On the Steelers: Both offenses sputter throughout game, but turnover battle is difference
Weslye Saunders celebrates his second-quarter touchdown reception with Trai Essex. The only touchdown of the game, it put the Steelers ahead, 10-3, against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In the year of the offense in the NFL, the Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs played a game Sunday night of practically no offense.
The Steelers wound up with the game's only touchdown and a 13-9 victory, barely beating a badly underwhelming opponent again and, according to one player, disappointing their coach who was hoping to see them make a "statement."
But the victory did keep them tied atop the AFC North Division with the Baltimore Ravens at 8-3. Four Kansas City turnovers did little to aid a Steelers offense that produced just 290 yards and two turnovers.
"We know we didn't play well on offense," receiver Mike Wallace said. "Nobody has to tell us that. We just had a bad day on offense."
Ben Roethlisberger looked as though he were playing with a broken right thumb which, of course, he was. He threw one interception in Kansas City territory and running back Mewelde Moore fumbled at the Chiefs 2 as the Steelers muffed early scoring opportunities. Roethlisberger's string of 200-yard passing games ended at 18 (21 of 31, 193 yards).
Kansas City quarterback Tyler Palko played worse. This time there was to be no late-game touchdown drive to beat them by a former Pitt quarterback, the way Joe Flacco of Baltimore did Nov. 6.
Palko, the reason Flacco transferred from Pitt to Delaware, threw three interceptions, the final one by Keenan Lewis at the Steelers 23 with 28 seconds to go to end the Chiefs' final stab at an upset victory.
He had two badly underthrown passes intercepted and lost a fumble on a snap from center in the first half. Palko was 18 of 28 for 167 yards.
Kansas City's offense managed just three Ryan Succop field goals.
The Steelers scored their only touchdown on Roethlisberger's 2-yard pass to rookie tight end Weslye Saunders. Shaun Suisham kicked two field goals for their other points.
The Steelers lost two starters in the first half -- safety Troy Polamalu to a head injury and center Maurkice Pouncey to what coach Mike Tomlin said was a stomach virus. Guard Doug Legursky moved to center and Chris Kemoeatu played guard after that.
Tomlin said Polamalu had concussion-like symptoms but cautioned that they did not know if he had a concussion or not.
Tomlin became animated after Lewis pilfered Palko's final pass and safety Ryan Clark tried to explain why. A week ago, the Patriots smacked around Palko and the Chiefs, 34-3, and Clark said Tomlin was looking for his team to make a similar statement and was animated "because we played terrible, because we didn't play well."
"He wanted us to come in here and make a statement," Clark said. "You look at what happened with New England last week, probably an elite team that handled a team they should have handled. I think he wanted us to come out and perform that way -- a big stage, prime time. Also, the last time we were in that situation, we gave up a touchdown to Baltimore and they win the game. So it's just about stepping stones, continuing to get better. I think that last play that Keenan made kind of got coach excited."
Palko led the Chiefs (4-7) on a 70-yard fourth-quarter drive that ended all too typically for the Chiefs, with Kansas City's third field goal of the game from Succop. It was the only score of the second half and cut the Steelers' lead to 13-9. Neither team threatened the rest of the way, although the Chiefs did reach the Steelers 32 with 38 seconds to go before Lewis' interception.
It was the sixth turnover in the past five quarters after the Steelers went through 39 quarters with only four.
"I'm proud of our defense," said end Brett Keisel, who recovered Palko's fumbled snap in the first quarter. "We needed those [turnovers]. We haven't been getting them. Coach [Dick] LeBeau said turnovers will come in bunches and they did [Sunday night]."
The Steelers, up 13-6 at the half, had two drives into Kansas City territory in the third quarter that ended with an interception and a punt.
After reaching Kansas City's 42 on their first drive, cornerback Travis Daniels intercepted a Roethlisberger pass at the 14 and returned it 25 yards.
The Steelers scored 13 points in the second quarter after falling behind, 3-0, in the first quarter.
Roethlisberger threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Saunders and Suisham kicked field goals of 21 and 49 yards, the second on the final play of the first half.
The Steelers could manage only that 21-yard field goal after Ike Taylor returned an interception 29 yards to Kansas City's 7 on the final play of the first quarter. They ran twice for 4 yards and Emmanuel Sanders ran into a defensive back on an incomplete fade pass.
The Steelers had reached, in one way or another, Kansas City's 2, 3 and 7 on three different drives in the first half and came away with only three points.
Finally, they broke through for a touchdown after their second interception. Ryan Mundy, playing strong safety for injured Polamalu, intercepted a woefully underthrown pass by Palko to give the Steelers a first down at Kansas City's 24.
It appeared the Steelers would have to settle for a field-goal try when Roethlisberger was sacked on third down, but the Chiefs were called for a holding penalty to give the Steelers a first down at the 15.
From the 2, Roethlisberger, taking time and looking at several receivers, found Saunders, who made a leaping grab in the back of the end zone for his first NFL touchdown.
The Steelers led for the first time, 10-3.
Kansas City came back to score on a 49-yard field goal by Succop after Palko's 18-yard pass to Steve Breaston kept the drive going on third down.
The Chiefs won the toss and took the ball, and scored first on Succop's 41-yard field goal.
Late in the drive, Polamalu was injured when he tackled big tackle Steve Maneri, who was an eligible receiver and caught a short pass on the play.
The two sides then traded lost fumbles. Moore fumbled at the Kansas City 2 after picking up 6 yards on what was looking like a touchdown drive on the Steelers' first series.
The Chiefs gave the ball back when Palko fumbled the snap and Keisel recovered at the Kansas City 38. They moved to a first down at the 24 and Rashard Mendenhall ran 21 yards to the 3. But Heath Miller was penalized for holding on that play and the series wound up after a sack back at the 43, where it ended with a punt.
It was the begging of plenty of inept offense in this game.
"That's why it's a team sport," offensive tackle max Starks said. "Our defense played excellent."