PITTSBURGH — A special teams breakdown and glut of penalties marred improvement on offense and defense and cost the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 26-20 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the third preseason game Saturday night at Heinz Field.
A questionable horse-collar tackle by rookie linebacker Vince Williams kept the game-winning drive alive by the Chiefs, who also got an 18-yard run by backup quarterback Chase Daniel on third-and-long to get into scoring range. Daniel passed to Rico Richardson for 15 yards and the game-winning touchdown after converting a fourth-down play.
The penalty by Williams gave the Steelers nine for 98 yards in the game and 243 yards in three preseason games.
A nice drive by the offense, along with two tremendous stops by the defense, helped the Steelers secure a 10-0 early lead during the first quarter. Shaun Suisham kicked a 28-yard field goal to cap an eight-play, 70-yard drive in 4:24 during the Steelers opening possession. They got the ball after Ziggy Hood sacked Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith to force a punt.
Ben Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown for 49 yards to drastically change the field position, and starting running back Jonathan Dwyer ran for 13 yards into the red zone. A six-yard toss to Brown moved the ball inside the 10, but Dwyer was stuffed for minus-1 — even though tackle Kelvin Beachum entered the game as an additional blocker — and Roethlisberger overthrew Brown on third down. So, Suisham had to kick the short field goal.
The Steelers defense, and an interesting call by Chiefs coach Andy Reid keyed the ensuing drive. After a nine-yard gain on second down to their 21, Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles was stopped for no gain. Curiously, Reid kept the offense on the field for fourth down with less than a yard to go. Charles was stuffed by Jarvis Jones and Hood to give the Steelers the ball at the 21.
Roethlisberger threw incomplete passes on the opening two downs, but a neutral-zone infraction moved the ball to the 16. Roethlisberger connected with Jerricho Cotchery for 11 yards and a first down at the 5, and Dwyer ran for two to the 3. However, Roethlisberger was dropped for a 10-yard loss to the 13 on second down. On third-and-goal from the 13, Roethlisberger scrambled around until he saw Dwyer in the clear down the right sideline. Roethlisberger got the ball to him, and Dwyer cruised in for the score to give the Steelers a 10-0 lead.
After the Steelers forced a three-and-out by the Chiefs late in the first quarter, momentum began to switch for the Steelers. After a pair of first-down passes, Roethlisberger appeared to hook up with Brown for a 25-yard reception to the 17. However, Dwyer was called for a chop block. The 15-yard penalty resulted in a 40-yard swing in yardage. Two plays to Dwyer couldn’t make up the yardage, and the Steelers had to punt.
“I got an explanation,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said when asked about the chop block call. “I can’t tell you (that) I agreed with it.”
They forced a Chiefs punt, and Roethlisberger quickly moved the ball downfield with a 21-yard pass to Cotchery and 24-yarder to Emmanuel Sanders. After no gain by new running back Felix Jones, Roethlisberger lofted a perfect pass into the end zone. Sanders appeared to make a spectacular touchdown catch, but when his body hit the ground he juggled the pass. Even though he had possession when he hit, the ruling went against the Steelers because he didn’t follow through with the catch. Roethlisberger’s third-down pass was incomplete as well, and Suisham’s 52-yard field-goal attempt was blocked.
“We did some nice things,” Tomlin said. “We’re a juggling catch away from it being a very productive half offensively. I’d like to see us win the line of scrimmage more definitively. Not enough in terms of he running game to talk about at the half, but a decent start.”
The Steelers appeared to have Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith bottled up during the ensuing possession, but he shook loose and ran for 38 yards into the red zone. Cortez Allen was penalized for a late hit out of bounds, even though he clearly was blocked into Smith and basically fell into him. With a first down at the 7, the Chiefs would only gain six yards to the 1. And Ryan Succop was forced to kick a 19-yard field goal.
The Steelers could not run out the clock on their next possession, as Roethlisberger was sacked for an eight-yard loss. In the first half, Roethlisberger was 13-for-19 for 166 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked twice and had a 113 quarterback rating. The Chiefs then proceeded to drive 72 yards in eight plays and just one minute to tie the game at 10-10 at halftime. Smith passed to first-year receiver Junior Hemingway for the five-yard touchdown. A late hit by Troy Polamalu on Smith kept the drive alive for the Chiefs.
“We don’t give up points unless we get penalties in drives,” Tomlin said. “That’s the point we make to the guys, not only in this game, but all preseason. That’s the reality of it. We play great football. We had a chance to play great defense. We didn’t do it at the end of the half, and they scored 10 points because of it.”
Dwyer had 25 yards on eight carries in the first half (3.1-yard average). The Steelers didn’t allow much to the Chiefs running game until Smith rumbled for 38 yards on that one play. The other Kansas City backs had just 10 yards rushing in the first half. Brown had three catches for 61 yards to lead the Steelers, while Dwayne Bowe tallied six for 73 for the Chiefs. Smith completed 17 of 24 passes for 158 yards and one touchdown. He was sacked once and had a 102.4 quarterback rating.
Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski regained the lead for the Steelers late in the third quarter with a 25-yard pass to tight end Michael Palmer and 34-yard scoring toss to rookie Markus Wheaton. The speedy wideout beat double-coverage deep, as Tysyn Hartman and Neiko Thorpe badly trailed the play that capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive in 4:30.
The lead was short-lived, as the Steelers special teams fell apart. Knile Davis took Suisham’s kickoff nine yards deep in the end zone and ran. Cornerback Josh Victorian had a shot to stop Davis inside the 20, but he whiffed and Davis kept running with no resistance. When he was done, the 109-yard kickoff return and ensuing conversion kick tied the score at 17-17 through three quarters.
Gradkowski keyed a game-leading field-goal drive with an 18-yard pass to wideout Derek Moye, who’s trying to make the team, and Alvester Alexander ran for 14 yards to near the red zone. After a run was stopped for minus-3, the Chiefs were called for a penalty to give the Steelers a first down at the 15. Alexander ran for six to the 9, but the drive stalled and Suisham kicked a 27-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 20-17 advantage.
No. 1 pick Jarvis Jones appeared to give the Steelers an excellent opportunity to increase that margin midway through the fourth quarter, but his interception was called back when cornerback Josh Victorian was called for pass interference. Jones, who didn’t start but played nearly the entire game, appeared to fall on the ball and have the wind knocked out of him on the play.
The Chiefs eventually drove for a tying field goal by Succup, as reserve linebacker Alan Baxter was called for late hit out of bounds to keep the drive alive. Baxter redeemed himself later with a 10-yard sack to force the field goal with 1:32 remaining.
The Steelers got the ball back and could not get a first down, so the Chiefs had the ball with less than a minute remaining to go for the win. A sack by Cameron Heyward helped hold the Chiefs at bay to force overtime. Baxter also had a sack and forced fumble, but Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel recovered it. Kion Wilson had a sack as well for the Steelers.
The Steelers were without three running backs, as Isaac Redman (stinger), Le’Veon Bell (mid-foot sprain) and LaRod Stephens-Howling (knee sprain) were held out with injuries.