The Steelers promised to be prepared, and their coach all but said they weren't. They promised to correct their special-teams problems, and they didn't. They promised one loss wouldn't ruin their season, yet they suffered an even-worse defeat to a team that seemed totally surprised to have beaten the Super Bowl champions.
Experienced and upset-wary, the Steelers (6-4) pride themselves on not losing games like this. They did, and the amount of time devoted to damage control before Sunday's division game at Baltimore (5-5) could be considerable.
Worse still were the losses within the loss: left guard Chris Kemoeatu, out at least a couple of weeks with a sprained knee ligament, and backup quarterback Charlie Batch, out for possibly for the rest of the regular season with a left wrist injury. Batch will have surgery later this week, a league source told NFL Network's Jason La Canfora.
Much like that game, Pittsburgh had a huge advantage in yardage (515-282) and almost every statistic edge against Kansas City (3-7) yet somehow lost. A team-record fourth kickoff-return touchdown allowed -- in the Steelers' last five games, no less -- didn't help.
"This was one of those games where you scratch your head and say, 'How did we get here?'" Pittsburgh right tackle Willie Colon said.
Not long after the most puzzling loss in Tomlin's three seasons on the job, the first-place Bengals (7-3) gave the Steelers a gift by allowing 10 points in the final minute and losing to the Raiders 20-17. But the Steelers still must make up what effectively is a two-game deficit over the final six weeks if they are to win the AFC North because they lost to Cincinnati twice. Merely tying the Bengals won't do the job.
The immediate problem going into Sunday's showdown at Baltimore is figuring out where the Steelers are at quarterback. A backup must be signed, and Roethlisberger -- if he has a concussion -- must pass the tests given any player with the injury before he can play again.
Three years ago, Roethlisberger played in that unthinkable loss to Oakland one week after sustaining a concussion in Atlanta. He responded with one of the worst games of his career, throwing four interceptions -- two returned for touchdowns.
"We've got to continue to press on," running back Mewelde Moore said. "It's not the time to get down or gripe. We've got to correct our mistakes and be professionals. We've got a bunch of guys who will fight."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press