KC Chiefs created highlights in routing Steelers, but they must remember this the most

·6 min read
Tammy Ljungblad/tljungblad@kcstar.com

You’ll remember the Chiefs’ 42-21 smackdown of Pittsburgh on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium for offensive lineman Nick Allegretti catching a touchdown pass … on a play design, as it happened, that had made him the fourth option for Patrick Mahomes.

And you’ll remember it for that touchdown pass Travis Kelce threw to Byron Pringle — with Kelce’s mother in the stands after flying in from Tampa, where she watched her other son, Jason, play for the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in the day.

You’ll remember it as Ben Roethlisberger’s last game for the Steelers, at least by all indications as of Sunday night. And you’ll remember it for Mahomes throwing five touchdown passes to give him 14 in three career games against Pittsburgh.

And for Tyreek Hill’s hilarious dance using a cheerleader’s pom-poms after his 31-yard touchdown reception ... and running back Jerick McKinnon’s sudden emergence (142 total yards, including 81 in receptions) ... and, oh, yes, the Chiefs’ defense muzzling Pittsburgh to 43 yards until midway into the third quarter.

This wasn’t technically a bye week for the Chiefs, the No. 2 seed in the AFC. But their runaway over the seventh-seeded Steelers on AFC Wild Card Weekend was about the closest thing to it (and way more entertaining and memorable than the ho-hum ticket to the next round a No. 1 seed would have granted them).

That’s why there was plenty of levity afterwards, including Donna Kelce surprising her son with a question in his postgame Zoom interview with reporters and Mahomes playfully griping that he’d been open on the pass Kelce threw to Pringle. But Kelce had been told not to throw to him, and Mahomes was going to have to take that up with coach Andy Reid.

All of which obscured the takeaway that will be with the Chiefs all week, or at least better be, as they prepare to take on an infinitely more daunting challenge next Sunday when Buffalo visits Arrowhead — where the Bills thrashed the Chiefs 38-20 in October.

Start that game like the Chiefs came out against Pittsburgh, with five straight dud drives — including two turnovers — and chances are the Chiefs will be staring into the abyss of elimination against a team that is the hardest to pass against in the NFL (measured by pass-yardage allowed), is third in the NFL in scoring and is soaring off a 47-17 blistering of the Patriots.

Say this, too, for the Chiefs, though: Even amid the considerable postgame merriment, what they need to remember from this already seemed well understood.

“We’ve got to be able to move the ball early on … to give ourselves a chance at the end,” Kelce said.

Mahomes, who now has been the starting quarterback in seven of the 16 postseason wins in franchise history, indirectly made the same point when he spoke to how the Chiefs peeled out on the Steelers after laboring early.

“We came with a different urgency starting with that second quarter,” he said, “and kind of carried it the rest of the game.”

They almost certainly won’t find the Bills as forgiving if they don’t have that urgency at kickoff next week.

If they do bring it from the get-go, we figure the Chiefs have all it takes to get past the Bills like they did in the AFC Championship Game last year, when they scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives on the way to a 38-24 victory.

While their first meeting this season, that 38-20 loss, obviously is more current, it also came with certain qualifiers.

Snared in an early-season turnover-fest, the Chiefs committed four that day and forced none by the Bills. Moreover, Chris Jones was out injured, the Chiefs hadn’t acquired Melvin Ingram yet and Ben Niemann and Daniel Sorensen still were starting.

This is a vastly different Chiefs defense, in other words. And every game comes with its own unique dynamics. But the Chiefs will need to be percolating right away or risk being abruptly done with their quest for a third straight Super Bowl berth.

And that’s what they need to take most from the Pittsburgh game.

While the result was essentially the same as the Chiefs’ 36-10 clobbering of the Steelers three weeks before, it unfolded in what might be called a somewhat more deliberate manner.

That proved irrelevant against a starkly outmatched Steelers team led by the creaky Roethlisberger in what was widely believed to be his last game. And for his own sake it should be, considering the way the Chiefs gonged Big Ben, whose last playoff win was that 18-16 victory at Arrowhead five years ago.

Still, it bears more than a mere casual mention that the Steelers once led this game 7-0.

Not because of what it said about them as much as what it said about the Chiefs, whose first five drives went punt, punt, interception, punt, fumble — which was converted into a 26-yard touchdown return by T.J. Watt.

All of a sudden, a Chiefs team that had transformed its season in part by reversing a huge early turnover disadvantage was reverting to the bizarre form that led to their 3-4 start.

In this case, against the fading shadow of this era of Steelers glory, that play proved to be at worst a hiccup. In fact, even if it might have sent a shudder through Chiefs fans not-so-long removed from the haunting decades of past playoff flameouts, it seems it rebooted the Chiefs.

“I didn’t have to say much,” Reid said.

After dawdling and meandering most of the half, they scored 21 points before the intermission and had amassed 35 in an 11:31 span that featured five Mahomes touchdown passes to five different targets — including a 48-yarder to Kelce on a third-and-20 play and a Reid classic to Allegretti.

By the time the onslaught was completed with Kelce’s 2-yard TD pass to Pringle for Pringle’s second touchdown and the sixth straight touchdown drive for the Chiefs, it was 42-14.

Which was the optimal final result for the Chiefs, of course, and in some ways reminiscent of the lopsided 47-17 final the Bills heaped on New England Saturday.

But any resemblance to what Buffalo inflicted on the Patriots was coincidental on many levels, not the least of which is that those teams had split the season series and the Patriots remained at least a theoretical challenge in ways Pittsburgh simply could not be.

More to the point for the Chiefs, who know full well the potency of the Bills from that loss earlier this season, start like they did on Sunday against Buffalo and they could get swamped.

The Bills, after all, seized a 27-3 halftime lead against the Patriots and led the Chiefs 24-13 at halftime in that previous meeting. They’re certainly surging since a 33-27 overtime loss to Tampa Bay six games back, and you could make a fine case that they’re peaking now.

Maybe the Chiefs are cresting now, too. This dissection of the Steelers, after all, was their 10th win in their last 11 games.

And if it was better and more memorable than a bye for its sheer entertainment value, perhaps it also was more worthwhile for a handy object lesson to be extracted from it.

“We’ve got to put up points to give ourselves a chance against a team like (the Bills),” Kelce said.

From the jump.

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