If I were to describe the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers in one sentence I would say this: A team with tremendous talent on both sides of the ball, that consistently shoots itself in the foot at the worst possible moments of games. Sunday's loss to the 2-7 Kansas City Chiefs was a microcosm of the Steeler's season thus far.
The Steelers took a 17-7 lead going into the half thanks to Roethlisberger' TD passes to Hines Ward and Heath Miller. The Chiefs only touchdown of the half came on a 97 yard kickoff return for a touchdown by RB Jamaal Charles. It was the fourth kickoff return for a touchdown allowed by the Steelers this season. It proved to be the difference in the game, just as the Bengal's Bernard Scott's return against the Steelers was the difference two weeks ago. I literally sat down at the sports bar down the street and watched Charles race into the endzone. It was a terrible start, and turned what could have otherwise been an easy victory, into a dogfight.
The Steelers got the ball to start the second half and appeared to be marching for another touchdown before mr. reliable Heath Miller failed to haul in a pass from Roethlisberger. The ball bounced off of Miller's hands and was intercepted by Chief's rookie defensive end Andy Studebacker at the Chief's 38 yard line. Kansas City took advantage of the momentum changing INT and promptly drove down the field on a drive capped off by a 21 yard touchdown pass from Matt Cassell to wide receiver Leonard Pope.
If Miller catches the pass the Steelers probably take the ball into the endzone putting the game out of reach at 24-7 midway through the 3rd quarter. Instead, the game sat at 17-14, and Kansas City had all of the momentum.
The teams exchanged punts on their respective drives following the KC touchdown. The Steelers got the ball back with 7:32 remaining in the 3rd quarter and went on a 79 yard drive that ate up almost 6 minutes. But it was all for nought. On first and 10 from the KC 10 yard line Roethlisberger was hit as he threw a pass intended for Hines Ward in the back of the endzone. The pass was sent off target as Big Ben was hit and was intercepted by Andy Studebacker. Studebacker returned his second interception of the day 94 yards to the Steeler's 8 yard line before Rashard Mendenhall took him to the ground. Mendenhall was the only Steeler who didn't give up on the play and showed tremendous speed running Studebacker down.
Once again, the Steelers had a chance to put the game out of reach at 24-14 going into the final quarter. But, like they have done so many times this season, they turned the ball over and lost all of the momentum. Studebacker's INT was the definition of deflating, and was more than the Steelers could overcome.
Mendenhall's touchdown saving tackle forced the Chiefs to kick a game tieing field goal by Ryan Succop (pronounced "suck-up").
Three minutes into the fourth quarter Steeler's linebacker Lawrence Timmons sacked and stripped Matt Cassell. The Steelers capitalized on the turnover. Big Ben hit Rashard Mendenhall on an 8 yard touchdown strike putting the Steelers ahead 24-17. It was now up to the Steelers defense to shutdown Matt Cassell and company, and seal the victory, but they couldn't.
Matt Cassell led the Chiefs on a 90 yard touchdown drive which ended in a 2 yard shovel pass to Jamal Charles putting the game at 24-24 with 2 minutes and change remaining. The Steelers were forced to punt on their next drive and the Chiefs decided to take a knee with 22 seconds remaining sending the game into overtime.
The Steelers won the coin toss and elected to receive. Once again, with a chance to win the game, disaster struck on 2nd and 3 from the Chiefs 49 yard line. Roethlisberger attempted to run for a first down and was kneed in the head by Chief's linebacker Derek Johnson. The blow gave Roethlisberger a mild concussion and he was replaced by 95 year old 2nd string quarterback Charlie Batch. Batch broke his wrist on his second pass attempt and the Steelers were forced to punt when Mewelde Moore failed to run for a first down on 3rd and 3 from the Chief's 35 yard line. Moore lost 3 yards on the play pushing the Steelers out of field goal range.
On the Chiefs next possession Cassell hit Chris Chambers on a short pass which turned into a 61 yard gain. It appeared that several Steelers including last year's defensive MVP James Harrison gave up on the play, when it appeared Chambers was going to run out of bounds. Safety Ryan Clark didn't give up on the play, but wiffed on an attempted tackle, allowing Chambers to set up Suckup for a chip shot game winning field goal. Game over. Chiefs 27 Steelers 24.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) lies on the ground after being sacked by Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Andy Studebaker (96) during overtime of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009, in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs won the game 27-24. Roethlisberger was injured on the play. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel).
STEELER MISTAKES IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
-Roethlisberger INT in the endzone to Studebacker
-Mike Wallace fumble fighting for extra yards in Chief's territory
-Heath Miller drop which led to INT by Studebacker
-Jamal Charles 97 yard kickoff return for TD
-Mewelde Moore losing 3 yards on 3rd and 2 in OT
-Defense letting Chiefs drive 90 yards in 4th quarter for game-tieing TD
Not to mention Roethlisberger suffering a concussion on the potential game-winning drive in OT.
The Steelers now probably have to win out to have any shot of winning the AFC North or making the playoffs as a wildcard team.
AFC NORTH STANDINGS
AFC PLAYOFF PICTURE
1. Colts (10-0)
2. Patriots (7-3)
3. Bengals (7-3)
4. Chargers (7-3)
5. Broncos (7-4)
6. Steelers (6-4)
A must win divisional game against the 5-5 Baltimore Ravens looms. The Steelers head to Baltimore for a Sunday Night Football showdown with 3rd-year pro Dennis Dixon as their backup QB. Dixon has 1 career attempt in the NFL. The Steelers signed ex-Pitt Panther QB Tyler Palko from the Canadian Football League to fill in at the 3rd QB spot. They have left a roster spot open for Batch who suffered a broken wrist against the Chiefs. Batch is expected to miss at least 2-4 weeks following surgery.