The Chiefs handed the Steelers their second blowout defeat in four weeks at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night to set up a rematch with the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round.
Chiefs Fcous @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769
- Kansas City Chiefs 42, Pittsburgh Steelers 21
- Patrick Mahomes : 30 for 39, 404 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT
- Jerrick McKinnon : 12 rushes, 61 yards; 6 receptions, 81 yards, 1 TD (142 scrimmage yards on 18 touches)
- Travis Kelce : 5 receptions, 108 yards, 1 TD receiving, 1 TD passing
- Kelce passed Julian Edelman and Michael Irvin (6) for the second most 100 yard receiving games in playoff history. He now only trails Jerry Rice (8) all time.
- Mahomes became the first quarterback in NFL history with 4 games (regular season and playoff) with 400 yards passing and 5 touchdowns. He did so in his first 72 career games. Players with 3 – Peyton Manning (292 games), Dan Marino (258 games), and Joe Montana (187 games). He joins Ben Roethlisberger as the only two quarterbacks in league history to achieve this line in the postseason.
All season long there has been a feeling in the air in Kansas City that when the Chiefs finally put everything together and have the offense and defense clicking in the same game, they will look damn near unbeatable. Well, it happened last night. While the defense carried the offense for the first quarter of the game, and the Steelers scored the game’s first points on a forced fumble by Cameron Heyward that was recovered and taken to the house by TJ Watt, the Chiefs offense rebounded as well as any team could (given the circumstances of how the game started) on their way to a dominating 42-21 win where the Chiefs comfortably controlled every facet of the game. It was a statement win to cap off a week of questions leading into the game of whether the Chiefs offense could handle a healthy TJ Watt and the impact he brings to the Steelers defense. Those questions were answered with a resounding yes in a performance that looked more like the team was saying oh, I think y’all forgot who we are. The offense, spearheaded by another virtuoso performance from Patrick Mahomes – something that is becoming routine for the Chiefs signal caller in postseason play – was balanced, killed the Steelers in short to intermediate passes, and beat them deep. All in the same game. Give credit where credit is due – the Steelers came out on fire with a plan that stalled the Chiefs out early, but the adjustments were made by the Chiefs coaching staff to have this one on ice by halftime.
Speaking of that rough start, if you looked at the Chiefs first 5 drives of the night, the final score (or the fact that the team led at one point 35-7) would seem like an impossibility. In the first 5 drives of the game, Tommy Townsend punted on the first 3, Mahomes threw a pick that was tipped by TJ Watt and eventually caught by Devin Bush deep in Steelers territory, and on the fifth Mahomes was stripped by Heyward, Watt picked up the fumble and ran it in for a TD to make the game 7-0 in favor of Pittsburgh. But there was a difference in the attitude of the team after these two offensive turnovers. They did not get conservative. Mahomes did not get rattled. Collectively, with all the energy of Arrowhead Stadium behind them, they got pissed and came out swinging. That was not good news for the Steelers.
The next 6 drives for Kansas City resulted in touchdowns of all shapes and sizes from the KC offense. A 7 play, 74-yard drive ended with a dime from Patrick Mahomes to Byron Pringle from 12 yards out. the next 6 play, 80-yard drive ended with a 48-yard touchdown from Mahomes to Travis Kelce. To start the second quarter scoring, Mahomes found a new target in the endzone – on a designed trick pass to Nick Allegretti for a 1-yard score after he tossed TJ Watt to the ground like a rag doll setting up the release. After the Steelers fumbled on their next possession, Jerrick McKinnon lost 2 yards on the first play for the Chiefs before Mahomes found Tyreek Hill on a 31-yard frozen rope to the front right corner of the north endzone at Arrowhead Stadium. To end the touchdown frenzy, the ball was in Travis Kelce’s hands on another designed outside the box trick play where he found Byron Pringle in the endzone for his first career passing touchdown.
With so much going into the performance of this game, it’d be easy to just say that the team as a whole performed well and we’re on to Buffalo. But several individuals on both sides of the ball made big impacts, some that you see in the box score, and some that you don’t. Defensively, L’Jarius Sneed ended the night with no interceptions, but that’s only because he dropped 3. Granted, one would have been negated by a roughing the passer call on Alex Okafor, but Sneed was all over the field and stuck on the Steelers dangerous receivers all night long. Nick Bolton proved his worth again as he led the team in tackles and was a catalyst in the Chiefs holding Pittsburgh rookie sensation Najee Harris to 29 yards on 12 carriers. Credit the defensive line for that as well, specifically Jarran Reed, Chris Jones, and Derrick Nnadi for making the midline run something that the Steelers absolutely could not go to last night. The pass rush had Ben Roethlisberger uncomfortable again, with Tershawn Wharton reintroducing himself to Big Ben and Mike Danna getting home for a sack as well.
Defensively the Chiefs looked fast, looked like a team swarming to the football, and a team that if given enough chances will turn some of those dropped picks into costly mistakes for opponents in the latter rounds of the postseason. While the personnel decisions were still questionable (Willie Gay only got 17 snaps – will be interesting to see if this is because he was banged up, or a Spags decision to play Niemann instead), Spagnuolo seems to have eaten his crow in decided to get Juan Thornhill back into the starting lineup. Thornhill looked like a mini-John Lynch on the field on Sunday, delivering big hit after big hit and setting the tone in the secondary from a physicality standpoint. The secondary was physical all night long, lining up in press coverage for 68% of the passing snaps against Pittsburgh. That is the highest press coverage rate of any team in the last 6 seasons in a single game, and 28% higher than the Chiefs season average of 40%, which led the NFL.
Offensively, where do I start? Jerrick McKinnon was Jerrick McCookin last night. McKinnon had 142 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, and looked like the Chiefs best back all night long. With Darrell Williams limited coming off of the toe injury against Denver, and Derrick Gore’s number not getting called, it was the McKinnon show all night long, and he took advantage of the touches. The greatest thing about this is that McKinnon is in theory the fourth guy in the room for the Chiefs at RB, but can hurt a playoff opponent just like a number 1 RB. This is going to be huge as Darrell Williams and Clyde Edwards-Helaire return from their injuries. Both can assist in pass protection better than Gore (the primary reason I believe he didn’t get many snaps last night), ands have the ability to hurt teams out of the backfield in the passing game just like McKinnon. Jerrick has the hot hand, and I believe we keep feeding him, but the benefit of having a running back by committee type back field is that when his hand gets cold you have fresh legs to plug in and make plays as well. The Chiefs will need all 4 of these backs to compliment each other in order to make a deep run into the playoffs, and McKinnon got that off to a hot start last night with his freshness and ability to help in pass protection.
Going back to the first quarter, it looked like the Chiefs were going to be in trouble with TJ Watt and Tre Norwood giving Orlando Brown and Andrew Wylie fits early. How did the Chiefs solve that? By throwing people, and plays, in their direction. The first touchown drive of the game for Kansas City featured both, with Mahomes finding McKinnon on screens directly towards Watt, and Noah Grey and McKinnon helping to chip on the all-world defensive lineman to negate his impact. Again, on the second touchdown drive, Kansas City went back to the same methodology, and coupling that with the threat of Patrick Mahomes scrambling ability (the QB rushed 3 times for 29 yards) the Steelers defense was officially on their heels, and by the time they figured out what was going on it was too late. Travis Kelce also destroyed the Steelers from the inside out. It started with feeling the middle of the defense out, and a couple of incompletions, but eventually the levy broke.
Kelce reached 100 yards receiving for the seventh time in his playoff career. That is an all time NFL record for tight ends, and puts him alone in second place behind Jerry Rice, who had 8 such games in his Hall of Fame career. He also now only trails Rob Gronkowski by 204 yards in all time receiving yards in 8 fewer games, and is number 12 overall in playoff yards in league history. As a tight end. Playoff Kelce was something I noted to watch for in the Twitter Space before the game, and boy did he prove me right.
And then, there’s Patrick Mahomes. With all of the talk about the performances of Josh Allen and Tom Brady in the Bills and Buccaneers respective playoff whippings over the weekend, you would have thought that the media outlets covering the Wild Card Weekend forgot Mahomes was playing Sunday night. Hell, even Joe Burrow was getting more attention than Mahomes after the Bengals won their first playoff game since 1991. So, without placing too much attention on this, I had a feeling that Mahomes needed to come out and make a statement in the game to remind folks who he is and what the Chiefs are about. And man….did he ever. Rough start included, Mahomes put himself alone in the category of most games in NFL history with 400 yards and 5 TD. He was tied with Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, and Joe Montana at 3, and is now alone with 4 in his career. It took him 72 games to get there. To put that in perspective, it took Manning 292, Marino 258, and Montana 187. For those questioning if Mahomes still “had it” when throwing the deep ball – on the night, he was 4/5 targeting verticals routes for 111 yards and 2 TD. Advanced metrics wise, he was 31.3% in CPOE (completion percentage over expected) meaning he was over 30% better than the expected completion percentage for an NFL quarterback making those throws. He even gave us a little vintage Chiefs throw back on the two play drive ending with a 31 yard bomb to Tyreek Hill for a touchdown. Patrick Mahomes is back (again), and when this man plays with confidence, there are consequences for teams that get in his way.
The night full of off-the-wall stats. The Chiefs accrued 269 of their 405 receiving yards after a catch, a number that was the 2nd highest YAC total in a playoff game in the history of ESPN’s Next Gen Stats. Leading the way for KC were Travis Kelce with 66 YAC yards, Mecole Hardman with 37, and Jerrick McKinnon with 106. That is not a type-o – for McKinnon to gain the 81 yards he had in the passing game, he had to actually gain 106. This is because his average depth of reception was around 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Another way the Chiefs took advantage of the Steelers pass rush and flipped the script on them in a masterful way on Sunday night.
There are some question marks from the dominant win, but question marks that over the course of their performance in the regular season would lead us to believe that they’ll be corrected with a little film review. As I mentioned earlier, Orlando Brown and Andrew Wylie at times looked like revolving doors at their respective tackle positions. The Chiefs were able to give them some relief in the form of help from McKinnon, Blake Bell, and Noah Grey, but the results could have been bad had that play calling adjustment not been made. The bottom line is the Chiefs will not see another rush quite like Pittsburgh’s the remainder of the postseason, because there is no one quite like TJ Watt left in play in the NFL.
But there is the Buffalo Bills, who will travel to KC next Sunday for a rematch of a week 5 regular season game that the Bills won 38-20. To say that this is not the same Chiefs team that the Bills defeated in the regular season would be an understatement. When asked about the challenge, Patrick Mahomes said “[The Bills are] a really good football team that’s gonna play really hard. We’re expecting a fight. We’re expecting a battle. They have a great offense, great defense, great special teams. We played them in the AFC Championship Game last year, we know that it’s going to be another first for us if we want to try to move on to the AFC Championship Game this year.”
Mahomes is right, it will certainly be a fight. Buffalo is not an opponent to overlook or discount. But if this version of the Chiefs shows up next Sunday, I like their chances at making their fourth straight AFC Championship game. And depending on how things play out in Nashville between the Titans and Bengals, we could be looking at a fourth straight AFC Championship game in the house that Lamar built. The Chiefs have taken step one in this postseason run, now the fun really begins. We’ll be back tomorrow with a first glance at the Buffalo Bills and a look at the entire divisional around across the league. Happy Victory Monday, Chiefs Kingdom.