Chiefs' Loss to Steelers Shows No NFL Team Is Invincible in 2017

Sean Tomlinson@@SeanGTomlinsonNFL AnalystOctober 16, 2017

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) and defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) celebrate a Chiefs safety when the ball got away from quarterback Alex Smith (11), during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

There was a number on the halftime box score from the Kansas City Chiefs' 19-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that made you stop, stare and blink a whole lot.

After a several seconds of intense concentration, you surely then looked up and wondered if there was a typo, or some sort of malfunction with the internet's connecting tubes that make important football stats dance across screens every Sunday.

There was no way the league's highest-scoring offense, a Chiefs unit that came into Week 6 averaging 32.8 points per game, could be held to six yards after two quarters. And it must be impossible for a team with rising rookie running back Kareem Hunt to have negative-two rushing yards at halftime.

It was tough to accept what stared right back at you. But there it was, the cratering of an offense that looked so powerful through Kansas City's first five games, taking the NFL's last remaining undefeated team down with it.

Sean Tomlinson @SeanGTomlinson

Somehow the score in this game is only 12-3, but it feels like 42-0. https://t.co/7p8jGNaLZe

The Chiefs' first-half yardage was their lowest output at halftime since Week 14 of 2011, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

It was a half with only one first down, and not until the 1:21 mark of the second quarter. It was a half that should have sunken the Chiefs.

And yet because the football powers high above work in mysterious ways, the Steelers still needed a magical, pinballing 51-yard touchdown catch and run by wide receiver Antonio Brown for valuable insurance points to fend off Kansas City. 

There was an element of resilience to the Chiefs as quarterback Alex Smith showed the value of a short memory. He manipulated the pocket multiple times to find Hunt for a 37-yard catch and wide receiver De'Anthony Thomas for a 57-yard gain. The latter deep heave down the sideline ended in a touchdown, which improbably brought the Chiefs to within two points late in the second half.

But in the end, their first-half sinkhole proved too deep to climb from, and any hope of having an undefeated team in 2017 died when ageless Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison sacked Smith for an eight-yard loss on third down with just over a minute left.

SteelerNation @SteeIerNation

The James Harrison sack.. #HereWeGo @jharrison9292 https://t.co/X3SVy6kfOF

It was an appropriate ending for a game in which the league's best team, and statistically the best offense, disappeared.

Comparing the Chiefs' offensive output Sunday to the previous five games gets staggering fast. The most glaring spiral came from a point total nearly 20 points below the Chiefs' per-game averaging that topped the NFL heading into Week 6. The offense also produced just 251 yards, way below its league-high average of 414.2 per game.

We're just getting started. The Chiefs recorded a mere 12 first downs after averaging 23.2 per week. In an uncharacteristic implosion, they also finished with 28 rushing yards, which came following five games with an average of 156.2 yards.

It was a thumping in every respect, and the most alarming thud came from Hunt. His 89 receiving yards meant he still contributed and was a factor in the Chiefs' failed comeback. But the 22-year-old's absence as a runner was the leading cause of that first-half offensive embarrassment.

Let's see if you can pick out which single-week rushing total below isn't like the others:

Kareem Hunt's rushing totals in 2017
WeekRushing yards
Week 1148
Week 281
Week 3172
Week 4101
Week 5107
Week 621
Source: NFL.com

Keep in mind, Hunt's poor showing came in a game when the Chiefs never faced a double-digit deficit, despite being outplayed so badly.

The Chiefs are still an AFC powerhouse. As midseason approaches, they still have a chance to win the AFC West, especially with the Oakland Raiders stumbling after another loss. And they might even have a shot at a first-round bye with the New England Patriots looking vulnerable.

But to accomplish those goals, and especially the last one, the Chiefs need to make sure the team we saw in Week 6 doesn't show up often. Sunday, it was the 2016 Chiefs on the field with a one-dimensional offense, not the new-and-improved 2017 juggernaut.

The new Chiefs punish opposing defenses with a relentless rushing attack and then balance that with deep strikes to tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Those two combined for only 71 receiving yards on nine catches against the Steelers.

The new Chiefs also have a reliable offense on third down after converting 47 percent of their attempts through five games. That dwindled to only 27 percent Sunday, and, as a result, an overworked defense left on the field for 36:39 was exhausted while unable to keep up with Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, who erupted for 179 yards on the ground.

The 2017 Chiefs have a simple mission: to leave the playoff failings of the Andy Reid era behind.

The Chiefs last went to the AFC Championship Game way back in 1993 and have won just a single playoff game since then. Their regular-season record over the past three seasons is sparkling at 28-10 even after Sunday's loss.

The next step on the road to being solidified as a championship contender is not just beating other conference heavyweights, but doing it consistently.

In that sense, Sunday was a setback, though the Chiefs are still tantalizingly close to taking up permanent residence in the NFL's top tier. Consistency is the hardest hurdle, and usually the last one too.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.