During the Steelers' 18-16 victory against the Chiefs in the AFC playoffs Sunday night, Kansas City's Travis Kelce repeatedly had a problem with dropping things.
He dropped two passes that could have swung the outcome in his team's favor. He dropped his cool during a second-half drive that cost his team 15 yards of field position due to a late and unnecessary personal foul. And he dropped a couple of potty words after the game about an official whom he blamed for the loss—which, while highly amusing, sounded like sour grapes and are certain to cost Kelce a pretty little fine from the league. Kelce is a good player, and he's good at being funny, but sometimes, his emotions get the better of him.
"He shouldn't be able to wear a zebra jersey ever again," Kelce said. "He shouldn't be able to work in a fucking Foot Locker."
"Zebra jersey." "Foot Locker." It's what we all think about referees' getups—it's worn joke territory. But when it comes from a player, all of a sudden, it becomes a real knee-slapper. Not that what happened to the Chiefs was particularly funny—their L added to the postseason loss streak that has plagued Arrowhead Stadium since 1994, when the Steelers fell in overtime. Yes, the Chiefs somehow manage to keep squandering the NFL's loudest stadium during the playoffs.
And it nearly looked like overtime against the Steelers again on a foggy and frigid night, with kickoff moved from noonish to prime time in order to avoid an ice storm that never really materialized. Despite being dominated most of the way, the Chiefs secured a touchdown and found themselves a two-point conversion away from tying the score with 2:43 remaining in the fourth quarter. They appeared to draw level when quarterback Alex Smith found tight end Demetrius Harris in the end zone for a completion. But then came the penalty flag. An official called left tackle Eric Fisher for holding against James Harrison. The second attempt from farther away was no good and the Chiefs didn't get another possession and thus: Steelers at Patriots next week in the AFC Championship.
Video appeared to confirm the official's holding call as legit, but don't tell that to Kelce, who was in full IDGAF mode after opening with a sweet but possibly ominous shout-out:
"First things first: I just want to say I love my teammates."
Uh oh. He continued:
"You fight all year, you fight all game but for it to end like that with the ref literally taking it out of our hands. That hurts. You try to play this game with integrity until the end of the whistle and when the refs want to take over the game and make it their own platform there's nothing you can do about it. That wasn't a hold on my guy Eric Fisher. I hope 7-2 doesn't go the entire offseason thinking it's his fault. That was horse shit. Flat out."
"This sucks. It was an unbelievable play call, last drive, Alex is just driving us down there. Fourth down after fourth down, making plays, making plays, momentum is on our side and then get our jugulars ripped out because the ref felt bad for James Harrison for falling on the ground."
"He shouldn't be able to wear a zebra jersey ever again. He shouldn't be able to work in a fucking Foot Locker."
(A nice thought: what if refs did get demoted to peddle insoles at a Foot Locker after particularly bad calls?)
Kelce might have been projecting a little bit, given his own mistakes—dropped passes, the personal foul, etc. Because ultimately, the Steelers deserved to win, despite not scoring a touchdown and relying on six field goals by Chris Boswell instead. They ran the ball at will using Le'Veon Bell. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger converted through the air, using Antonio Brown, and others, deftly. Pittsburgh's offensive line not only opened holes for Bell, but they allowed almost no pass rush. The Chiefs failed to use Kelce and dynamo Tyreek Hill effectively. Alex Smith came up with a couple of big plays, but he needed to make a few more.
The Chiefs racked up both physical and mental mistakes—particularly Kelce, whose shove against Steelers defensive back Ross Cockrell was just frustration boiling over into something dumb. Cockrell explained what the difference was in the game, beyond simply the two-point margin of victory for the Steelers:
"This is a high-pressure game and we're all fighting to go to the AFC Championship, to go to the Super Bowl, and we know that it was important for us to keep a level head," he said.
Remember that for next time, Travis.