The Pittsburgh Steelers are about to embark on their second Divisional Round game in as many years, and they are hoping to to change the outcome this time around. They have the health situation behind them this time, but they still have to overcome the road factor, in Arrowhead Stadium, one of the most difficult places to play in against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The 2-seeded Chiefs come into this game quite healthy, at least in terms of those who are not already on injured reserve. They have no injured players down on the inactive list. The same cannot be said for Pittsburgh, who have four players inactive with injuries. Most notable among them is tight end Ladarius Green, who is missing his fourth straight game with a concussion. This is the sixth game of his career that he has missed due to a concussion, missing one each in 2014 and 2015 with the Chargers.
Also down are running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who is also dealing with a concussion stemming from last week’s game, rotational defensive end Ricardo Mathews, dealing with an ankle injury still, and outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo. Toussaint and Chickillo have played a key role on special teams this year.
The Steelers won the coin toss and chose to take the ball to start. Justin Gilbert fielded the opening kickoff at the goal line and returned it out to the 31. Ben Roethlisberger tried to pop it over the line to Le’Veon Bell, but Dontari Poe batted it down. On second down, he found Antonio Brown for seven yards. On third down, Eli Rogers was there for the conversion.
From the 41, the RPO went to Jesse James across midfield to move the chains. With time to throw, Roethlisberger found James again for 16 to around the 30. On the first carry of the game, Le’Veon Bell shook off a tackler in the backfield for a six-yard gain. He effortlessly waded through traffic for about eight or nine for the first down. From the 13, with full steam ahead, it was Bell again for eight yards up the middle. Roethlisberger couldn’t find a receiver open on second and two. Rogers was stopped short of the first down on a quick throw. The Chiefs took a timeout as the Steelers took the field goal unit back off the field. After all that, they kicked the field goal, with Chris Boswell putting the Steelers up 3-0 early.
The Steelers elected for a squib kick, afraid of Tyreek Hill, and that resulted in the Chiefs starting beyond their 40-yard line. So much for not living in your fears.
From the 45, Spencer Ware got the first touch for Kansas City for eight yards off left guard. Hill got the first down on the sweep on the next play. From the Steelers’ 41, Travis Kelce was open in space for 20 or so. From the 20, Smith went to Hill over the middle for six. A quick pass to Jeremy Maclin set up first and goal. From the five, Artie Burns let Albert Wilson turn him around and Smith hit him for the touchdown to put the Chiefs on top early.
So the Steelers field their second kickoff already in the opening nine minutes, this second one going for a touchback. Bell was stuffed for no gain on first down. Roethlisberger’s first pass of the drive dropped into empty space on what was clearly miscommunication. On third and 10, Roethlisberger stepped through a sack and threw deep to Brown, finding him for a big gain.
From the 23, Roethlisberger threw behind James on an RPO. A short pass to Rogers set up a third and seven. After draining every second off the play clock, Roethlisberger threw high to Brown for an incompletion on what should have been a first down. Boswell’s second field goal did make it 7-6.
Boswell’s second crack at a kickoff, Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams hammered Hill at the 12-yard line. Smith ran a bootleg to the right, but the Steelers covered it well and he had nobody to throw to. Off the fake handoff to Hill, Smith pitched it to Kelce up the middle for 13. From the 25, Ware took a short pass in the right flat for four yards. Chardandrick West was stopped in the backfield, but a hold negated it, making it second and 16. Smith was flushed out of the pocket and threw to empty space. An ineligible man downfield penalty was declined. On third and 16, the Steelers played the screen to Hill well on third and long to force a punt. Brown fair caught the punt at the 28-yard line.
Roethlisberger looked to pitch it on first down, but then took it himself for four yards. Bell threaded his way through the middle of the field for five yards. He had no trouble converting on third and one. He made a cut for nine yards on the next play for nine yards. And he converted again up the middle for about six.
After another seven yards from Bell, a quick slant to Brown off play-action moved the chains again. From the 29, Roethlisberger checked the ball down to James for a safe gain of about six. A hanging pass to Cobi Hamilton was short of the first. Bell converted, once again, to the 17. Roethlisberger went for the kill shot to Brown, but Marcus Peters did a fabulous job of ripping the ball out. Bell was rocked by Eric Berry in the backfield for a loss. On third and long, Roethlisberger looked to Bell, who was looking for a holding call in coverage, but didn’t get it. So because of that, the Steelers settled for another field goal to take a 9-7 lead.
Boswell’s third kickoff was booted comfortably for a touchback. From the 25, Ware was limited to three up the middle. A quick pass to Hill was spotted just at the first down. Bud Dupree got around the edge and hit Smith as he threw, popping it up and allowing Ryan Shazier to pick it off, his fourth interception in the past four games.
Taking over from the 44, Bell effortlessly picked up eight or nine, converting on the following play. RPO to James picked up 24 to set up first and goal from the five. On first and goal, Frank Zombo was able to get into the throwing lane and bat the ball up in the air. As the ball came down, Eric Berry got out underneath it for an interception at the goal line.
From the 20, Shazier cut Ware down after a three-yard gain. Dupree got his hands on a screen pass to bat it down and set up a third and long. Pressure up the middle forced Smith out of the pocket. He still got a throw off to Ware with Hargrave in coverage, but it was incomplete, thankfully. The boot to Brown was fielded at the 39 and returned to the Steelers’ 45.
Putting Roosevelt Nix on the field, they ran Bell up the middle, but he was limited to two yards. Brown caught a pass for six but worked backwards and cost himself three, setting up third and four. Roethlisberger could not get the ball out, resulting in a delay of game, incredibly. This Steelers team tonight would in no way be able to beat the Patriots with these mistakes.
On third and nine, the lead sweep with the pulling center picked up the first down, however, and then some. From the 37, a six-yarder from Bell up the middle, he picked up another six, putting him at 100 for the day on 17 carries. He is the first player in team history to rush for 100 yards in the first half of a playoff game. Yet they didn’t use him inside the 10. Okay then.
From the 25, Bell was limited to just a yard on a right-side sweep on the other side of the two-minute warning. The screen pass to Bell was snuffed out immediately and he couldn’t escape the defender for a loss of three. On third and 12, after a Chiefs timeout, a tipped pass negated a hold downfield on an incomplete pass, which led to yet another Boswell field goal, making it 12-7 with a minute left to play in the half.
Hill took a kick out from nine yards deep and the coverage of Jones and Dangerfield stopped him at the 16. A screen to Hill was limited to four. Smith’s pass to Conley was caught out of bounds, but Shazier was flagged for roughing the passer. From the 30, after a false start, Smith’s pass could not be corralled by Maclin. With 13 seconds to go, Ware caught the ball, but fumbled, and Burns recovered.
Instead of attempting a 58-yard field goal, after the Chiefs countered with Hill in the end zone, the offense came out. With the defense playing deep, Roethlisberger threw quick to Brown down the field to give him a chance to run with it, but he was penned in at the 10-yard line. Statistically, it did put Brown over 100 receiving yards for the game, making him the second player in NFL history to record 100 receiving yards in four consecutive playoff games, along with Larry Fitzgerald.