PITTSBURGH - Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel was benched because of his decision-making, his turnovers and the belief that a going-nowhere team needed to change its leader.
No wonder he worries the Steelers.
With the buildup for the two upcoming AFC North showdowns against the Ravens already starting, the Steelers (5-3) first must get past the Chiefs (1-7) on Monday night if they are to extend their three-game winning streak.
“Their record may not show how good they are, but there’s no question this is the National Football League, and you’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game every game,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “We can’t take anyone lightly. We’ve got to come out and play some ball.”
The 2009 season suggests there is reason for concern.
The reigning Super Bowl champions, the Steelers saw their season fall apart when they lost to the Cassel-led Chiefs (2-7), Raiders (3-8) and Browns (1-11) during a five-game losing streak. Maybe this team learned its lesson after being upset by the Raiders and Titans.
“If you’re looking for the playoffs right now, you’re fooling yourself,” left guard Willie Colon said. “We’ve got a lot of dog fights ahead of us, and we’ve got to stay right-minded.”
There’s also this stat to ponder: Since 1970, there have been 19 night games in Week 10 or later involving a one-win team, including the Jaguars’ loss to the Colts on Thursday. Six of those poor-record teams won.
“Good teams continue to win regardless of where they’re playing, who they’re playing,” defensive end Brett Keisel said.
The Steelers were a good team while beating the Bengals, Redskins and Giants. Ben Roethlisberger is protecting the ball, hitting his throws and keeping drives going by converting on third down (a league-best 51.3 percent). And the running game had a 100-yard back in all three games.
A defense that is No. 1 statistically but hasn’t always played like it is tightening up in the second half, when games were getting away early in the season. The Steelers have given up only three points in the fourth quarter the last three weeks.
There hasn’t been much good this season for Kansas City, which went back to Cassel when Brady Quinn developed another concussion. The Chiefs easily lead the NFL with 29 turnovers, 10 more than any other team.
All of these turnovers have constantly left them with poor field position, one reason they still haven’t led in regulation all season. Constantly playing from behind also has limited their top threat, running back Jamaal Charles, to only 27 carries the last three games.
Defensively, they’re allowing 126 yards rushing per game, so coach Romeo Crennel canned himself as defensive coordinator last week and gave the job to Gary Gibbs.
For the Chiefs, it was yet another turnover in a tumultuous season.
“But their record was bad when we played them last year, and they still came out and it was a close game,” outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said, referring to a 13-9 win. “The time before that, they actually won the game. We’ve got to go out and prepare for this team like they were an 8-0 team.”
The Steelers haven’t lost in 14 Monday night home games since Chuck Noll’s last season in 1991. This will be their first one at Heinz Field since 2008.
This article was written by Channel 11's news exchange partner at TribLIVE.