The Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers traded a combined seven punts in the first quarter of a game that started as a defensive struggle on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
A second-quarter defensive touchdown by the Steelers finally awakened the sleepwalking hosts.
After Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt opened the scoring with a fumble returned for a touchdown, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes completed 13 of 16 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns. And those were just his halftime stats.
The Chiefs held a 21-7 halftime advantage before cruising to an easy 42-21 win. The Chiefs, who’d defeated the Steelers 36-10 in Week 16, advanced to the AFC Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs for the fourth straight year.
“I’m proud of our players, our coaches for the job that they did,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We understand this is the first step, but it was the most important game today and that’s the way the guys handled it.”
Kansas City put together a complete performance in all three phases of the game. Offensively, Mahomes picked apart the Steelers’ secondary to the tune of 30 completions in 39 attempts for 404 yards and five touchdowns. Those stats, coupled with one interception, gave him a passer rating of 138.3.
The superstar quarterback’s scoring passes went to running back Jerick McKinnon, wide receiver Byron Pringle, tight end Travis Kelce, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and backup offensive lineman Nick Allegretti, who scored on a trick play inside the Steelers’ 1-yard line.
Mahomes’ 404 passing yards established a new single-game franchise record for the Chiefs, surpassing the 378 that Alex Smith had against the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 4, 2014.
McKinnon had a big night, too, pacing the Chiefs’ rushing attack with 61 yards on 12 carries and adding six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Kelce recorded five catches for 108 yards, his seventh 100-yard game in the postseason. Only Pro Football of Famer Jerry Rice (8) had more. Kelce also threw a touchdown pass to Pringle, who finished with two touchdowns, a repeat of his Week 16 performance against the Steelers.
“He’s a great player,” Reid said of Kelce. “It’s just a matter of getting him the football and he’ll do his thing.”
The Chiefs’ offense generated 478 total yards and overwhelmed the Steelers in a 35-7 scoring burst to put the game out of reach by the third quarter.
Defensively, the Chiefs held the Steelers to 257 total yards and 14 offensive points. The Steelers were forced to punt the ball seven times Sunday night and converted just seven of 16 third-down attempts. The Chiefs’ run defense, a concern entering the playoffs, also clamped down, allowing just 56 yards on 20 carries.
“I thought our defense played tremendous,” Reid said. “I thought we were aggressive on the back end, we were aggressive on the front end. The linebackers did a great job of tackling, so just all-around scheme-wise, Spags (defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo) put together a great game plan and the guys executed it, coaches coached it up. It was a good look.”
On special teams, Mecole Hardman totaled 70 yards on three punt returns. Pringle had two kickoff returns for 50 yards.
The Chiefs needed this kind of performance as a tune-up for their next game. Sunday’s result sets up another Sunday showdown next weekend, this time against the Buffalo Bills, in the AFC Divisional Round at Arrowhead. Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m.
“Now we get ready for a good Buffalo team that’s coming in here,” Reid said. “I know Arrowhead will be rocking here and we’ll have a good week of preparation and get ourselves ready, too.”
If there was an X-factor in this game, McKinnon qualifies.
The Chiefs were banged up at the running back position. First, Clyde Edwards-Helaire was inactive with a shoulder injury, and then Darrel Williams’ toe injury limited him in practice the past week.
That opened the door for McKinnon to take all the first-team repetitions in practice, and that carried into the game when he trotted out with the starters on the Chiefs’ first possession.
“He gives you all kinds of confidence just by the way he handles himself,” Reid said.
The Chiefs unleashed him. When all was said and done, McKinnon had totaled 142 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh. He did most of the heavy lifting in the first half, gaining 40 yards on six carries and 58 yards and a TD on five catches.
“He can catch the football, he can run it, he’s got good vision,” Reid said. “It was good to get him in there.”
WILDCAT GONE WRONG
The Chiefs are creative on offense — perhaps, at times, a bit too much so for their own good.
With the Chiefs facing a first-and-10 at their own 31-yard line, Hardman took the snap in a Wildcat formation ... and then fumbled the exchange with running back Darrel Williams, who recovered the ball and then fumbled it away himself when he was drilled by Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward.
Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt was in position for a scoop-and-score touchdown of 26 yards to give Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead.
The Chiefs shook that off, of course, and eventually blew out the Steelers. But why call that play there to begin with? Reid said after the game that nothing needed to be said to the team after the comedy of errors.
“They beared down,” Reid said. “Nobody was hanging their head; they just said, ‘Let’s go, let’s amp it up here a little bit.’ And that’s what they ended up doing.”
The Chiefs went on to outscore the Steelers 42-14 after the play.
IF THIS IS GOODBYE
Roethlisberger has hinted at retirement. If Sunday’s game was his last, he will leave with a nasty taste in his mouth.
Big Ben completed just five of 14 passes for 24 yards in the first half. He finished with 215 yards passing and two touchdowns, most coming with the Steelers in catch-up mode in the second half.
Perhaps it’s the Chiefs’ defense, but Roethlisberger didn’t play his best football in two games at Arrowhead over the past month. On Dec. 26 here, Pittsburgh’s quarterback passed for just 159 yards.
The two-time Super Bowl champion will eventually have a bronze statue in the Hall of Fame. But he’ll want to forget about this one.
Whatever his decision eventually might be, the Chiefs wished him well after Sunday evening’s game.
“It was an honor to coach against Ben in his last game,” Reid said. “I’m happy for him. He’s been a two-time champion, a future Hall of Famer, and (did) a great job in this league representing this league.”
“He’s a guy I watched growing up,” he said. “I have a ton of respect for him and that’s what I told him is if this is his last game, he did it the right way. Everybody knows that and showed a ton of respect going out there.”
None of note.
Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (shoulder), wide receiver Josh Gordon, cornerback Rashad Fenton (back), tackle Prince Tega Wanogho, running back Darwin Thompson, rookie defensive end Joshua Kaindoh and quarterback Shane Buechele.
The Chiefs play host to the Buffalo Bills next Sunday, Jan. 23, at Arrowhead Stadium. The Bills defeated the Chiefs 38-20 in Week 5 of the regular season.
Kickoff for the Divisional Round game next Sunday is 5:30 p.m.