KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Eric Fisher stood all alone in the middle of the field as the rest of the Chiefs celebrated a two-point conversion that would have tied the game, well aware that the flag laying a few yards away was thrown at him.
He had held the Steelers' James Harrison. The play didn't count.
Forced to attempt the conversion again, Alex Smith's pass to the end zone was batted incomplete, allowing Pittsburgh to hold onto its lead with about three minutes left. And when Ben Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown to convert a crucial third down, the Steelers managed to escape foggy Arrowhead Stadium with an 18-16 victory Sunday night in the divisional round of the playoffs.
It was yet another heartbreaking home loss for the Chiefs, who have not won a postseason game in what is supposedly one of the toughest venues in the league since beating the Steelers in January 1994.
That was also the last time Kansas City advanced to the AFC title game.
But the reason the Steelers — rather than the Chiefs — are headed to New England to play for a shot at the Super Bowl next weekend was not solely due to Fisher's untimely penalty. It was due to a number of dropped passes, penalties and mental mistakes that conspired to ground the Kansas City offense.
• There was the interception thrown by Smith in the first half, when the Steelers' Bud Dupree got a paw on the pass and Ryan Shazier plucked it out of midair.
• There was running back Spencer Ware's drop of a first-down pass on third and 7 on the Chiefs' next possession, forcing a punt from their own territory.
• There was backup running back Charcandrick West's fumble near midfield in the closing seconds of the first half, perhaps costing Kansas City an opportunity to kick a field goal.
• There was a three-and-out to start the second half, followed by a drive that included a delay-of-game penalty on third and 2 and a sack on fourth down that took the Chiefs out of field-goal range.
All of those miscues paled in comparison to their self-destruction late in the third quarter, when tight end Travis Kelce dropped a long pass deep in Pittsburgh territory. On the next play, Kelce let his emotions boil over and cold-cocked cornerback Ross Cockrell, earning a 15-yard penalty.
Later in the drive, Albert Wilson dropped another third-down pass that would have given the Chiefs a first down, and they had to kick a field goal to get within 15-10 as the fourth quarter began.
It was simply too much for a team with little margin of error to overcome, and the result was a fifth consecutive home playoff loss, one that will surely sting well into the offseason.