KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Eric Fisher stood all alone in the middle of the field as the rest of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrated a 2-point conversion that would have tied the game, well aware that the flag laying a few yards away was thrown at him.
He had held the Steelers’ James Harrison. The play didn’t count.
Forced to attempt the conversion again, Alex Smith’s pass to the end zone was batted incomplete, allowing Pittsburgh to hold onto its lead with about three minutes left. And when Ben Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown to convert a crucial third down, the Steelers managed to escape foggy Arrowhead Stadium with an 18-16 victory Sunday night in the divisional round of the playoffs.
It was yet another heartbreaking home loss for the Chiefs, who have not won a postseason game in what is supposedly one of the toughest venues in the league since beating the Steelers in January 1994.
That was also the last time Kansas City advanced to the AFC title game.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a bunch,” Fisher said. “Negative plays, you’ve got to keep moving the chains. You have to win on first and second down, and we weren’t doing that.”
Fisher was diplomatic when asked whether the flag thrown on him was the correct call, saying only that he was “frustrated” by it.
But teammate Travis Kelce spent his entire postgame media session — all 90 seconds of it — ripping into referee Carl Cheffers and his crew.
“You fight all year, you fight all game, for it to end like that with the ref literally taking it out of our hands, that hurts,” the tight end said. “You try to play the game with integrity, to the end of the whistle, and when the refs want to take over the game and make it their own platform, there’s nothing you can do about it. That wasn’t a hold on my guy.”
Stopping only to catch his breath, Kelce proceeded to say Cheffers “shouldn’t be able to wear a zebra jersey ever again. He shouldn’t be able to wear it at Foot Locker.”
The Chiefs’ media relations team cut Kelce off at that point, but it didn’t matter.
And the reality is the Steelers are headed to New England next weekend for more reasons than only an untimely penalty on the Chiefs’ left tackle. The sheer volume of dropped passes, penalties and mental mistakes conspired to ground the Kansas City offense most of the night.
— There was the interception thrown by Smith in the first half, when the Steelers’ Bud Dupree got a paw on the pass and Ryan Shazier plucked it out of midair.
— There was running back Spencer Ware’s drop of a first-down pass on third-and-7 on the Chiefs’ next possession, forcing a punt from their own territory.
— There was backup running back Charcandrick West’s fumble near midfield in the closing seconds of the first half, perhaps costing Kansas City an opportunity to kick a field goal.
— There was a three-and-out to start the second half, followed by a drive that included a delay-of-game penalty on third-and-2 and a sack that took the Chiefs out of field-goal range.
All of those miscues paled in comparison to their self-destruction late in the third quarter, when Kelce dropped a long pass deep in Pittsburgh territory. On the next play, he let his emotions boil over and cold-cocked cornerback Ross Cockrell, earning a 15-yard penalty.
Later in the drive, Albert Wilson dropped another third-down pass that would have given the Chiefs a first down, and they had to kick a field goal to get within 15-10 as the fourth quarter began.
It was simply too much for a team with little margin of error to overcome, and the result was a fifth consecutive home playoff loss, one that will surely sting well into the offseason.
“The guys who left some plays out there, I hope they’re hurting,” Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston said, standing in a far corner of the locker room, “and I hope they look in the mirror and see what they done wrong, and just motivate themselves to do better.”
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