The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Kansas City Chiefs in their home opener today looking for their first victory of the season after coming to a draw a week ago. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in particular is looking to improve his performance after throwing three interceptions and losing two fumbles.
Some of the supporting cast will be different, with three players out due to injury. David DeCastro will sit with a hand injury, replaced by B.J. Finney, while Joe Haden’s hamstring will sideline him in favor of Cameron Sutton. L.T. Walton will take up Tyson Alualu’s reserve role along the defensive line.
Today will mark the season debut of tight end Vance McDonald, however, and with Justin Hunter inactive, there should be a bigger role for James Washington than a week ago, during which he played just 11 of 85 snaps without being targeted.
The Chiefs won the coin toss and deferred. Ryan Switzer set up to receive the opening kickoff, with the opportunity to return, but Kansas City covered it well and tackled him at the 21 on a short kickoff. OPening three wide with Washington on the field, Roethlisberger looked for him immediately down the field, but the ball was overthrown. The Steelers spread the Chiefs out after lining up in 22 personnel, throwing a screen to Antonio Brown, but Alejandro Villanueva was flagged for a block in the back.
The penalty was declined after a loss of two yards. On third and 12, Roethlisberger narrowly avoided a sack just to throw the football away. Jordan Berry punted from his own 19. The punt was short and angled toward the sideline, but stayed inbounds. DeAnthony Thomas fielded it and the Steelers let him go. Sutton popped the ball out but Thomas plucked it back up in the air, returning the ball all the way to the Steelers’ 10.
On first and goal, Kareem Hunt rushed for five yards up the middle. Patrick Mahomes rolled to his left and hit Travis Kelce for four yards, but the tight end was flagged for offensive pass interference for pushing off, resulting in a second and goal from the 15 rather than third and goal from the one. Mahomes hit Chris Conley against Artie Burns on the following play for the touchdown as the Chiefs get out to an early lead.
And so Switzer got another chance to return within two minutes, but this time the kick went for a touchback. Restarting from the 25, the ball was given to James Conner, who was buried in the backfield for a loss of three. Conner got nothing on a screen on second down. Now third and 13, Roethlisberger bobbled the snap, dropping it before picking it up and sailing the ball over Brown’s head out of bounds. The Steelers now have minus-five yards on six offensive plays. Berry’s second punt bounced and was returned short by Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs were flagged for holding on the return though, backing them up.
Starting from the 29, Hunt carried for just a yard up the middle. On second down, Mahomes fired short to Sammy Watkins for 10. Watkins got behind Sutton on the following play for a big gain down the field, evidently expecting safety help that didn’t arrive. Now down to Pittsburgh’s 20, Hunt was tackled by Cameron Heyward after two yards. Mahomes fired a strike down the seam to Kelce for the second score early to take a 14-0 lead.
Following a return curtailed by a penalty, the Steelers began their third drive from the 11. Conner gained a couple of yards on first down before Roethlisberger connected with Jesse James over the middle for their first first down. Following a deep incompletion, Kendall Fuller was flagged for defensive holding. Washington recorded the first touch of his career, but it was negated by an illegal block in the back penalty on McDonald. Conner beat two defenders on a spin move on a short pass to pick up 22.
On the following play, Roethlisberger found Brown down the field for back-to-back first downs across midfield to the Chiefs’ 36. He was limited to a few on an inside screen on the following play. Roethlisberger threw out of bounds, failing to hit Brown on second down. Now third and five, Roethlisberger was off the mark for Washington under pressure. Chris Boswell missed from 42 yards, 0-2 on the season now.
Following a first-down connection to Watkins, Hunt rushed for six yards to the Steelers’ 38. On the end-around, Watkins picked up 31 yards, hitting Sean Davis with the stiff-arm. From the seven, Hunt was limited to two. Mahomes was too high and off-line for Kelce on second down, his first incompletion. Hunt beat Terrell Edmunds on a short pass to the sideline for the touchdown, Kansas City now up 21-0 as the Steelers are getting blown out at home.
After a loss, a short gain, and a false start, the Steelers were quickly in a third and 10 from the 19 on the following drive. Roethlisberger was stripped of the ball yet again, the Chiefs picking it up and taking it in for a score. However, the Steelers were spared thanks to a defensive holding call. So instead of a score, the Steelers get a first down.
A short crosser to JuJu Smith-Schuster resulted in a 19-yard gain. He found the second-year man again for 12 yards to end the first quarter with at least some life. The Chiefs were flagged for encroachment a play later. Off play action, Roethlisberger found Smith-Schuster again for 14 yards, picking up 45 yards on three catches so far on the drive, down to the 26. Roethlisberger had time to throw and lofted a high ball to James down the field for a 26-yard touchdown to make it 21-7.
Coty Sensabaugh replaced Sutton a drive before and remains in. Heyward also appears to be in the sidelines now. Daniel McCullers was credited for the sack on second down on a coverage sack to set up third and 10. The Chiefs got off to a false start before that. On third and 15, Mahomes was able to scramble, but was penned in before he could pick up a first down.
Taking over from the 15 after a punt, Roethlisberger found Smith-Schuster for just three yards on a crosser. That was his fourth catch in the last five Roethlisberger throws. On second and seven, he found Switzer for the first down, his first catch as a Steeler. He stayed in for another play in the backfield from the 01 package. He got the carry for five or six yards. On second down, still in the package, James got open for another explosive play, setting a new career-high for that category in a single season.
Smith-Schuster with his fifth catch picked up nine yards. Roethlisberger looked for the homerun ball to the rookie, but the pass was off the mark. Now on third and one, a quick screen to Brown was good for the conversion after the receiver broke a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. He threw a shovel pass to McDonald under pressure for 10.
Now at the 15 inside the red zone, he looked for Brown, throwing out of bounds in the end zone. A screen to Smith-Schuster, with DHB and McDonald out front blocking, picked up 10 yards down to the four. On first and goal, with time, Roethlisberger threw high to James, who couldn’t hold on to the ball but would have been out of bounds anyway. The Chiefs were flagged for holding though, putting the ball on the two. From there, Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster for the score, showing strong hands with the contest. Boswell missed the extra point, however.
Following a first down, Jon Bostic pasted Hunt for a loss to set up a third and seven, before a false start made it third and 12. Heyward blew up Mahomes as he tried to throw on the move, driving the ball into the ground.
A solid return from Switzer on the ensuing punt was negated by a penalty, backed up now to the 10. Conner was good for three yards on first down as the clock ticked under three minutes in the half. A quick pass to Brown gained seven yards for a new set of downs. Roethlisberger was off-line on a screen pass to Smith-Schuster to hit the two-minute warning.
On the other side of the two-minute warning, Roethlisberger found James for a 32-yard connect across midfield. Roethlisberger scrambled for six yards on the following play. Conner made an exceptional one-handed snag on the play out of bounds, but he drew a pass interference anyway.
Now at the 27, Roethlisberger fired underneath to Conner for three. Brown picked up about 10 with a timeout called at the 34-second mark, down inside the 15. Five wide, Roethlisberger looked for Smith-Schuster in the left corner of the end zone but the pass was just too far. Now second down, he fired under pressure to McDonald, incomplete again. On third and 10, Roethlisberger looked to scramble but hit Washington at the last instant for a 14-yard score. He was very close to stepping over the line, but his back foot remained onside, the touchdown counting. Going for two to attempt to tie the game, Roethlisberger tossed it to Conner for the score.
So the Steelers improbably enter halftime tied at 21.