then things will begin to go our way a little bit. But it’s just too bad.”
After Pittsburgh fought back with Suisham’s field goal and Mike Wallace’s nifty 7-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter to tie the game at 10, a 3-minute sequence in the third quarter summed up Kansas City’s lost season.
The Chiefs had a chance to take the lead on their first possession of the second half, but Bowe’s 22-yard touchdown reception was called back because of a holding penalty, and Succop missed a 33-yard field goal moments later.
“It’s always frustrating when you think you have a touchdown pass and all of a sudden you see a flag on the field,” Cassel said, adding he felt the flag was thrown late. “It’s always tough to overcome that.”
Tougher still to overcome what appeared to be another touchdown being taken off the board.
Less than a minute later, Justin Houston scooped up what was called a fumble by Byron Leftwich and returned it 21 yards into the end zone. A replay review showed the play was instead an incomplete pass.
The Chiefs also were flagged for a group touchdown celebration, and the 15-yard penalty was enforced, allowing the Steelers to keep the ball instead of facing a fourth and long.
“I don’t know how the ref called the play,” Charles said, referring to Branden Albert’s holdimg penalty that nullified Bowe’s touchdown. “He was on the other side of the field. That makes you think — and the next thing you know you it’s going bad.
“I felt like right there it started to go bad like how the whole season has been going.”
For the AFC’s worst scoring offense, having two touchdowns and a possible field goal taken off the board in the span of less than a minute was just too much to overcome — even while facing an opponent that had its star quarterback knocked out.
Ben Roethlisberger left early in the third quarter after getting slammed to the turf by Tamba Hali and Houston early in the third quarter. Coach Mike Tomlin said he was taken to a hospital for evaluation.
Behind backup Byron Leftwich, the Steelers (6-3) went on to their fourth consecutive victory.
“We don’t have a true rookie back there that’s never taken a snap before — we feel good about who we have back there if it is Byron or Charlie (Batch),” Steelers tackle Max Starks said.
Roethlisberger was 9 of 18 for 84 yards. Leftwich, playing for the first time in two years, was rusty in relief.
He completed 7 of 14 passes for 73 yards though he did produce a scoring drive early in the third quarter that gave the Steelers a 13-10 lead.
Cassel completed 11 of 26 passes for 154 yards for Kansas City. Cassel hit Tony Moeaki for 38 yards on the Chiefs’ second drive, setting up a 12-yard touchdown run by Charles to give Kansas City its first lead since a 7-3 victory over Denver in the 2011 regular-season finale.
The lead grew to 10-0 after Isaac Redman’s fumble deep in Pittsburgh territory led to a 22-yard field goal by Succop.
Like any brief flirtation with success for Kansas City, it didn’t last.
The Steelers drew even before halftime. Wallace atoned for an earlier drop by making a remarkable 7-yard touchdown grab in the corner of the end zone.
Playing against Todd Haley for the first time since firing him as head coach last December — Haley’s now the Steelers’ offensive coordinator — the Chiefs played with an energy they haven’t shown regularly this season.
Cassel — filling in for an injured Brady Quinn — said “without a doubt” it was the Chiefs’ most complete effort of the season. Crennel similarly was optimistic after the game.
“We have a lot to get right so we can come back next week and be on the winning side of a game,” defensive tackle Dontari Poe said.
“We were very energized as a team but we have to do that every week. It can’t just be this week; we have to come out next week and do that. We’ll get it right.”