Monday, November 28, 2011

Palko's goofs save Steelers

Monday, November 28, 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 27: Quarterback Tyler Palko(notes) #4 of the Kansas City Chiefs looks to pass during the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 27, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Early last week, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin marveled that his team was 7-3 and shared first place in the AFC North Division despite a turnover ratio of minus-10. He pledged the players wouldn't tote it around "like luggage," but made it clear they were aware of it and planned to do something about it.

Well, the Steelers are 8-3 after beating the Kansas City Chiefs, 13-9, Sunday night with an offensive performance that only can be described as lousy.

Their turnover ratio is a slightly less hideous minus-8 despite a lost fumble by running back Mewelde Moore at the Chiefs 2 and an interception by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on what he called "a horrible throw."

Thank you very much, Tyler Palko.

You know that name, right?

Palko, a former Pitt quarterback and West Allegheny High School star, made his second NFL start for the Chiefs, subbing for injured Matt Cassel. Going in, the Steelers defenders figured they were going to have a lot of fun. They always enjoy playing against an inexperienced quarterback.

But this was ridiculous.

A fumbled snap by Palko that was recovered by defensive end Brett Keisel? Interceptions by cornerback Ike Taylor, safety Ryan Mundy and corner Keenan Lewis on three horribly thrown balls by Palko, the last one coming with 28 seconds left and the Chiefs driving for a winning touchdown?

Ten points for the Steelers?

By now, Chiefs fans know Palko's name, as well. For the second consecutive game, they watched him lead the offense to no touchdowns. They spent much of this night booing him. That's when they weren't chanting for his backup, Ricky Stanzi.

"Four turnovers for us? I hope this opens the flood gates," linebacker James Farrior said, aware the defense produced only six turnovers in the first 10 games.

For the Steelers, this was a good night for Palko's largesse. They easily could have lost without it and blown any chance of finishing ahead of the Baltimore Ravens in the division. They played that poorly on offense and coached that poorly, period.

It's true, the Steelers were without three stars. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley missed his third consecutive game with a hamstring injury. Safety Troy Polamalu left during the first series with concussion-like symptoms, the second time he's done that in the past six games, which has to be a concern in the days ahead. Center Maurkice Pouncey also left early after he got sick.

But all of that is no excuse for the Steelers' many mistakes that went far beyond their two turnovers.

"I kind of have mixed feelings," Roethlisberger said. "You're happy to get the win, but you're disappointed the way your offense played. But that's what a team is all about. Our defense stepped up huge tonight and carried us."

When is the last time you saw a team penalized twice in the same game for having 12 men on the field? It happened to both the Steelers offense and defense.

There were six holding penalties against the Steelers, including two that were declined by the Chiefs and one that was offset by a Kansas City penalty. There also was an illegal shift penalty that was declined.

The offense, which had to settle for a field goal after Taylor's interception gave it the ball at the Chiefs 7 to start the second quarter, converted just three-of-11 third downs and produced 290 yards.

The offense was awful all the way around.

"I've been saying for a while now that I felt like we've been steadily improving every week," Roethlisberger said. "This felt like we had our first setback tonight. But I don't think it's anything to panic about it. I don't think it's anything that can't be corrected."

The coaching was just as bad as the offense.

There was a successful fake punt by the Chiefs in the third quarter. That the Steelers somehow fell asleep during that play when Palko and the Kansas City offense were doing nothing is beyond comprehension.

And how about the timeout the Steelers called with 4:21 left in the third quarter when they faced a fourth-and-4 at the Kansas City 39? Roethlisberger tried unsuccessfully to draw the Chiefs offsides and then, instead of taking a delay of game penalty and punting from the 44, he called timeout. Punter Jeremy Kapinos booted the ball from the 39 out of the end zone.

"That's my fault," Roethlisberger said. "That's bad management by me."

Lucky the Steelers didn't need that timeout late in the game.

Lucky the opposing quarterback handed them 10 points.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. More articles by this author

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