There were several notable firsts in the Steelers' victory over Kansas City on Sunday, the most obvious and important of which is their first playoff appearance since 2011. If Pittsburgh defeats the Bengals next weekend, it will be their first AFC North title since 2010. With 361 first downs this season, the Steelers have broken the franchise record (344) in that category.
Undoubtedly, the victory versus the Chiefs was a significant step forward for the Steelers, who join the Broncos, Patriots, Colts, and Bengals in the AFC playoffs. A 10-5 record blemished with a couple of "bad" losses, but otherwise evident of a team that has progressed very well in only a year.
The offense has never really been a problem this season. The Steelers entered the Week 16 matchup leading the league in yards per game (425) and sixth in points scored (389). But the defense has been a concern, to say the least. For only the second time this season, the Steelers held their opponent without a touchdown.
Not to say the Chiefs didn't come close. Alex Smith threw for 311 yards, his highest total this season, and the Chiefs scored four red-zone field goals, but the Pittsburgh defense didn't allow Kansas City to put six on the board once.
In fact, despite the strong passing numbers for Smith, the Steelers had perhaps their best defensive game of the season. The six sacks recorded by Pittsburgh were the most they've managed in a game in nearly two seasons. The rush-defense smothered one of the top rushing attacks in the league, limiting All-Pro RB Jamaal Charles to only 29 yards on the ground. The 39 rushing yards for the Chiefs were the fewest they've netted since 2012, and the fewest yards allowed by the Steelers on the ground, also since 2012.
It's almost as if the offense and defense changed roles for the day. Le'Veon Bell looked nearly ordinary with only 71 all-purpose yards, including 62 yards on 20 carries, and Ben Roethlisberger looked more like a game manager than the second-leading passer in the NFL. But, the offense didn't need the big plays they've seen all season. Roethlisberger had plenty of time in the pocket, connecting on 72% of his passes while taking only one sack.
Heading back to the playoffs is a nice feeling for the Steelers. It's going to feel even nicer knowing the defense is capable of showing up like they did on Sunday.