Four trips inside the 12-yard line netted three field goals in a game where the Chiefs needed touchdowns against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And the team’s inability to take advantage of the opportunities effectively placed Kansas City’s postseason hopes on life support after a 20-12 loss.
While the Chiefs (8-7) are barely alive for a playoff berth, the team must defeat the San Diego Chargers (9-6) in the season finale, and then hope for a Baltimore Ravens (9-6) loss to the Cleveland Browns (7-8) and a Houston Texans (8-7) loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-12) .
All Kansas City needed to do in Week 16 was simply win out prior to those scenarios coming into play.
But the failure to take care of business sums up how the Chiefs have a knack of self-inflicting wounds in the past month.
Kansas City has dropped four of the last five games since defeating the defending Super Bowl defending champion Seattle Seahawks in Week 11, then a high point of the season when the team was 7-3.
But that now appears as a distant memory of what could have been had the Chiefs maintained momentum the rest of the way.
Here are five lows and highs from Sunday:
• The Chiefs reached Pittsburgh’s 8-yard line, 4-yard line and 12-yard line in the first half, but came away with six points. The Chiefs chose to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the 12 with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first half, but the Steelers stopped running back Jamaal Charles shy of the yard to gain. The Chiefs actually had two shots inside the 20-yard line on one possession, as a fake field goal at the 12-yard line netted a first down to the Steelers’ 6-yard line. But the Chiefs gained two yards on the next three plays, leading to a 25-yard field goal from kicker Cairo Santos.
• Quarterback Alex Smith passed for 311 yards, which is the good thing, but the Chiefs offensive line allowed six sacks. From the naked eye, left guard Jeff Linkenbach was responsible for at least two of the sacks, left tackle Eric Fisher allowed a sack and right tackle Ryan Harris allowed a sack. The Chiefs did a good job of keeping Smith virtually clean in Week 15, surrendering just one sack. But Sunday’s performance reverted to horrendous play. Smith has now been sacked 20 times since Week 12.
With six times sacked against the Steelers, Smith established a new career high in times sacked in a single season with 45. His previous high was 44 times sacked in 2011 while with the San Francisco 49ers. As a note to Chiefs offensive line struggles since Smith arrived via trade with San Francisco in 2013, Smith has been sacked 84 times the past two seasons, marking the most in a two-year stretch on his 10-year career.
The bad news surrounds the Chiefs still have one more game to play, meaning Smith could add to those totals.
• Running back Jamaal Charles totaled 14 touches on the game (nine rushes, five catches), seven of the touches (six rushes, one catch) came in the first half. That means Charles, the team’s most-explosive player, had three carries and four catches in the second half and finished with 77 total yards (29 rushing). Charles also had a critical fumble that led to a Pittsburgh touchdown. While Charles appeared to aggravate an ankle and knee injury, he played through it. But if he is playing hurt to the point where the Chiefs hesitate to utilize him, does it makes sense to allow backup running back Knile Davis to see more action?
• The Chiefs went 6-of-14 on third-down efficiency, a respectable 43 percent. However, the team is now 18-of-60 (28 percent) combined on third-down efficiency since Week 12, which, of course, started the downward spiral of losing four of the last five games.
• Another week and the Chiefs are still without a wide receiver touchdown on the season. Dwayne Bowe had a shot in the end zone, but Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake got his hand on the ball to jar it loose as Bowe tried to secure the pass from Alex Smith.
• The Chiefs defense faced an unenviable task of slowing down Pittsburgh’s explosive offense, which entered Week 16 ranked first in total yards per game (424.9). Credit is warranted here, as the Chiefs limited the Steelers to 282 total yards. Moreover, the Chiefs still haven’t allowed a 300-yard passer on the season. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger entered Sunday’s game on a roll, averaging 352.8 yards passing per game in the past eight games. But Kansas City held him to 220 yards passing. The Chiefs also limited Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell to 63 yards rushing and a touchdown on 20 carries.
• Rookie wide receiver Albert Wilson continues to come on in place of Donnie Avery, who was a healthy inactive. Wilson produced five catches for 87 yards, both career highs, on seven targets. The Georgia State product has 12 catches for 209 yards on 20 targets in the past three games.
• Rookie kicker Cairo Santos rebounded from Week 15’s 1-of-3 performance by connecting on a career-high 4-of-4 attempts Sunday. Santos is 21-of-25 on the season and the 12 points scored Sunday put him over the 100-point mark on the season, marking the fourth-most points by a rookie kicker in team history.
• Outside linebacker Justin Houston notched a sack Sunday, pushing his season total to 18, which leads the NFL. Houston is two sacks shy of tying Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas’ single-season team record of 20 established in 1991. Houston is playing the 2014 season in the final year of his contract.
• Final score aside, the Chiefs won virtually the major areas of Sunday’s game. The Chiefs outgained the Steelers 327-282 in total yards; recorded 22 first downs to Pittsburgh’s 19; ran 66 total plays to the Steelers’ 52; and controlled time of possession 31:07 to 28:53. How did the team lose again? See the problems in the red zone.
LOW: SPECIAL MENTION
The CBS broadcast and other national media outlets continue to state wide receiver Dwayne Bowe recorded the Chiefs’ last regular-season touchdown catch on Dec. 8, 2013.
That statistic, of course, is factually incorrect.
Then-Chiefs wide receiver Dexter McCluster recorded the last regular-season touchdown on a 2-yard catch from quarterback Chase Daniel against the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 29, 2013.
The Chiefs originally drafted McCluster as a running back in 2010, but officially moved McCluster to wide receiver and listed him at that position on the depth chart starting in 2012.