Key mistakes costly in Chiefs’ loss

Rome burns. The Kansas City Chiefs boogie.

If hope begets frustration, and frustration begets anger, and anger begets laughter, what’s the next step? Acceptance? Exhaustion? Ennui?

After Kansas City lost 16-13 in overtime at Pittsburgh, on a Monday night in which all the stars seemed to be aligned for the visitors, in a game that the Steelers tried to gift-wrap to the Chiefs and the Chiefs refused to accept, where can a fan turn — besides away in disgust?

Even when they play hard — and make no mistake, the 1-8 Chiefs played their tails off at Heinz Field — they can’t help but keep shooting themselves in the foot. It’s become second nature, like yips on a golf course.

At this point, they can’t help themselves. They’re addicted to bad, congenitally dumb.

In a season of historic lows — With 8:37 left in the first quarter, the Chiefs had their first lead in regulation since January 1, last season’s finale at Denver — Kansas City proved it was just as capable of mishandling prosperity with same aplomb as adversity.

At the 7:32 mark of the third quarter, and the Chiefs having knocked star Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out of the contest, Pittsburgh faced a 3rd-and-7 at its own 26-yard line with Byron Leftwich under center. Leftwich dropped back and was quickly crunched as he attempted to release the ball.

The rock squirted loose, and Kansas City’s Justin Houston scooped it up. The young linebacker raced all the way into the end zone for a score that would give the Chiefs a 16-10 lead, if the fumble was upheld. Several other Chiefs ambled up to Houston and formed a semi-circle behind him in celebration.

Then they all danced.

Danced in unison, like Rockettes in cleats. Danced like they’d been practicing it for weeks. Danced like there was no tomorrow.

Out came the flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The fumble was reviewed and overturned, as Leftwich’s arm was moving forward when the ball came out.

The penalty stood.

Rather than face a 4th-and-7 at the Steelers 26, the hosts now found themselves with a 1st-and-10 at the 41-yard-line.

In a season, there are moments and there are ‘Moments,’ with a capital ‘M.’ Nothing sums up the 2012 Chiefs quite like being penalized 15 yards on a touchdown that, technically, never happened in the first place.

On an evening in which the Chiefs reportedly sent Pittsburgh’s best offensive player to the hospital for X-rays on the first drive of the second half, Kansas City celebrated its good fortune by committing three penalties in the third quarter for 47 yards of penance. Roughly two minutes prior to Justin Houston’s Dance Party, a holding call on left tackle Brendan Albert wiped out a Dwayne Bowe touchdown, sucking the life out of a drive that would end at the Steelers’ 15-yard-line with zero Chiefs points to show for their troubles.

Ordinarily, we’d frown. We’d frown, wag a reproachful finger and remind the Chiefs to act as if they’ve been there before. But what would be the point?  They hadn’t.

Lost in the third-quarter buffoonery was the aggression and purpose of the first 10 minutes, in which Kansas City matched a physical defense, snarl for snarl, to take a 7-0 lead in the cold, Pennsylvania drizzle. For much of the first half, the Steelers tried to play Lynn Swann ball — pass after pass — in Jerome Bettis weather. It was a wet, sloppy track, perfect for mudders, perfect for the Chiefs and their running-back tandem of Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis. Perfect for an upset.

Yet every silver lining seemed to come with a cloud attached. A last-ditch drive by Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel with 1:51 left in regulation stunned the locals. A nine-play, 52-yard jaunt that started at the Kansas City 20 culminated in a 46-yard Ryan Succop field goal as time expired. The hope was proven false, of course: In the second play of overtime, Cassel threw an interception, the franchise’s 30th turnover in nine contests.

The Chiefs can shimmy. It’s the losing they can’t seem to shake.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at