— The Kansas City Chiefs found itself out hustled and out manned in 19-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and yet the team still found itself one play away from forcing the game into overtime or even winning outright.
One play early in the fourth quarter seemed to turn the tide once and for all, however, and certainly affected the team’s last drive.
The Chiefs offense found little running room for nearly three quarters. The team mustered just 54 yards of offense until the last play of the third quarter. Alex Smith somehow escaped the grasp of three blitzing Steelers defenders on a third-and-8 play, stepping up in the pocket to find Kareem Hunt over the middle. Hunt streaked for 37 yards on the play. Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell hit Smith late and below the knees to take 15 yards more on the play, setting the Chiefs up starting the fourth quarter on the Pittsburgh 12-yard line.
Head coach Andy Reid’s team trailed 12-3, and this marked their first serious scoring opportunity. Reid decided to plan for four-down territory.
“We hadn’t been down there and hadn’t done much throughout the afternoon,” Reid said. “We had an opportunity to get down there and potentially score. We felt like we had a couple of plays that we felt real good about and we called one of them.”
After Hunt rushed for a yard up the middle to bring up fourth-and-2 from the 4-yard line, Smith and the offense prepared to go for it.
“That was the first positive drive and we get down there in the red zone and it was a big opportunity if you can convert there,” Smith said. “Guys were ready for it.”
The Chiefs came out in a five-receiver set against man coverage in the secondary with Smith in an empty backfield
He first looked toward the left side with tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. But Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward found leverage on left tackle Eric Fisher and forced Smith to roll to his right. He saw tight end Demetrius Harris in a soft area of the defense.
“I found a void and he threw a good ball and I had a chance to go get it,” Harris said.
He appeared to make the catch, grasping the ball with two hands and landing two feet on the ground Pittsburgh safety Sean Davis also had a his hands on the ball, however. He stripped the ball from the hands of Harris.
Both sides laid claim to possession of the football. But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did not argue with the call on the field.
“They said he did not maintain possession of the ball through contact with the ground,” the coach said.
Harris believed he made the reception.
“I feel like I had the ball long enough, for two seconds, to call it a touchdown,” Harris said, “but he made a great play on the ball because his hand was stuck between the ball and my hand.”
Reid did not believe Harris completed the catch.
“I didn’t think he had it,” Reid said. “He didn’t have complete control of it.”
Tomlin said his team made key plays when they needed them. The play by Davis completed altered the end of the football game.
“Obviously we weren’t perfect, particularly in the second half as they made their run,” Tomlin said. “They’re a good team and they’re competitors, so we expected them to do that. Thankfully we were able to ward those guys off with a couple of significant plays.”
Eschewing the field goal came back to hurt the Chiefs late in the fourth quarter. Smith later found wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas down the left sideline. Thomas weaved his way through the Steelers secondary for a 57-yard touchdown. That trimmed the deficit to 12-10 with 6:13 left in the game.
The Steelers responded right back with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger connecting with Antonio Brown for a 51-yard touchdown. That play provided its own drama, with cornerback Phillip Gaines deflecting the ball in coverage. Yet somehow the ball still found its way to the waiting hands of Brown. He scooped the loose ball in the air and raced to the end zone. That put the Steelers on top 19-10 with 3:24 remaining.
The gritty Chiefs failed to fade away, however. A 33-yard field goal from Harrison Butker to reduced the deficit to 19-13 with 2:17 remaining. The team’s defense forced a punt, which Tyreek Hill returned 32 yards to the Kansas City 44-yard line with 1:42 remaining.
If the Chiefs settle for a field goal earlier, they likely needed only a field goal to force the game into overtime, drastically changing the team’s focus on the last drive.
“It didn’t work out,” Reid said. “Hindsight ends up being that I wish we would have kicked it. But at the time I felt pretty strongly that we would complete it.”