Despite not starting three injured regulars -- one of whom, guard Kendall Simmons, fell asleep with an ice pack on his leg and sustained frostbite -- the Steelers never resembled the team that could barely gain a first down in a 9-0 loss to Jacksonville, or ran only 18 plays in the second half of a 23-13 loss last week at San Diego.
Maybe it was watching AFC North leaders Baltimore (4-2) and Cincinnati (3-2) lose earlier in the afternoon, which tightened the division race. But the Steelers (2-3) played with the confidence and composure they lacked while losing three in a row.
"We started fast -- we started real fast," said coach Bill Cowher, who admittedly didn't see this coming during a week in which his team had some "soul searching to do."
Roethlisberger was among the NFL's lowest-rated quarterbacks with no touchdown passes and seven interceptions, while Kansas City's Damon Huard was highly rated with five touchdowns and no interceptions. All that changed in a momentum-shifting few hours in which Roethlisberger could again do little wrong and Huard, a longtime backup, could do little right while completing only 16 of 32 passes for 162 yards and an interception.
"I tried throwing to the guys in the black shirts rather than the guys in the white shirts," Roethlisberger said.
Roethlisberger had no touchdown passes and nine interceptions in his previous four starts, including Super Bowl XL. Questions were raised if he was fully healed from his violent June motorcycle crash and his appendectomy last month.
But he was as sharp and polished as in the playoffs, going 16-for-19 for 238 yards and TDs of 47 yards to Nate Washington and 13 yards to Hines Ward. He constantly exploited the Chiefs' not-too-successful man coverage as the Steelers outgained the Chiefs 372-47 while opening a 31-0 lead at halftime. They ended with a 457-213 edge in yardage.
"They were saying he can't throw and there was all that motorcycle jazz. But he played awesome, he played the way Ben can play," defensive end Brett Keisel said.
"I looked Ty Law in the eye before the play and said, 'I've got to make a play right here,' " Holmes said.
Roethlisberger found a wide-open Washington for a touchdown on Pittsburgh's next possession, and the Chiefs (2-3) couldn't come back from this 14-0 deficit like they did last week in rallying to beat Arizona 23-20. Not with Parker running for 109 yards while repeatedly finding the big holes and running lanes that the 2005 AFC rushing leader, Larry Johnson, couldn't locate.
"We got beat, we got embarrassed and we got to learn from it," coach Herm Edwards said. "We've got to regroup."
Johnson followed a 36-yard effort against Arizona with 26 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown. Johnson stood out only once, in the unaccustomed role of tackler.
"The dude had hair, what was I going to do?" said Johnson, whose neck was injured last week by Arizona defensive back Antrel Rolle's horsecollar tackle. "That was the only thing I could get my hands on."
Polamalu said, "It doesn't matter to me if he tackles me by my hair or my ankles."
The Steelers have never started 1-4 since Cowher was hired in 1992. ... Second-year LB Rian Wallace, playing because of injuries to Joey Porter and James Harrison, had a 30-yard interception return TD. ... Former Pro Bowl LB Chad Brown, signed last week, had his 31st career sack with the Steelers in his first game for them in nine years. ... The Chiefs hadn't played in Pittsburgh since 1989. ... A team that opened 1-3 has made the NFL playoffs 13 times in the past 16 years.