Steelers' offense comes alive, but Chiefs win in OT
The best news for the Steelers' starters following the most important first half of the preseason, and a most uneven one at that, was that Ben Roethlisberger was upright and unscathed.
He also was, to copy Mike Tomlin's vernacular, hosing the ball on pass after pass Saturday night at Heinz Field, unwrapping the passing game, deep and short, that was invisible in the first two exhibition games.
Or just as hidden as the pass protection that was missing five nights before in Washington, when Roethlisberger was running and passing for his life.
But here's the newest worry of a preseason that's been filled with them: Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was equally effective while leading two Steelers-aided scoring drives late in the second quarter.
And his backup, Chase Daniel, threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Rico Richardson 6:07 into overtime — on the only possession of the extra period for either team — as the Chiefs rallied to win 26-20, dropping the Steelers' preseason record to 0-3.
Their last winless preseason came when they went 0-4 in 2006, the year they went on to lose six of their first eight.
“We've got to start finishing ballgames,” cornerback Ike Taylor said. “To be a successful team, we can't keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Penalties are killing us. We've been in good situations, but we wind up getting penalties that put us in bad situations.”
There might have been more bad news, too: First-round draft pick Jarvis Jones was taken to a local hospital on a stretcher after injuring his chest in the fourth quarter.
And, yes, that was a team coming off a 2-14 season effectively moving the ball against what was the NFL's No. 1 defense, aided by 98 yards in penalties — giving the Steelers 193 yards in their last two games.
“We were highly penalized. In my opinion, some of those calls were suspect, but such is life in August,” Tomlin said.
The Steelers' starters wanted more than a tie against new coach Andy Reid's Chiefs in the only preseason game in which they'll see extensive playing time, but that's all they got with a 10-10 score at halftime.
“We play great football,” Tomlin said, referring to a 10-0 lead created mostly by Roethlisberger's throwing and a head-scratching Chiefs gamble. “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.”
There's still one more preseason game to play, Thursday at Carolina, but don't tune in more than a few minutes late or you'll miss the starters.
The Steelers failed to get off to good starts in losing to the Giants (18-13) and Redskins (24-13), but they did Saturday as Roethlisberger began airing out some passes following two games' worth of dinking and dunking.
He found Antonio Brown deep downfield on a 49-yarder — shades of Mike Wallace — on the opening possession ahead of a Jonathan Dwyer 13-yard run and a 6-yard throw to Brown. Brown made three catches for 61 yards.
But Roethlisberger couldn't connect with Brown on third-and-5 and the offense settled for a 28-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham, who's getting as much work on his short game these days as Tiger Woods. He also kicked a 27-yarder.
Then, in one of those moves that could define a coach if it occurred during the season, Reid decided to go for it on a fourth-and-1 at his own 21. Jones and Ziggy Hood stuffed Jamaal Charles, and the Steelers had the kind of field position normally gained only by a turnover.
“We felt, in a way, a little disrespected,” safety Ryan Clark said. “Andy Reid going for it on fourth-and-1 that close to his end zone. For us to make a play to give us an opportunity to score was good for us.”
Roethlisberger was sacked for a 10-yard loss by Derrick Johnson but came back to find Dwyer along the sidelines on an improvised play for 13 yards, the first touchdown this preseason by the offensive starters.
Roethlisberger had more long completions in him, including a 21-yarder to Jerricho Cotchery and a 24-yarder to Emmanuel Sanders, but Sanders juggled what would have been a 34-yard touchdown catch. Suisham's 52-yard attempt then was blocked by Tysyn Hartman.
Smith, the former 49ers starter who was kept mostly in check until late in the half, reeled off a 38-yard run, and a questionable personal foul penalty on Cortez Allen added 7 yards.
The Chiefs refused to go for a fourth-and-goal from the 1, and Ryan Succop kicked a 19-yard field goal with 2:57 left in the half.
The Steelers punted after Roethlisberger was sacked for a second time, this one for 8 yards, and Smith ran the two-minute offense to perfection after taking over at his own 28 with 1:18 remaining.
Smith completed throws of 10, 15, 12, 6 and 9 yards as the Chiefs advanced to the 5, aided by a 15-yard penalty on Troy Polamalu for clotheslining Smith. Polamalu anticipated Smith keeping the ball.
“If he did keep the ball and I pull off, how does that make our defense look?” Polamalu said.
Clark understands but said, “You can't give people a free 15 yards.”
The Chiefs, who outgained the Steelers, 404-349, converted on Smith's 5-yard touchdown throw to Junior Hemingway with 18 seconds left in the half.
“We were penalized on drives they scored on and that's kind of been characteristic for us,” Tomlin said. “If we remain penalty-free defensively we're a tough team to drive the ball on. We've got to understand that. We've got to be cleaner.”
Smith was pleased with the drive, saying, “I thought the guys just executed really well versus a team that gives us a lot of different looks, a lot of pressure.”
Both teams lifted their offensive starters after that, but Steelers backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski came on to throw a 34-yard scoring pass to rookie Markus Wheaton in the third quarter.
“Perfect ball,” Wheaton said. “It was a corner route and it was a perfect ball. It pretty much fell in my lap.”
Gradkowski was 8 of 17 for 115 yards and was sacked three times.
The Chiefs answered with Knile Davis' 109-yard kickoff return touchdown that would have tied an NFL record had it occurred during the season.
The Steelers' special teams have allowed a kickoff return touchdown, a blocked punt and a blocked field goal and also a fumbled punt, and they committed several penalties. And that's in only three games.
There were new looks: Running back Felix Jones got eight carries and ran for a team-high 29 yards a day after he was traded by Philadelphia, Kelvin Beachum lined up at tight end to add a fourth position to his resume, and linebackers LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds and Jones rotated the first few series.
Brown also fielded several punts, reprising his role of the past two seasons. And tight end David Johnson (knee) played for the first time in more than a year.
Allen returned after missing nearly all of training camp with a knee injury.
But on a night in which much went right with the offense for a change, the defense created angst for Tomlin, who hasn't been happy at all with this preseason. And he probably still won't be.
“We better get it fixed quickly because, obviously, we're running out of time,” Tomlin said.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
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