Yet here they were, in Arrowhead Stadium preparing for a Wild Card game against the defending AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs.
The double-digit underdog Steelers came into this game with nothing to lose. Their 9-7-1 regular season record being worn like a badge of honor for the bumps and bruises accumulated, and the turbulence survived throughout the grueling 17-game season. Could the team, and Ben Roethlisberger, find a way to win their first playoff game since 2017? It wouldn’t be easy, and after winning the opening coin toss, the Steelers elected to receive the ball.
Shockingly, both the Steelers and Chiefs both started the game with three-and-outs for their opening possessions. Pittsburgh’s offensive inconsistencies continued, but the Chiefs offense also was slow to start and only gained one first down in their first two drives.
Another Pressley Harvin III punt, Mecole Hardman took the punt back 49 yards to set up the Chiefs offense on the cusp of the red-zone. Looking as if it was the play which would equate into the first points of the game, Patrick Mahomes’ pass was tipped into the air and intercepted by Devin Bush.
Pittsburgh’s offense was able to get a first down, their first of the game, off the turnover, but nothing more.
The Chiefs were still unable to move the ball on the Pittsburgh defense, and the Steelers received the ball via punt to end the first quarter.
The second quarter started with the Steelers having the ball, but they again were unable to put a drive together which equated in points. On Kansas City’s next drive, Mecole Hardman received a direct snap, and the handoff to the running back was botched and fumbled. A scrum ensued and T.J. Watt came up with the football and raced into the end zone for the touchdown.
Chris Boswell’s extra point was good, giving the Steelers a 7-0 lead with 10:41 left in the half.
The defensive touchdown must have woken up the Kansas City offense, because Patrick Mahomes and company put together their best drive of the day on the next drive. Mahomes hit Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and capped it off with an underhand flip to Jerick McKinnon on 2nd and goal for the touchdown. The Harrison Butker extra point tied the game 7-7 with 5:45 left in the second quarter.
Diontae Johnson had a couple drops already in the first half, and none bigger than the 3rd and 2 drop which gave the ball back to the Chiefs with over 4 minutes left in the half. Mahomes hit Kelce and then it was McKinnon breaking free to get the Chiefs into the red-zone before the two-minute warning. Coming out of the break Mahomes hit Byron Pringle for the touchdown. The Butker extra point made the score 14-7 with 1:55 remaining in the half.
Right on cue, the Steelers dialed up a three-and-out to give the ball back to the Chiefs with 51 seconds left in the half and all three timeouts remaining. Mahomes took the offense down the field, and on 3rd and 20 hit Travis Kelce for a touchdown to make the score 21-7 at halftime.
The Chiefs received the football to start the second half, and the Kansas City offense picked up right where they left off in the first half. Mahomes was able to move the ball with ease, converting on third and long along the way. Big plays to McKinnon out of the backfield and Kelce down the sideline set up the Chiefs in a first and goal situation. It looked like Tyreek Hill took it into the end zone for the score, but the play was ruled he was down at the goal line. On third and goal, Mahomes hit his eligible offensive tackle for the touchdown. The extra point made the score 28-7 with 10:13 remaining in the third quarter.
Pittsburgh’s next drive lasted just one play when a swing pass to Najee Harris was fumbled and recovered by the Chiefs. Two plays later Mahomes hit Tyreek Hill for a touchdown which counted, and it made the score 35-7 with 9:14 in the third quarter.
Not ready to just lay down and die, the Steelers’ offense finally woke up when trailing by four touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger started making key third down plays to players like Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth and JuJu Smith-Schuster. After a James Washington sideline catch moved the offense into the red-zone for the first time, it was Diontae Johnson who added to the Pittsburgh point total.
The Chris Boswell extra point made the score 35-14 with 4:10 left in the third quarter.
Not to be outdone, the Chiefs put together yet another masterful drive where Mahomes spread the football around to several different receivers on their way to another red-zone trip. At the end of the third quarter, Kansas City was facing another first and goal situation. After the break the Chiefs went to their well of trick plays in the red-zone, and it was Travis Kelce taking a direct snap and throwing a touchdown pass to Byron Pringle. After the extra point, it was 42-14 in the early minutes of the final frame.
With the game essentially out of reach, the Steelers were able to move the ball on the Chiefs defense. Knowing every series could potentially require four plays, Ben Roethlisberger moved the ball down the field hitting several receivers on the way. Conversions to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pat Freiermuth and Diontae Johnson ended in a touchdown pass to James Washington to make the score 42-21 with 7:36 left in regulation.
After a failed onside kick, the Chiefs were unable to add to their point total before punting the ball back to the Steelers. With just under 5 minutes remaining in the game, Ben Roethlisberger took over trying to add another touchdown to his record before calling it a career. That ending wasn’t in the cards, as the Steelers failed to score and marked the final score of 42-21.
The loss ends the Steelers’ season and catapults them into an offseason with a number of free agents and having to find a new quarterback since 2004. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for all things Steelers as they prepare for a tumultuous offseason.