It’s rarely smooth sailing in the postseason, but historical evidence suggest it rarely matters how you advance — just that you do ultimately advance.
The Chiefs sidestepped a miserable first quarter to still blow out the Steelers 42-21 in the AFC Wild Card Round late Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
They turned it over twice. They did not score on any of their initial five drives. And yet they still won anyway — which speaks to the massive difference between the two teams.
A much better one is coming to town now. The Chiefs will host the Bills in the AFC Divisional Round at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Buffalo marched into Kansas City in Week 5 and departed with a 38-20 win.
Plenty more on that matchup in the hours and days ahead. First, a look at the five things that stood out immediately after the victory against the Steelers.
1. Can we talk about that start?
The finish wasn’t close.
But we can’t ignore how it started.
Here’s how the Chiefs’ first five possessions unfolded: Punt, punt, interception, punt, fumble. They totaled 72 yards on those drives and averaged fewer than 4 yards per play.
Fortunately for them, the Steelers — and their unimaginative offense — gave the Chiefs time to settle in.
The Bills won’t.
If the Chiefs progress five straight possessions without a score — especially with two turnovers — against Buffalo in a week, it’s likely to get them beat.
Though there is one wrinkle in that.
The guy can still turn it on in an instant. Even after those first five drives, Mahomes finished 30 of 39 for 404 yards and five touchdowns.
2. This is what Chiefs should expect to see
It’s been a season of adjustments for Mahomes and the Chiefs offense — or rather just one particular adjustment.
Be patient. Take what’s there.
A regular season stacked with similarities, in that case, offered Chiefs preparation for what they saw Sunday. The Steelers played with light boxes, daring the Chiefs to run the ball and accept short and intermediate routes.
The Chiefs struggled against it early, but Mahomes shredded it late — obliging with what the Steelers’ man-to-man defense on the back end left wide open. At one point, Chiefs scored touchdowns on six straight possessions.
Expect more of the same defensive schemes for the rest of the postseason, though Buffalo has more talent to make it work.
3. The Jet
It’s been a long journey for running back Jerick McKinnon, and one of the reasons he opted to prolong that journey into Kansas City was the chance to play meaningful football.
He just wasn’t expected to play quite this much.
Offered an increase workload with starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire out (hip) and top backup Darrel Williams limited (toe), McKinnon put together one of the Chiefs’ best performances of the season out of the backfield. And it came in his first start of the year.
McKinnon had 12 carries for 61 yards, and he caught six passes for 81 yards and a score.
Best he could, he made an argument to be a bigger part of the mix, regardless of the health of his backfield teammates.
4. The defense showed up
Put aside the final score — this was defensive domination.
After struggling back-to-back weeks to close out the regular season, the Chiefs defense shut out the Steelers for the first 40 minutes Sunday. (Pittsburgh’s lone touchdown at that point was a defensive fumble return from T.J. Watt.) By the time the offense scored, the game was done.
The Steelers did not gain more than 20 yards on any of their first nine possessions. That’s unheard of.
But this a weekly reminder not to be too reactionary — as the Chiefs cultivated their midseason winning streak, the defense played like one of the very best in the league. After the final two weeks, some wondered if they’d completely lost it.
They likely fall somewhere in the middle — they shut down a bad offense Sunday, but that’s the opportunity that befell them. They did as asked.
5. Big Ben’s final game?
It’s been a hell of a ride for Big Roethlisberger in a Steelers uniform.
But one that is likely over, and, if so, ended in miserable fashion.
The Chiefs quarterback might have turned around the offense with the flip of a switch, but the other quarterback offered him time to do it. Roethlisberger was horrible in the first half, and the Steelers offense followed suit. It seemed any throw beyond 10 yards floated in the air, offered his receivers virtually no chance to make a play and prevented the Chiefs from respecting the possibility of a big play.
If this is indeed it — as expected — Roethlisberger finishes with a Hall of Fame resume as a two-time Super Bowl champion and a six-time Pro Bowl selection.