Steelers at Chiefs final score, takeaways: Pittsburgh ends K.C.'s unbeaten season
Four takeaways from the Steelers' huge upset in Kansas City on Sunday
The Kansas City Chiefs were supposed to be the only good team in football. The Pittsburgh Steelers were supposed to be one of the most disappointing teams in football. But when the two teams met in Kansas City, the narratives evaporated.
Relying on a dominant defensive outing and an efficient Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers rebounded from a disastrous, embarrassing loss to the Jaguars by upsetting the previously undefeated Chiefs at Arrowhead, 19-13, on Sunday. The Steelers moved to 4-2 with the win while the Chiefs dropped to 5-1.
For three quarters, the game was a slog. The Steelers jumped out to an early 2-0 lead when a bad shotgun snap flew over Alex Smith's head and out of the end zone.
The wackiness continued on the next play, when the Chiefs recovered their free kick.
That recovery set up a Chiefs field goal, which gave them a 3-2 lead. It would be their final lead of the game.
The Steelers, a week after neglecting the ground game, rode Bell to victory. They pounded the ball with the always patient, always efficient Bell, who scored a touchdown to give the Steelers' a two-sore lead. After a field goal, the Steelers led 12-3 at halftime. It should've been a bigger advantage, though considering the Chiefs had six yards and one first down at halftime. That's how bad the Chiefs were on offense. Or to put it another way, that's how dominant the Steelers' defense was against the top-scoring offense in football.
The low-scoring slog suddenly morphed into a fourth-quarter shootout. Seventeen points were scored in the final frame, with 10 of those points belonging to Kansas City. But it wasn't enough. After Smith hooked up with De'Anthony Thomas for a 57-yard touchdown, the Chiefs were within two points.
All they needed was a stop. Instead, Antonio Brown scored on fluky, but incredible touchdown.
The game didn't end there, though. The Chiefs quickly journeyed into field goal range, kicked a field goal, and then forced a three-and-out at the two-minute warning. An explosive Tyreek Hill punt return set up Smith near midfield. They needed a touchdown to win the game.
A sack by super "relief pitcher" James Harrison ended that dream, though. After the sack on third down, Smith's final last-gasp pass on fourth down fell incomplete. And the Chiefs' unbeaten season was no more.
Read on for four takeaways:
1. Steelers shuts down Chiefs' top offense
The Chiefs entered the game averaging 32.8 points per game -- the most in football. They scored 13 points on Sunday. It'd be easy to blame the Chiefs' offense -- the line got manhandled, Smith missed open receivers, and Kareem Hunt couldn't break free for most of the night -- but it makes more sense to give credit to the Steelers' defense, which pitched one of the best games of the year.
In the first half, they held the Steelers to one first down and six yards. The Chiefs finally found some more room to operate in the fourth quarter, but they still finished with 12 first downs, 4.8 yards per play, and lost the time of possession battle by a significant margin (36:39 to 23:21). Alex Smith's hot ending turned his putrid stat line into respectable numbers -- 19 of 34 for 246 yards, one touchdown, no picks, and an 88.6 passer rating -- but they were nowhere near his numbers from earlier this season. He entered the game with a 125.8 passer rating.
Like Smith, rookie running back sensation Kareem Hunt finally got going late in the game, but for three quarters, he was completely bottled up, as the Steelers' defense continually swarmed and gang-tackled him. Hunt finished with 21 yards on nine carries -- he was averaging 6.3 yards per carry entering the game. He did, however, break free for 89 receiving yards on five carries, ensuring he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for a sixth straight game,
Tight end Travis Kelce was nowhere to be found. He caught four passes for 37 yards.
This was an incredible, championship-caliber defensive effort by the Steelers' defense, which entered the game ranked fifth in DVOA. That defense is the biggest reason why the Steelers are still contenders in the AFC. Give credit to players like Vince Williams (two sacks) and James Harrison (one very clutch sack), but for the most part, this was a group effort.
And it worked.
2. More Bell, less Big Ben
The Steelers did what they had to do on offense to win. They gave the ball to Bell and took the game out of Ben Roethlisberger's hands. Bell functioned as the only consistent player on the offense, carrying the ball 32 times for 184 yards and a score. He added three catches for 12 yards. Without Bell, the Steelers don't win that game.
Meanwhile, Roethlisberger's disappointing season continued after a five-pick outing last week. His stat line was fine -- 17 of 25 for 252 yards, one touchdown, one pick, and a 97.4 passer rating -- but it benefited significantly from the tipped, fluky touchdown pass to Brown. Still, it's worth noting that his pick appeared to be on Brown for a miscommunication.
The point being, the Steelers' passing game is still out of sync. And it's an issue they'll need to get corrected if they hope to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. In the meantime, as Big Ben figures out his issues, they can continue to lean on their defense and ground game.
3. Did Andy Reid's decision backfire?
In the fourth quarter, the Chiefs trailed by nine points and they faced a fourth-and-2 at the 4-yard line. The Chiefs needed two scores to win the game, but they still chose to go for the touchdown. It didn't work. Smith's pass fell incomplete and everyone on social media second guessed Andy Reid's decision.
If Reid had decided to kick the field goal, they would've trailed by a single score (12-6) and Smith's touchdown pass to Thomas on their next drive would've given them the lead.
Then again, the Chiefs were struggling to move the ball all evening. And with the way things were going, it wasn't insane for Reid to believe that a fourth-and-2 from inside the 5-yard line was going to be their best chance of the game to score a touchdown they needed to get at some point. Furthermore, their failure to get a touchdown meant the Steelers took over at their own 4-yard line, which contributed to the Chiefs' starting position on their next drive.
The situation is impossible to play out. In hindsight, yes, the Chiefs should've kicked a field goal. But it sure was easy to criticize the decision after the play failed. If Reid's decision had paid off with a touchdown, then we'd be praising Reid for his gutsy, aggressive decision.
My biggest critique? On that play, the Chiefs went empty. When you have a runner as dangerous as Hunt, you've got to at least put him on the field so the defense thinks you might run the ball on fourth-and-short.
Bottom line, though: The Chiefs did not lose because of that one single decision. They lost because the Steelers' defense outplayed their offense. For the first time all season, the Chiefs' offense looked like a weakness. And suddenly, the Steelers' defense looks like the strength of their team.
4. What's next?
The 5-1 Chiefs will have a quick turnaround. They'll head to Oakland for a date with the 2-4 Raiders on "Thursday Night Football." As for the 4-2 Steelers, they'll host the 2-3 Bengals in a pivotal AFC North matchup.
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