By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers opened the second half with the ball, and Felix Jones took the kickoff out to the 18. Bruce Gradkowski started the half at quarterback as the only lineup change. Jones carried the ball up the middle, making a nice little cut while heading north for a five-yard gain. He carried again on second down for three. Unfortunately, Maurkice Pouncey was flagged for a false start to make a third and short a third and long.
On third down, Gradkowski thought he saw room to scramble, but the window was too narrow and he was stopped short of the first down, forcing a punt that was not covered very well. The Kansas City Chiefs were flagged for holding, however. Jason Worilds looked like he came up a bit lame after the play, but he was back out on defense without missing a snap.
He was targeted on the first play, and had nice coverage on the pass, nearly coming up with the interception; however, the officials ruled that the receiver had possession. Dwayne Bowe had a pass bounce off his hands on the next play that would have gone for a short gain. Anthony Fasano made the reception in front of Lawrence Timmons on the second down play to set up third and short. The Steelers did a great job of defending the stretch run to the left, and Brett Keisel stripped the ball out of the back’s hands, with Troy Polamalu covering for the turnover.
Felix Jones followed some nice blocking that resulted in a post-play high five for a seven-yard gain on the first snap of the second drive. He got the carry again for the first down, looking quick and unafraid of contact. He seems to be finding the small holes in the middle of the line. They continued to feed Jones, and looked like he might be able to bounce it outside, but Nico Johnson was able to make the stop after a three-yard gain. He carried once again for a first down; however, Pouncey was flagged again, this time for holding. The hold appeared to be slight at best.
The next play was blown up in the backfield, setting up third and 18. Gradkowski wound up and launched one deep for Emmanuel Sanders, but he was unable to bring in the pass. Gradkowski could have done a better job of throwing him to the open spot, rather than down the seam, as he was tightly covered. The ensuing punt was returnable, but the Steelers recovered quickly to hold the Chiefs to a minimal gain.
The backups were in on defense after the punt, with rookie Terry Hawthorne giving up the first reception. Curtis Brown did a nice job of closing and making the tackle on a short gainer. Jarvis Jones got nice pressure on second down, forcing a throw away, and Cameron Heyward laid a hit on the quarterback to boot. Jones rushed inside once again on third down, but the Chiefs threw a quick pass. The pass was too hot and too high for an incompletion, forcing a punt.
The second-team offense entered the game after the Chiefs’ punt, including Kelvin Beachum once gain at left tackle. John Malecki was the second-team center. Joe Long was at right tackle. Baron Batch was the back in, getting in some good work and looking shifty when he had space. When he did not, however, he struggled to make anything out of the play.
Gradkowski was forced to call a timeout, but he had a nice pocket to make the throw on third down, which was caught for a juggling reception by Justin Brown. However, Beachum was flagged for illegal use of the hands. On the next play, Gradkowski hit reserve tight end Michael Palmer for a big 25-yard gain for the first down. I believe that was his first target as a Steeler.
Baron Batch made a nice read to cut a run back to gain six yards after the big third-down conversion. He got the first down on the next play. The inside runs set up the play action, and Gradkowski was able to hit rookie receiver Markus Wheaton behind double coverage for the 34-yard touchdown, regaining the lead for the Steelers at 17-10. It was a nice ball by Gradkowski, with just enough air and velocity to clear both defenders and fall into Wheaton’s hands. That would have been a win in the garbage can drill.
The Steelers quickly gave the lead right back after Josh Victorian whiffed on a tackle on the ensuing kickoff. That is a huge mistake for a bubble guy like Victorian. On the plus side, it gives the second-team offensive line the chance to get right back out there.
Baron Batch continued to get the bulk of the work, getting some room on the left side around Kelvin Beachum. Beachum did a great job reading the wide rush and getting to his man, pushing him outside on the next play, but Gradkowski held on to the ball too long and got sacked. Derek Moye made a nice play on third and ten, however, spinning out of a tackle to get an extra seven or so yards and the first down. He had a strong showing the week before as well, and is certainly in the mix for the fifth wide receiver job.
First impressions of Joe Long at right tackle seem to be going well, in addition. Could he be the elusive eighth lineman for the Steelers? Even though he did not get much of an opportunity in the first two preseason games, the fact that the team put him in there with the second-team line in the third preseason game is telling. If he does his job, he is right in the mix.
Wheaton took a quick out just shy of a first down to open the fourth quarter. Moye got the first down on the next play, and once again forced some missed tackles for extra yardage, a surprising bonus for the 6’5” receiver. Alvester Alexander got a hole on his first carry of the game, and he hit it hard. He likely does not stand much chance to make the roster, but he may have gotten enough on tape to get a chance somewhere else.
Two plays later, Gradkowski hit Wheaton at the right pylon, but the receiver was out of bounds. On third and 13, Gradkowski was sacked, but Frank Zombo was flagged for a personal foul by grasping at the quarterback’s helmet, giving the Steelers a second life, continuing a drive that should have ended with a field goal attempt at best. Instead, they move into the red zone.
On the next play, Gradkowski went for Moye, but the pass was too far inside. Moye almost made a great play to bring in the ball nonetheless. The second down pass was out of the reach of Wheaton. The Steelers handed off to Alexander up the middle, who got six yards, and set up just a bit easier of a field goal attempt for Shaun Suisham, who put the Steelers back on top at 20-17.
The Chiefs were starting to get the offense going with a couple of nice plays, but on third and five from the Steelers’ 45, Victorian deflected a pass that Jones came down with for the interception. Unfortunately, the officials flagged Victorian for pass interference. What is worse, Jones stayed down for an extended period of time after making the play. He seemed to have the right side of his body driven into the ground. He left the game with a chest injury.
Victorian was in on coverage down the field on the next play, and the Steelers got a good hit on the quarterback. On third and two, the receiver let the ball hit off his hands with Shamarko Thomas in coverage, though it would likely have gone for a first down.
The Chiefs went for it on fourth down, but Thomas came right back to break up the pass in the same area of the field to force the second turnover on downs of the night. This young man will be forcing his way onto the field on defense this season without question.
Joe Long made a nice block on the outside to free the receiver for a first down, continuing his bid for a roster spot. Unfortunately the offense stalled thereafter. The third down pass was just inches too strong for the outstretched fingertips of Markus Wheaton.
It is telling that Al Woods played the entire second half as the second-string nose tackle, indicating that whomever the sixth defensive lineman will be this season will not dress on game day.
A penalty and then an over-pursuit quickly got the Chiefs past midfield on the next drive. The defense looked to tighten up at the 40, but the Chiefs were able to convert on third and five. Thomas allowed a reception leading into the two-minute warning that brought the Chiefs to the 12-yard line.
On first down, Terence Garvin held a swing pass for just a two-yard gain. On the next play, Alan Baxter got the sack. Woods also had pressure on the play. Baxter could be competing with Chris Carter as the fourth outside linebacker, although with practice squad eligibility, he is unlikely to win that battle. On third and 18, rookie Vince Williams broke up the pass for a big play, setting up fourth and 18. Even with the preseason factor, the Chiefs made the smart moving by going for the field goal. You don’t go for it on fourth and 18 no matter the situation if you are in field goal range with the chance to tie.
With a minute and a half left, Gradkowski is given the chance to lead a game-winning drive. Reggie Dunn took the kickoff from deep in the end zone and was able to get all the way out to the 35-yard line. On the first play, Wheaton was targeted on a deep pass, but the ball had no chance. On second down, Gradkowski got hammered just after the pass, which was almost intercepted. The third down dump off pass to the back came well-short of the first, leaving the Chiefs with just over a minute to take the game for themselves.
Heyward was credited on a half-sack with Garvin after the quarterback was flushed out of the pocket. Meanwhile, head coach Mike Tomlin opted to use his own timeouts in the hopes of getting the ball back for his offense. Baxter got to the quarterback once again, stripping the ball, but the quarterback was lucky to have fallen on it. Once again, Woods was also in there. On third down, it was Kion Wilson with the sack, but the clock still expired, sending the game into overtime.
Thomas made a nice stick tackle on the first play of overtime after the Chiefs won the toss. A short completion on the next play set up third and five. Al Woods almost made the tackle on the quarterback that would have stopped the Chiefs short of the first down. Instead, he gets away for the first down, and the officials called Williams for a horse-collar tackle, putting the ball on the Steelers’ 46-yard line.
Terence Garvin made the hit on the back in the backfield; however, he was carried for a few yards afterward. Garvin has been playing outside opposite Baxter, with Williams and Wilson inside. On third down, the Chiefs were flagged for holding, which negated a scramble for a first down, which was a good call.
The penalty set up third and 16, and the quarterback ran once again for the first down, which seemed to be his intention from the snap. At last, the Steelers made a stop on third down, forcing a field goal opportunity. The only problem is that the offense came out onto the field, and converted for the first down. The game ended three plays later when Robert Golden was beaten in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown, making the final score 26-20.