You don’t have a chance if you don’t get into the dance. That’s the ethos of the postseason, with the implication being that all you need to have a chance to win is to be in the competition. The Pittsburgh Steelers barely stamped their ticket thanks to some Week 18 assistance—and it actually did look for most of the first half that they did have a chance.
Playing as the seventh seed after finishing the season 9-7-1, the Steelers faced the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Round, and they were able to hold Patrick Mahomes and company scoreless in the first quarter. About five minutes into the second, a fumble recovered by T.J. Watt was returned for a touchdown, and all of a sudden the visitors had a stunning 7-0 lead.
“I thought we had a chance. I really did. I didn’t know how”, Watt recently said on the Pardon My Take podcast. “Their offense was so powerful, and we put together a great string of stops, and it was one of those things where you don’t know how much longer you’re gonna be able to keep stopping them, but we knew we had to score points”.
Of course, that’s when the proverbial fecal matter hit the fan. The Chiefs’ offense woke up, and they scored touchdowns on their next six drives, taking a 21-1 lead into halftime. It was 35-7 by the time Pittsburgh got back on the board, and when all was said and done, it was a 42-21 finish, among the worst results in terms of scoring differential in the team’s postseason history—the worst of the Roethlisberger era.
The offense couldn’t do much, but the defense was looking legitimate up to that point. It’s hard to say what exactly happened before and after the fumble that made the game go so differently, truth be told, but it certainly put a damper on Watt’s first career touchdown.
“I was glad to get into the end zone. I tried to do my own little Lambeau Leap, I think I headbutted the guy. I felt so bad. I hit him hard with my facemask, and turned around and celebrated”, he said about that moment. “I thought we had good momentum, but clearly it just wasn’t enough”.
That’s an understatement, for sure. Mahomes ended up going 30-for-39 for 404 yards with five touchdown passes and an interception, and Travis Kelce, the All-Pro tight end, threw yet another touchdown pass.
Meanwhile, the Steelers’ offense did little until it was too late, already trailing by multiple possessions with little to no chance of marshalling a comeback. It was Pittsburgh’s fourth consecutive postseason defeat going back to the 2016 AFC Championship game, and the five straight year without a postseason victory. When will the next one come?