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Chiefs' defense rises to the occasion

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Recent posts by Eli Kaberon

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Posted Nov. 28, 2011 @ 6:02 p.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

Down by seven with less than eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Chiefs head coach Todd Haley faced the type of coaching decision that separates the millionaires on the sidelines with headsets from the fans on their couch with bags of potato chips. Facing 4th-and-2 from the Steelers' 22, Haley either could have gone for it, keeping the drive alive and giving his team a chance to tie the game. Or he could have sent out the field-goal team, cut the lead to four, and ask his defense to make another stop so the Chiefs would have a chance to win at the end.

Haley chose to kick.

After Ryan Succop's 40-yard field goal went through the uprights, cutting the lead to 13-9, the Chiefs' defense went to work. They forced Pittsburgh to punt after just six plays and fewer than three minutes, giving QB Tyler Palko the ball with plenty of time to score.

However, Palko couldn't get the Chiefs into the endzone. He completed six passes on the final drive, that began with 4:12 left on the clock, and brought the team to the Steelers' 32. However, an errant throw that was intercepted by DB Keenan Lewis ended the drive with 30 seconds left. The loss dropped the Chiefs' record to 4-7.

The PFW Spin

Following the game, Haley was asked why he chose to kick the field goal when trailing by seven instead of going for it.

"You have to make those decisions in a way; you have to have a feel for the way the game is going. Obviously, our defense was playing very, very well … but also there's no guarantee going for it on 4th-and-2," Haley said. "You just try to make decisions that you feel give you the best chance to win and I have no regrets there. We got the ball back and our defense did a great job stopping them; we got the ball moving in the right direction and got ourselves into a position where we were going to have a couple of shots."

If the decision to take the three points didn't exemplify how the coach feels about his team, then that answer did: Haley has tremendous faith in his defense and almost none in his offense. Given the way both sides of the ball have played in recent weeks, it's hard to blame him for feeling that way.

Against the Steelers, Kansas City's defense had its best outing of the season. Despite having other games where they have given up fewer points, the unit never had a more complete performance against a worthy foe than it did against the reigning AFC champions. Pittsburgh was limited to 290 total yards — the fewest the Chiefs have allowed all season — and turned the ball over twice. Though Ben Roethlisberger was sacked only once, the Chiefs pressured him all game long, and the Steelers never had a drive longer than nine plays.

The offense, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Palko showed no improvement from his first error-filled start against the Patriots. His completion percentage, yards per attempt and interceptions were nearly identical in the two, and he didn't throw a touchdown in either start. The Chiefs' running game also stalled, which is to be expected against a fast and physical Pittsburgh defense.

In hindsight, it's hard to blame Haley for his call to send out the field-goal team with seven minutes remaining. It was no sure bet the Chiefs' offense would gain the necessary two yards to get a first down, and even if they did, that didn't exactly mean they would wind up scoring the game-tying touchdown. Haley called on the unit that had been playing best for his team and the "D" delivered. It's the offense that failed the Chiefs at the end, not the millionare head coach who made the right call.

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