PITTSBURGH — Andy Reid refused to take the easy path. His aggressive decision made Kansas City's fading road to the postseason decidedly more difficult.
Needing all of an inch on fourth down deep in Pittsburgh territory late in the first half Sunday, Reid ordered the Chiefs to go for it. Alex Smith stuffed the ball into Jamaal Charles' gut. The Steelers stuffed Charles right back into Smith.
The emphatic stop gave the Steelers momentum that would carry them to a 20-12 victory. While Pittsburgh is heading to the postseason after a two-year absence, Kansas City (8-7) needs to beat San Diego next week and hope for plenty of help to salvage a playoff berth.
"There's a certain mindset here that we've been working with here the whole season," Reid said. "When you're put in that situation, you strap it on and go get the thing."
Not this time. Cruising along in mid-November, the Chiefs have lost four of five. While they outgained the NFL's top-ranked offense 327-288, they also surrendered six sacks and failed to reach the end zone. Six drives into Pittsburgh territory ended with four field goals by Cairo Santos, Charles' fumble and the failed fourth-down attempt.
"I think there are so many little things that happened," Smith said. "They're not big things, but just little stuff that gets magnified."
Kansas City came in second in the league in red zone touchdown percentage but failed to cross the goal line against a Pittsburgh defense that is starting to show some of its signature snarl. Jason Worilds had two sacks and 36-year-old James Harrison added 1.5 as the Steelers found enough resolve to keep Kansas City at bay.
Charles was held to just 29 yards rushing on nine carries. While Smith completed 31 of 45 passes, almost all of them were short and intermediate routes that did not test Pittsburgh's depleted secondary. The Steelers played without safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor, but the closest Kansas City came to the big play it was desperately needed was an overthrow by Smith with Albert Wilson wide open in the third quarter.
"We just needed to capitalize on some of the plays that were called in the red zone and we would have been in good shape," wide receiver Dwayne Bowe said.
Instead, the Chiefs head home looking to stop an alarming trend under Reid. While Kansas City is vastly improved since his arrival, the Chiefs lost six of their final eight games a year ago, including a meltdown against Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs.
This time around, Kansas City will be fortunate just to get to January.
"We're going to treat that like a playoff game like we've had the last three weeks," Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger wasn't as dynamic as he's been at times this season but led a pair of long touchdown drives. The second ended with a 3-yard strike to Antonio Brown that gave Pittsburgh a 17-6 lead late in the third quarter. Roethlisberger briefly went to the locker room with a right knee injury but returned after a Kansas City field goal to guide a 12-play, 70-yard march that ended with Shaun Suisham's 23-yard kick with 4:04 remaining to all but clinch it.
The teams spent the first half trading methodical drives, but Kansas City kept getting bogged down near the end zone. Three times the Chiefs drove inside the Pittsburgh 20. Three times they failed to cross the goal line.
The first ended with Santo's 23-yard field goal.
The second included a flip from holder Dustin Colquitt to tight end Travis Kelce on fourth-and-4 at the Pittsburgh 11. Kelce converted it, but three additional downs produced a single yard and another kick from Santos.
Kansas City at least managed points that time. The Chiefs came up empty when Timmons and safety Will Allen hammered Charles late in the half.
"Most of these games we lose it is not because another team is whipping us," linebacker Tamba Hali said. "We shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes and do not know how to bounce back from it."
NOTES: Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston sacked Roethlisberger once to give him 18 sacks on the season. ... Kansas City's streak of having a wide receiver fail to catch a touchdown pass reached 18 games and counting, though Bowe had a pass in the end zone clang off his hands in the second quarter.