Pittsburgh Steelers  

 

Steelers' playmakers rise to occasion against Chiefs

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers taught the Kansas City Chiefs a valuable lesson during a 19-13 win on Sunday afternoon. The Chiefs had the most prolific offense in the NFL, an unblemished record and a raucous home crowd ready to enjoy another fun-filled afternoon. The consensus was that the Steelers were primed to lose yet again in a season that has started with so many frustrations. Instead, Pittsburgh proved what can happen when its superstars decide to dominate.

The Chiefs didn't lose their first game of the season because of bad bounces, tough breaks or missed opportunities. They lost because Pittsburgh's playmakers rose to the occasion while Kansas City's inexplicably disappeared. This wasn't the same Steelers team that committed five turnovers in a 30-9 home loss to Jacksonville a week ago. This was the squad that has tormented the Chiefs over the last 12 months, largely because their most talented players continually deliver against Kansas City.

"We have guys who pride themselves off getting wins," Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell said. "After that loss we had last week, guys couldn't wait to get back and play again. We had a great week of practice and it showed today. It wasn't the prettiest game and we obviously left some plays out on the field. But as a team, we played good enough to get the job done."

Bell didn't have to say what most people were thinking about Pittsburgh after that Jacksonville loss. There was plenty of discussion about the Steelers' dysfunction, lack of consistency and a surprising penchant for wilting in key moments. Bell wasn't playing at his typical Pro Bowl level, star wide receiver Antonio Brown was throwing tantrums on the sideline, and even quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was openly questioning if he still had his mojo. If ever a team needed a good sit-down with a psychiatrist, this one definitely fit the bill.

What we discovered on Sunday is that it's always a bit reckless to write obituaries a month into the season. The problems that were plaguing the Steelers in their first five games were nowhere to be found in Arrowhead Stadium. Pittsburgh outgained the best offense in the NFL (totaling 459 yards to 251), dominated the time of possession (36:39 to 23:21) and controlled the game from the opening kickoff. To understand how hard the Chiefs had it, they only had 16 total yards at halftime.

Pittsburgh also proved that the same formula that worked against the Chiefs during two wins last season -- including a victory in the Divisional Round of the playoffs -- is far from being outdated. Bell ran for 314 total yards in those two games and he erupted for 179 on 32 carries on Sunday. Many people thought that his decision to hold out during training camp left him rusty for the start of this year. It didn't look like Bell would have any problems going forward.

The same was true of Brown and Roethlisberger. The dynamic receiver caught eight passes for 155 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown reception that featured Brown snaring a ball that deflected off the helmet of Chiefs cornerback Phillip Gaines and then racing to the end zone for the game-clinching score. Roethlisberger made up for his five-interception day against Jacksonville with efficient game management (he completed 17 of his 25 throws for 252 yards with a touchdown and an interception). After fueling criticism last week about his playmaking ability, he joked after this game that "This old cowboy has got a little bit left in him."

"I don't know the numbers," Roethlisberger said. "But I felt like we possessed the ball. We moved the ball up and down the field. Our backed-up offense was great in this environment. That's a really good defense and we did a lot of really good things tonight. ... Hopefully this is a stepping stone. We didn't put up the points, but we came to a place like this to play a defense like this and still did pretty good."

The Steelers didn't hide the fact that this was a significant game for them. The Chiefs had perched themselves atop the NFL Power Rankings, and there was a growing sense that the AFC was running out of potential challengers. This was the kind of contest where Kansas City could've put a little more distance between itself and the rest of the conference. Even with extensive injuries -- the Chiefs' offense alone was without three starting linemen and two of its top three receivers -- there was a growing sense that Kansas City could overwhelm anybody as long its owns stars were available.

Pittsburgh ultimately disproved that. Running back Kareem Hunt, the league's top rusher coming into the game, managed just 21 yards on nine carries (though he did have 89 receiving yards). Travis Kelce, the league's best tight end, didn't catch a pass in the first half and wound up with four receptions for 37 yards. Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill, the league's most electric player, produced only 34 yards on five receptions and was evaluated for a concussion late in the fourth quarter that sidelined him for the Chiefs' final drive. He was cleared later, per the NBC broadcast.

It would've been interesting to see what the Chiefs could've done with all their best weapons available for that final rally, especially since quarterback Alex Smith was playing without his top three wide receivers by that point. The hard truth is that it likely wouldn't have prevented this outcome. The Steelers were feeling so charmed on Sunday that even 39-year-old outside linebacker James Harrison produced a critical third-down sack of Smith on Kansas City's final possession. It was one more example of Pittsburgh's stars delivering when it mattered most.

As Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game, his team wasn't going to spend any time thinking about what went wrong against Jacksonville. All that mattered was what they were going to do in this environment.

"After a bitter defeat last week, we talked about responding in the right way," said Tomlin after his team improved to 4-2. "The response started on Monday. And ultimately the response would be measured today."

The Chiefs now have a short week to figure out how they'll deal with their own adversity. They came into this game as the darlings of the NFL and they now have to travel to Oakland for a huge AFC West matchup with the Raiders on Thursday night. As exciting as Kansas City has been this season, the Chiefs are now trying to cope with serious health concerns. Given the devastating hit Hill absorbed while returning a punt before Kansas City's last drive, the task of beating the Raiders just became that much harder.

The Steelers, on the other hand, are in an entirely different place. They have their own divisional dog fight on the horizon -- with the Cincinnati Bengals -- and Tomlin said there won't be much time spent celebrating this latest win. However, what we should all take away from Sunday's game is that Pittsburgh is far from being a lame duck. If anything, with the way the Steelers' stars showed up in Kansas City, they look more like a team that is finally rounding into form.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter at @jeffrichadiha

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