It happened again – the Steelers came into Arrowhead and beat the Chiefs in a close game.
This game felt a lot like the 2016 divisional round matchup between these two teams.
Last year, it was running back Le’Veon Bell who ran for 170 yards for the Steelers, leading the team to an 18-16 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs. This year, it was Bell rushing for 179 yards, leading the Steelers to victory (again).
The Chiefs had relative success scheming against QB Ben Roethlisberger in both games, but had no answer for Bell. Enough of the comparisons to last year, let’s talk about what happened today.
The scoring began when fill-in center, Zach Fulton, snapped the ball well above the head of QB Alex Smith in the first quarter of the game. The ball went through the end zone and gave the Steelers a safety.
On the ensuing punt, the Chiefs recovered the kick in an awkward sequence. This led to a field goal for Kansas City. The Chiefs offense would struggle for the entire first half, mustering only six total yards. Here’s something to put that into perspective:
It was that bad. Pittsburgh would put up 10 points in the second quarter on a field goal by Chris Boswell and (you guessed it) a rushing touchdown by Le’Veon Bell.
Neither team scored in the 3rd quarter. Not too much to talk about there.
The 4th quarter is where it got interesting. Here’s a story.
Great play by Alex Smith. He has the wheels to get out of the pocket and extend the play and he has the willingness (this year) to push the ball down the field.
Right when the Chiefs thought they were back in the game, this happened:
What concentration and skill on display by Antonio Brown. With Odell Beckham Jr. out for the season, Brown is undoubtedly the best receiver in the NFL right now.
Alex Smith marched the Chiefs back down the field, but missed what would have been a huge touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson.
K.C. was able to kick a field goal and get the ball back, where Smith again started to lead the team down the field. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Smith missed a simple throw to Robinson (one that would have moved the chains) and a James Harrison sack led to an improbable 4th and long. Kansas City was unable to convert, thus giving Pittsburgh the ball back with 53 seconds and a victory in hand.
This was a tough game to watch. The Chiefs defended Roethlisberger fairly well, but could not stop Le’Veon Bell to save their lives. Part of the loss goes on the defense for not being able to stop Bell. Hats off to him for a great game.
Another small share of the blame should be placed on Chiefs QB Alex Smith. He got nothing done for the team in the first half (more on that in a second) and missed two throws that could have changed the game. He didn’t play like an MVP today. Chiefs fans should feel a bit more comfortable with Smith at QB in a playoff situation after watching today’s second half, but it’s hard to not blame him for missing those throws. You can attribute some of Smith’s poor performance to his offensive line, but not all of it.
Back to where the majority of the game should be placed: Andy Reid.
Reid failed to make any adjustments in the first half and his offense ended up with six total yards. His play calling was very suspect throughout the half. Screen passes and runs to parts of the field where your personnel is outnumbered don’t tend to have good success rates in the NFL, and Reid called a lot of them.
In the second half, Reid opened up his playbook a bit and once the Chiefs got rolling, they looked like the Chiefs we’ve come to know this year. Pittsburgh had played a fantastic game defensively through three quarters and managed to force the Chiefs to kick a field goal (or so we thought) after a long drive. The decision that puzzled me in the second half was going for it on 4th and 2 in the red zone.
If you trot Harrison Butker onto the field to make what very well may have been the easiest kick of his NFL career thus far, you close the gap to 6 points.
Instead, the Chiefs failed to score a touchdown and ended up getting no points on that possession. They ended up scoring on their next possession, but wouldn’t a 1-point lead be better than a 2-point deficit? I don’t quite understand the call by Reid.
Overall, this game was rough. Kansas City might still be the best team in the NFL, but they showed vulnerability today.
The offense showed just how bad it can play when it faces a stout defense and Andy Reid is making bad play calls. Pittsburgh is very comfortable coming to Arrowhead to play the Chiefs. This is something that should worry Kansas City in the playoffs. Pittsburgh will look to keep the momentum going when hosting the Bengals next week while the Chiefs have to recover quickly and prepare for a Thursday night battle in Oakland.
Will we see a Chiefs vs. Steelers matchup in the postseason this year? We can only hope.
Photo: Peter Aiken/Getty Images