Monday November 28th, 2011

Tyler Palko's lackluster play hasn't helped the Chiefs, but he's far from the only thing wrong in Kansas City. (Larry W. Smith/EPA)

Here's what the Steelers do after Sunday's sloppy 13-9 win in Kansas City: Shrug and move on.

Pittsburgh controlled the time of possession and forced three Chiefs turnovers, yet if not for the Chiefs' Anthony Becht inadvertently tackling his own teammate, Jackie Battle, on a 3rd-and-2 deep in the fourth quarter down 13-6, this one might have at least headed to overtime.

But without much from Ben Roethlisberger or Rashard Mendenhall, and with Troy Polamalu leaving early in the first quarter due to a head injury, the Steelers still survived a road test and kept a leg up in the playoff race.

So, even if it was an uninspired performance against an overmatched opponent, Pittsburgh can put this game in the win column and try to forget about it -- just like it did with its three-point Week 3 win over Indianapolis and it four-point win over Jacksonville in Week 6.

Things aren't so easy for the Chiefs.

They had a chance to pull off a big win Sunday night, when no one gave them a chance coming in. The Kansas City defense, which has given up 30 or more points four times and seen opposing offenses top 40 twice, turned in an inspired effort. All night, Roethlisberger had to run for his life, in and out of the pocket, even as Pittsburgh's talented receiving corps stayed covered downfield.

But with Tyler Palko at the helm for the second straight game, the Chiefs' offense generated very little.

In the first half alone, Palko fumbled a snap -- allowing Pittsburgh to recover in Kansas City territory -- and then tossed two head-scratching interceptions, throwing right to Steelers defenders with nary a Chiefs receiver around. Over the two games Palko has started, Kansas City has scored 12 points and zero touchdowns.

The Chiefs now find themselves three games back of Oakland in the AFC West with three weeks to go. Coming up on the schedule: at Chicago, at the Jets, vs. Green Bay and Oakland, and at Denver.

To stay in the division race, as Kansas City believed it could when it claimed Kyle Orton this week, the Chiefs likely need to win every single one of those games. It's a task that looks virtually impossible.

Is Orton, a guy who fell out of favor in Denver, the one and only piece missing here?

It's hard to believe that's the case, though Sunday's defensive effort at least gives Kansas City something to build on.

We might not need to dig too deep to figure out the difference Sunday: Pittsburgh, for all its faults and all its key injuries this year, is a playoff team and one of the AFC's elite; Kansas City, from Week 1 when it lost Eric Berry in a blowout loss the Bills, has not been able to overcome the obstacles placed in front of it.

Cassel's injury, and Palko's subsequent insertion into the starting lineup, was probably the last blow. And it's not fair to pin this all on Palko, either. The Chiefs lost their last two with Cassel under center -- both at home, to Miami and Denver. Even if Cassel had stayed healthy and Orton had worked his way to Chicago instead of Kansas City, the Chiefs' road to the playoffs would have been bumpy at best.

It might be impassable now, after they let a major opportunity get away Sunday.

It was definitely a shame how the game ended, too, with Dwayne Bowe halfheartedly going up after a Palko pass and opting not to extend for the catch, instead letting it land in the arms of Steelers defensive back Keenan Lewis to seal the Pittsburgh win.

Bowe's effort stood in stark contrast to what the Chiefs did for nearly 60 minutes Sunday. Was it pretty? Was it even effective? Heck no, but Kansas City laid it all on the line against a very good Steelers team.

But that wasn't enough, to no one's surprise.

Pittsburgh will go back to the drawing board -- and back to the trainer's table in Polamalu's case -- and will more than likely pull it together before a two-game homestand against division rivals Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Who knows what's next for the Chiefs? Orton will be in the starting lineup next Sunday, when Kansas City heads to Chicago.

Maybe that change at quarterback will combine with a renewed defense to spark a surprising Kansas City run. The better bet might be that what we saw from the Chiefs Sunday is what we'll continue to see for the next five weeks.

There's some talent there and the Chiefs are playing hard, but this hasn't felt like their year from Day One. Claiming Orton gave Kansas City a moment to act like it could contend with the Pittsburgh Steelers of the world, but Sunday proved that the two teams are not on the same level right now.

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