Focused Steelers get back on track, knock Chiefs from ranks of unbeaten

The score: Pittsburgh 19, Kansas City 13

The bottom line: In the ultimate week-to-week league, the Steelers flipped the script from last Sunday and totally dominated the lone unbeaten team in the league in all facets of the game, save scoring, which led to a nail-biting fourth quarter, decided by late splash plays from the team’s most valuable player, Antonio Brown, and its best defensive playmaker, the ageless wonder James Harrison. Winning in the toughest road stadium in football firmly places Pittsburgh back in a Super Bowl picture that is considerably fuzzy after a serious injury to Aaron Rodgers and the ongoing struggles of the Patriots’ defense.

It was over when…: Despite Pittsburgh holding Kansas City to one first-half first down, we don’t think there was any Steelers fan anywhere with illusions of a blowout. As expected, a fluke touchdown put the Chiefs back in the game and, as also expected, they wound up with the ball at the end of the game with a chance to win. Pittsburgh needed one splash play to seal it, and that it didn’t come from Cam Heyward or Ryan Shazier or Joe Haden (and definitely not from Artie Burns, who almost singlehandedly gave the game away) perhaps should be a concern. But for now let’s revel in the fact that it came from James Harrison, the last real remaining link to Pittsburgh’s championship defenses and a guy whom Steelers coaches have tried to bury so many times we’ve lost count. With the Chiefs crossing midfield with a minute to go and facing a 3rd-and-10 at the Steelers 40, Harrison dipped under Eric Fisher like we’ve seen so many times (and was held, like we’ve seen so many times) en route to a huge sack of Alex Smith that set up a longshot fourth down play that ended the Chiefs’ hopes.

Play of the day: After the Chiefs made it a two-point game on a busted coverage TD midway through the fourth quarter, the Steelers desperately needed an answer from their offense and they go it in the strangest of ways. Facing 3rd-and-2 at their own 49 with 3:34 remaining (arguably the biggest play of the game up to that point), the Steelers struggling franchise quarterback appeared to panic when his first read was covered and launched a ball directly into double coverage for what looked like a sure soul-crushing interception. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger’s ill-advised toss went right through the hands of Phillip Gaines and doinked off his pads into the air where it was snatched by Antonio Brown, who stepped past a second KC defender and sprinted to paydirt on one of the more improbable scoring catches of his storied career. A glass-half-empty sort of person might say another poor decision and throw by Roethlisberger doesn’t bode well for the rest of his season, regardless of the outcome. A glass-half-full type might say the lucky bounce might be just the thing to snap the hex #7 seems to have been playing under.

Player of the game: Le’Veon Bell zipped and darted over, around and through the Chiefs all afternoon (26-179-1), thanks in part to a little bit of table-turning by the Steelers coaching staff. How many times have we seen teams over the past few years force Pittsburgh into the nickel with formation and then exploit it running the football? (That’s rhetorical, lots of times.) Well, that’s what Bell and the Steelers did to the Chiefs Sunday, going heavy on 11 personnel (1RB, 1 TE) and exploiting the Chiefs nickel with a pulling David DeCastro, excellent work from Jesse James and good downfield blocking from the wide receivers.

In the booth:

+ That Tony Romo observed on the game’s FIRST SERIES that the Chiefs would have trouble handling the Steelers running game in their four-man front (4-2-5 alignment) is the exact kind of thing that’s had people raving about him since he started in the booth only a few months ago. Romo wasn’t perfect Sunday (see below), but he’s so far beyond anyone else analyzing football it’s fairly unbelievable.

+ Watching Romo very closely on every play for the first time this season did reveal some warts, though. He was dead wrong when he called a hit by Mike Mitchell illegal because of helmet-to-helmet contact in the second quarter (Lord knows Mitchell did enough other dumb and/or illegal stuff, though). The whistle hadn’t blown on the play yet and the hit was on a running back, who does not have “defenseless” protection until after the whistle blows. Romo also tried to make a point in the second half about Pittsburgh running the ball better with Marcus Gilbert back from injury, failing to realize or remember Gilbert left the game at the end of the first quarter. Finally, we didn’t think either Romo or Jim Nantz made enough of Andy Reid’s coaching brainfarts in the fourth quarter.

Game mismanagement:

+ Andy Reid has been pretty well behaved in the past few Steelers-Chiefs games but we got to see some of the stuff that has made him legendary (and not in a good way) in game management circles. First and foremost, down by two scores with 13:00 remaining and facing a 4th-and-2 at the Steelers 4, Reid eschewed the chip shot field goal to make it a one-score game, went for it and failed when Sean Davis pried the ball away from tight end Demetrius Harris in the end zone.

+ Reid then compounded the error by not challenging the ruling on the field of an incomplete pass. Replays certainly seemed to show Harris possessing the ball with three feet down before Davis begins to wrestle it away. While Davis was on the turf when he finally got the ball out, Harris never went to the ground, meaning the “process of the catch” possession rule would not apply. At the very least, in a league where no one really knows what a catch is, the challenge of a non-scoring play that might be a scoring play should have been made.

+ Reid got away with another cardinal game management error just before the 2:00 warning, calling a timeout at 2:05 with Pittsburgh facing a third down. The timeout in this instance saved only five seconds but gave the Steelers something much more valuable, the ability to pass or run the ball on the next play without concern about the clock since it stops at the 2:00 warning regardless. Had the Steelers converted that third down, it likely would have been curtains for the Chiefs needlessly. Remember, game management is all about keeping your chances of winning alive for as long as possible in a game.

Zebra hunting:

+ We noted before the game that the Steelers have done well with Carl Cheffers’ crew and that was the case again. The biggest call of the game was the incomplete pass noted above and it sure looked incomplete to us at game speed as it looked like both players were wrestling for possession. Only on replay could you see that offensive player had sole possession initially then the upper hand on dual possession for quite a while. It would have been very interesting to see what would have happened there on a challenge. Thankfully for Steelers fans, we’ll never know.

+ The other officiating hiccup was the celebration penalty on Le’Veon Bell, who became the latest Steelers player to run afoul of the new, more lenient celebration rules. Bell’s misdeed was using the goal post as a prop (in this case, a punching bag) in his brief post-TD party. Under the new rules, only the ball can be used as a prop.

+ The other challenge in the game came on a punt the Chiefs may or may not have downed at the half yard line. Ultimately, the call of a good play by the KC gunner was upheld because the richest sports league that will ever exist in the history of human civilization can’t afford to put cameras for all of its games directly on the freaking goal line, resulting in inconclusive replays on critical events in the game.

Hot topics:

+ Hamstring injuries are notoriously slow healing so it’s not a surprise, but a big disappointment, that Marcus Gilbert, who’s become one of the best tackles in football over the past 18 months, lasted only one quarter in his return from one. We’d guess we won’t see Gilbert again for at least a month, which would place us a week or two after the bye. A significant hamstring injury can take three months to fully heal, but hopefully that’s not the case with Gilbert.

+ Gilbert has been especially proficient in recent meetings in shutting down Chiefs pass rusher extraordinaire Justin Houston. That Houston recorded just two tackles and zero pressures Sunday with Gilbert on the bench for most of the game speaks very well of the work Chris Hubbard and Alejandro Villanueva did.

+ After playing a dominating defensive game, Artie Burns almost singlehandedly threw it all away, getting beat for a touchdown peeking into the backfield on a broken play midway through the fourth quarter then inexplicably abandoning his deep third of the field on the next series, leaving Demarcus Robinson all by himself in the end zone. Mike Hilton’s blitz saved the day, forcing Alex Smith to overthrow Robinson, but it drove home the point that the Steelers are still looking for leaders at crunch time.

+ On the other hand, Joe Haden has been invisible for Pittsburgh for the past month, which is the highest compliment you can give a defensive back. Hope to not see you again until February, Joe.

+ Vance McDonald caught his first pass as a member of the Steelers and just missed on another huge gainer when Ben Roethlisberger overthrew him. Jesse James blocked well Sunday, but he cannot get down the middle of the field, which is something Pittsburgh needs and something that is available. McDonald will be a huge factor, good or bad, in this season before all is said and done.

+ Finally, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce looked like a guy playing with a concussion on Sunday. Normally a huge threat, Kelce was mostly invisible and dropped or bobbled several balls that came his way. He left last Sunday night’s game in the second half with memory loss and did not practice Wednesday for KC, but somehow went through the entire concussion protocol in time to be cleared to play by Friday afternoon. That seemed fishy from the get go and Kelce’s play Sunday added to speculation that some independent neurologists may be more independent than others.

Sweet tweets:

+ @StuffSomersSays: *literally every commercial pitch room ever* Guy 1: What about music? Guy 2: Something new, different Guy 3: Imagine Dragons (Blogger’s note: Funny because it has to be true.)

Next week: The Steelers host a critical AFC North matchup with the Bengals next Sunday in a game that’s been flexed to 4:25 p.m., most likely meaning Tony Romo again! (Remember the dread that used to come when you realized Pittsburgh was a “Phil Simms game” next week?) Looking a little further down the road (remember “farther” indicates physical distance and when you’re talking about time “further” applies) on the Pittsburgh schedule, there’s an interesting dynamic developing with injured quarterbacks as Andrew Luck should be returning for the Steelers Nov. 12 matchup if not a week earlier while Aaron Rodgers now likely will miss the Packers Nov. 26 visit to Pittsburgh. What are the chances it’s Romo under center rather than behind the mic that night?


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)