On a day when the young kids stood up and were counted, it was three defensive veterans that might have stolen the show as the Kansas City Chiefs broke a five-game losing streak with a 23-13 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium. For the first time in over a month, the Chiefs (2-5) played like the team many expected to see all year – steady on offense with no turnovers and opportunistic on defense.
Second-year running back, Charcandrick West, did a wonderful imitation of injured superstar Jamaal Charles with 110 rushing yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL. Meanwhile, rookie wide receiver, Chris Conley, caught his first career touchdown – a 6-yard toss that iced the game in the fourth quarter. Cairo Santos booted three field goals and even second-year receiver Albert Wilson got in on the fun, taking a short throw just past the line of scrimmage and then breaking three tackles on his way to a 40-yard reception that was one friendly blocker away from being a 53-yard touchdown.
Get the complete box score of the game from NFL.com by clicking here.
While the kids played on the offensive side of the ball, the veterans showed they still had life in those legs on the defensive side of the ball. While the Steelers aren’t quite the offensive juggernaut they will be when starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returns from his knee injury (presumably next week), they still possess tons of offensive firepower that can put points up on the board. Running back Le’Veon Bell (121 rushing yards on 17 carries) and wide receiver Antonio Brown (6 catches for 12 yards) did make a few big plays, but not enough to carry Pittsburgh (4-3) to a third straight win.
Luckily, the Chiefs had veterans Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry killing two Pittsburgh drives with interceptions – Johnson’s in the last minute of the first half and Berry’s in the third quarter. Then 11-year veteran linebacker Tamba Hali turned back the clock with a two-sack performance. Hali’s second takedown, a sack and strip of Pittsburgh quarterback Landry Jones with two minutes left in the game, allowed lineman Jaye Howard to fall on the fumble and kill the last Steelers drive. The final Steelers turnover sent a packed Arrowhead crowd home happy for the first time all year.
On a gloriously sunny Kansas City afternoon, the Chiefs shook off the daze of the devastating Thursday night loss to Denver in Week 2 and resembled the group that many experts thought would possibly win the AFC West coming out of training camp. The manner in which the Chiefs won might be the momentum the team needs to possibly make a run for a wild card playoff spot.
The Chiefs trotted out a new configuration on the offensive line which could have proved fatal against Pittsburgh for quarterback Alex Smith, who has taken a beating in the team’s first six games. Eric Fisher moved from right tackle back to left tackle alongside left guard Ben Grubbs and center Mitch Morse, the only two linemen who have started in the same place all season. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif went back to right guard after being benched for the last two games, and Jeff Allen returned from an injury in training camp to man the right tackle spot. The Steelers love to blitz and blitz often, but overall the line protected Smith well and eventually opened up some running lanes.
The opening half of football for both teams was a field goal fest as both offenses moved the ball between the 20-yard lines fairly well, but then broke down in the red zone. Santos kicked field goals of 30, 22, and 27 yards in the first half while Steelers kicker C Boswell connected on a 24-yard kick in the first quarter. Santos’ field goals accentuated the continuing struggles of the Chiefs offense to score touchdowns in the red zone. They entered the game 27th in the league and a 42 percent red zone efficiency.
The Chiefs finally established a small cushion on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter. It began when Jones threw a pass over the middle that was deflected by Johnson, skipped away from Brown, and went right to Berry, who reacted quickly enough to make a diving interception.
Unlike after Johnson’s first half interception, the Chiefs capitalized this time by driving 47 yards, at one point using a hurry-up offense to keep Pittsburgh off-balance. West finally plunged in from a yard out on third-and-goal to end a streak of seven trips to the red zone without a touchdown for KC, and giving them a 16-3 lead.
“Unreal,” West said afterwards about his first NFL touchdown. “I feel like I’m still in the end zone.”
However, Pittsburgh quickly answered behind Jones, whose 41-yard completion to Brown helped set up its lone touchdown. Jones lofted a pass that Martavis Bryant hauled in while tip-toing in the corner of the end zone. It was at this point that the Arrowhead crowd felt an uncomfortable feeling of déjà vu after watching the Chiefs blow two other fourth quarter leads at home this season.
The Chiefs were forced to punt on the next series and the Steelers added another field goal to tighten the noose around Kansas City’s neck seeing their lead shrink to 16-13. This time, the struggling Kansas City offense – missing wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to injury and with that revamped offensive line – made every play that mattered.
Smith hit tight end Travis Kelce for a 26-yard reception to convert a third down, and West ripped off a 36-yard run moments later. He added a short run on an option play to convert another third down, and Smith hit Conley with the touchdowns pass from six yards out with 5:13 left to put the game away.
“We didn’t let off the accelerator for four quarters,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said afterwards. “I thought that was important.”
The Chiefs now must prepare to travel across the pond to play the Detroit Lions in London, England next week. The Lions (1-6) might have bottomed out Sunday when they gave up 22 answered points to the Minnesota Vikings at home and lost 28-19. After beating Pittsburgh, Chiefs fans can hope that their team has already bottomed out this year.