Mike Tomlin said he thought it was the first opening drive touchdown given up by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense all year long. Survey says…he’s right.
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. Even though they got hit early, the Steelers never wilted. They tightened the screws and the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense was shut down for nearly the rest of the game.
“I think the significant part of it is that they went down the field on us on the first possession,” Tomlin told reporters, explaining what made his defense so successful. “And the guys didn’t blink. They have to be given credit for that.”
After getting tremendous field position off a failed squib kick, Kansas City marched six plays, 55 yards on their opening drive, capped off with an Albert Wilson five yard touchdown. It put the Chiefs up 7-3 and re-energized the crowd, a stadium that Ben Roethlisberger would later call the loudest environment he’s ever played in.
For the rest of the half, the Chiefs’ offense managed drives of just 16, 10, 3, and 22 yards, including one drive that ended in an interception. Complete and total shutdown.
“But boy, I liked the look in their eye,” Tomlin said. “The resolve. But it was more than that. They took that look, they took that resolve, and continued to play. And play at a high level.”
It’s difficult not to feel a sense of pride in this defense and the big strides they took. Don’t forget the season started out well for this unit, a lack of pressure aside, holding Washington and Cincinnati in relative check. But they got decked in the next game, a 34-3 loss, and then wound up allowing an average of 28.3 points per game.
The lowest point was the final drive against the Dallas Cowboys, the runway given to Ezekiel Elliott as he sprinted into the end zone, that, frankly, was heartbreaking for fans and players alike.
But the defense showed that resolve Tomlin mentioned, holding teams to no more than 20 points over the next five weeks. And now, in the playoffs, they’ve allowed totals of 12 and 16 points. It’s the first time since 1978, the Steel Curtain days, the defense has allowed 16 or fewer points in back-to-back games. That year, they gave up 10 to the Denver Broncos, followed by just five to the Houston Oilers.
Kansas City was finally able to move the ball on their final drive, nearly tying the game up. But the defense held, forcing an incompletion, another testament to great red zone defense that has been practiced and executed all season long.
They’re not the Steel Curtain. But it’s a defense that can help guide this team to a Super Bowl.