Chiefs Fall to the Steelers 12-20 from The Associated Press via FA Kansas City
Alex Smithpassed for a season-high 311 yards but was sacked six times as the fading Chiefs (8-7) lost for the fourth time in their last five games. Kansas City had little trouble moving the ball but couldn't seem to get the one big play that mattered.
Instead, the big plays - and most of the smaller ones - went to the Steelers. A roster that's undergone a youth movement since a Super Bowl appearance four years ago is growing up quickly, though with a few familiar faces leading the way.
The Steelers' win also eliminated the Dolphins from the playoffs. The Chiefs need to beat San Diego next Sunday and receive plenty of help to make it back to the playoffs for a second straight year under coach Andy Reid.
How the Chiefs Can Make the Playoffs from The Mothership
First, the Chiefs will need to beat the San Diego Chargers at home.
In their first meeting in San Diego, the Chiefs won 23-20 on a late field goal from
Cairo Santos. A win would mean the first season sweep for the Chiefs of the Chargers since 2003.
Chiefs vs. Steelers: 10 Observations from The Mothership
1. Chiefs offense struggles inside red zone early
The Chiefs offense went 0-3 in the red zone in the first half, settling for two field goals and then was stopped on a fourth-down attempt late in the first half.
On two of those drives, the Chiefs got inside the Steelers 10-yard line (8, 4), but still weren't able to get a touchdown.
The Chiefs trailed 10-6 at halftime.
Chiefs vs. Steelers: Postgame Facts and Stats from The Mothership
PASS DEFENSE STANDS TALL AGAIN: Through 15 games of the 2014 season, the Chiefs defense continues to not have allowed an individual 300-yard passer nor a pass completion of 50 or more yards. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger was 18 of 25 passes for 220 yards with a long of 44-yards to WR Martavis Bryant in today's contest.
HOUSTON CONTINUES DOMINANCE: LB
Justin Houstonrecorded a six-yard sack of Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger to give him 18.0 sacks (-77.0 yards) on the season. His 18.0 sacks rank first in the NFL in 2014.
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KCChiefs.com Video: Chiefs vs. Steelers: Game Highlights
KCChiefs.com Video: Chiefs vs. Steelers: Andy Reid Postgame Reaction
KCChiefs.com Video: Chiefs vs. Steelers: Alex Smith Postgame Reaction
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KCChiefs.com Video: Chiefs vs. Steelers: Postgame Report
Chiefs' failures in red zone contribute to 20-12 loss to Steelers from Chiefs Digest
The Chiefs defense arguably did its part, limiting the Pittsburgh Steelers, the NFL's top offense entering Week 16, to 282 total yards.
Kansas City's offense, however, didn't hold its end of the bargain after four trips, including three in the first half, inside the Steelers' 12-yard line resulted in three Cairo Santos field goals.
The Chiefs' inability to score touchdowns resulted in a 20-12 loss that dropped the Chiefs to 8-7 and a fourth loss in the past five games.
Six sacks on Smith plague Chiefs in 20-12 loss to Steelers from The Associated Press via FS Kansas City
Moving the ball wasn't a problem. The Chiefs outgained the NFL's top-ranked offense 327-288 but couldn't seem to get the one momentum-turning play that mattered. Kansas City came in second in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage only to see six drives into Pittsburgh territory end with four field goals by Cairo Santos, Jamaal Charles' fumble and a fourth-down gamble late in the first half that fizzled.
"There are so many little things that happened," Smith said. "They're not big things, but just little stuff that gets magnified."
That's the case this time of year. And the Steelers, after a brief foray into 8-8 mediocrity in 2012 and 2013, are back playing their best football when the temperature drops. A roster that's undergone a youth movement since a Super Bowl loss to Green Bay four years ago is growing up quickly, though with a few familiar faces leading the way.
Rapid Reaction: Kansas City Chiefs from ESPN
Reid got greedy: Andy Reid had the Chiefs try for a first down on fourth-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 12 and trailing 10-6 late in the first half. The Chiefs were going to get the ball to start the second half, so a field goal would have made sense. But Charles was stuffed for no gain, and the Chiefs came away without any points where three would have helped. The Chiefs would have been playing for a tie rather than trailing by 11 on a late drive deep into Pittsburgh territory.
Missed chances on offense tops Sunday's low points from Chiefs Digest
With six times sacked against the Steelers, Smith established a new career high in times sacked in a single season with 45. His previous high was 44 times sacked in 2011 while with the San Francisco 49ers. As a note to Chiefs offensive line struggles since Smith arrived via trade with San Francisco in 2013, Smith has been sacked 84 times the past two seasons, marking the most in a two-year stretch on his 10-year career.
The bad news surrounds the Chiefs still have one more game to play, meaning Smith could add to those totals.
The bottom line? Chiefs offensive line is quite offensive from FS Kansas City
What can we take away from the Chiefs' dreadful 20-12 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday?
Probably that the Chiefs are more than one or two players away from being a perennial playoff team.
And where they are weakest is right up front, on the offensive line. The Chiefs' offensive line simply isn't good enough to mask all of quarterback Alex Smith's deficiencies.
We'll get to Smith's day in a minute. But let's look at how really bad this Chiefs offensive line is.
On Smith's first 31 passes he was pressured, hit or sacked 24 times.
That, friends, is a lot.
There will be short answers and long answers from Steelers 20, Chiefs 12 at Heinz Field, but the bottom line is the same: The team that talked since the spring about "finishing" didn't, and didn't in the game they needed most at the times they needed it the most.
Kansas City (8-7) outgained the No. 1 yardage offense in the NFL, on the road, 327-282. The Steelers (10-5) ran the ball for 2.6 yards per clip and were held under 75 rushing yards as a team for just the fourth time all season. The defense held up its end, more often than not.
The offense ended up a few yards, a few critical plays, short, time and again. Four red-zone opportunities, zero red-zone touchdowns, sixteen points left on the field. Ballgame.
Throw in a run game that could never get its bread-and-butter -- the power look -- working, rushing 14 times for just 39 yards, and welcome to The Sunday That Got Away
Reid defends his fourth-down decision from ESPN
"Hindsight, you say we probably should have kicked it," coach Andy Reid said. "[But] we wanted to take advantage of the red zone. We had a pretty good idea what they were doing at that point. We've been down there and saw how they were operating so I figured we could get inches. It wasn't even a yard. It was about the length of the ball, if that. We were feeling good about it but we didn't get it.
"You want as many points as you can get. You do. You want to stay aggressive. That's what we do. When you've got that type of distance there you go get it. There's a certain mindset here that we've been working with the whole season, training camp included. When you're put in that situation, you strap it on and go get the thing."
Steelers notebook: Sacks make a timely comeback from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The defense once known as Blitzburgh hadn't been especially good at sacking the quarterback. Not this season. Not in many recent seasons.
The Steelers entered Sunday 27th in the league in sacks with 24, but they turned back the clock against the Kansas City Chiefs and looked like the pressuring Steelers defenses of the past.
They sacked Alex Smith six times, a season high for a defense that held the Chiefs without a touchdown in the 20-12 playoff-clinching win.
"I really thought we broke down their offensive line whether it was with stunts or games," said defensive end Cam Heyward, who had 1½ sacks for the first multi-sack game of his career. "I thought we mixed it up. And then when we went straight at them, I thought we won the one-on-one battles."
Heyward, swarming defense get best of Chiefs in Steelers' win from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Charles was held to a season-low 77 total yards from scrimmage - 29 rushing and 48 receiving yards on a season-low 14 touches.
"Everyone was on their keys, and we executed well," Heyward said. "We forced them to shy away from the run. I think they thought it would be missed opportunities if they ran the ball. We made them pass, and it's a tribute to how well we played as a group."
The Chiefs, still with a faint playoff pulse, were forced to play out of character as their usually potent ground game was held to only 39 yards. Smith attempted a season-high 45 passes and again failed to toss a touchdown pass to a wide receiver this season.
What went right, wrong vs. Kansas City from Steelers.com
A Chiefs offense that came into the game ranked No. 2 in the NFL in red zone efficiency, had to settle for a field goal on its opening possession as well. On third-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 10-yard line, Cam Heyward broke through to sack Alex Smith for a 7-yard loss that preceded Cairo Santos' 35-yard field goal that tied the game, 3-3, with two minutes left in the first quarter. The sack gave Heyward 1.5 before the end of the first quarter.
Missed chances haunt Chiefs against Steelers from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
The touchdown they chased never came.
The Chiefs offense settled for four field goals in Sunday's 20-12 loss to the Steelers despite moving the ball well. Six times they were inside the Steelers 30-yard line. Four times they were inside the 20...
"...There was a lot of stuff that went into it today," quarterback Alex Smith said. "Lack of execution was part of it. I think we got ourselves in some bad situations.
"A couple of times on those drives things were flowing, and then we would get into the red zone and have a negative play or a sack. And then you're fighting uphill after that."
The Steelers were displeased when Chiefs coach Andy Reid rested his starters in last year's season finale, costing Pittsburgh a trip to the postseason. Mike Tomlin's squad exacted revenge on Sunday, propelling themselves into January while sending Reid's season to the precipice. Having lost four of their last five games, the Chiefs will have to beat the Chargers and get help elsewhere to continue playing beyond Week 17.
Rapid Reaction: Pittsburgh Steelers from ESPN
Game ball: Outside linebacker James Harrison dominated Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher early and often in playing his best game of the season. Harrison abused Fisher, the first overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft, racking up seven tackles, including two for loss, and 1.5 sacks. He was also credited with two quarterback hits.
Playoff berth scenarios for Chiefs in Week 17 from Chiefs Digest
Whether the Chiefs are deserving of a spot in the postseason is debatable given recent struggles.
What isn't up for argument, however, is the Chiefs remain alive for a playoff berth as an AFC Wildcard team despite Sunday's loss, which marked the fourth defeat in the past five games.
The Week 17 scenarios are simple:
The Chiefs lost 20-12 and now not only need to beat the San Diego Chargers in next week's regular season finale at Arrowhead Stadium to get into the playoffs. They also are dependent on the kindness of strangers in the form of the Cleveland Browns,Jacksonville Jaguars and, perhaps, New England Patriots.
Playoff picture: If Chargers win, they're in from The San Diego Union-Tribune
Same stakes, different year.
Only the Chiefs separate the Chargers from a postseason berth.
San Diego clinched a playoff spot last year against Kansas City in the regular-season finale at Qualcomm Stadium. This Sunday, the team can do the same, needing a final-week win at Arrowhead Stadium to earn a wild-card spot for a consecutive year. Win and it's in. Lose, and season's over.
After a 38-35 overtime win Saturday over the 49ers, this is the best-case scenario for the Chargers.