Special to The Meadville Tribune
Preseason game No. 3. This one against the Kansas City Chiefs. Going in there was talk of this being a “must win” after the first two games were losses. Looking at the rest of the league though, the champion Ravens just lost and New England was blown out in their third game. Of course, they both won their first two, so what does the exhibition season really mean?
In the Steelers’ first two games, everyone waited to see vaunted rookie Le’Veon Bell take over the running game. Now, with Bell injured and out indefinitely, the Rooneys showed they are serious about turning their team around after last year’s 8-8 record by trading for Felix Jones from the Eagles. They still have Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer and a couple of good looking rookies, but they seem to be very serious about improving the Steelers and doing it now.
Saturday’s game started with the kind of weather I would like to sit through in December. So far, so good. Then, the game began.
The idea of game three of the preseason is to usually keep the potential first string players in for the first half and mix in the question marks in the second. The defense of the Black and Gold did well against QB Alex Smith and his crew, stopping both runs and passes and even sacking Smith on the first series.
On the second play of their first possession, the Steelers had a 49-yard pass completion by Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown. But then, despite of a nice 15-yard jaunt by Dwyer, they had to settle for a Shaun Suisham field goal to make it 3-0.
The Chiefs came back with a weird series that had them trying to pick up a couple of yards for a first down at their own 22 yard line. Troy Polamalu stopped it cold, the Steelers took over and quickly scored to go up 10-0 before the end of the first quarter.
Then it started to get ugly, as penalty calls, some questionable, and other careless play started. A 52-yard Suisham field goal attempt was blocked and the Chiefs took over around midfield. Smith broke out for a great run, was roughed by the Steelers, and the ball went to the 10. They settled for a field goal to make it 10-3.
Big Ben and company came back with some nice passes, but he was sacked at his 34 yard line, and Brian Moorman punted it away. Smith then came out throwing and moved the Chiefs down the field with passes and a roughing call on Troy Polamalu. The visitors tied the game 10-10 at halftime.
Then the second stringers came on. Bruce Gradkowski took over for Ben and did pretty well, mixing passes to guys like Michael Palmer and Derek Moye and tossing a touchdown on a 34-yard pass to Markus Wheaton to make it 17-10. Now we’re talking!
The resulting kickoff was returned by Kaile Davis for a TD to tie the game at 17-17. Now we’re not talking.
Chiefs backup quarterback Chase Daniel played as well as Smith had in the first half, although the defenses were different. He seemed to be very good. The Steelers took a 20-17 lead and we were hoping that would be about it. Not just a Pittsburgh win, but one that didn’t force us to sit through overtime.
Of course, the Chiefs tied it with about a minute and half to go and to overtime we went. A very short one though. A few runs, a few passes, a big penalty, and a wide open Rico Richardson, and it ended quickly 26-20 Chiefs.
Déjà vu anybody? Once again, penalties and a couple of bad special teams plays hurt a lot. Is this 2012 all over again?
The good things: Ben and his main receivers, healthy running backs, and an improving offensive line should help. In the defensive secondary, Troy Polamalu seemed so healthy you can’t believe he’ll stay that way for long. Cortez Allen is also healthy and playing well.
So far it’s been a disappointing preseason, but again, these games don’t count in the standings. These are used by the coaches (and owners) to get their stuff figured out before the real things start. Let’s hope they end up with more answers and fewer on-going questions.