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Labriola on the win over the Chiefs

Posted Oct 16, 2017

Sunday in Arrowhead Stadium, the stars aligned for the Steelers in what could be a defining victory.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In their own ways, each one of them had authored a bit of the drama that seemed to be threatening to drown this team. Le’Veon Bell by missing the entire offseason program, all of training camp, and all four preseason games. Antonio Brown by taking out his frustration on an innocent Gatorade cooler during a game. And Ben Roethlisberger by reacting to a question after a loss with a sound bite that he neither meant nor believed.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers arrived here on Saturday afternoon, they were being cast as a team in turmoil, the owners of a locker room in disarray, and neither of those things was going to help them deal with the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, the slayers of the mighty New England Patriots on Coronation Thursday, and just about everyone’s pick as the best team in the NFL to this point in the season.

And if the Steelers were to leave here after failing to deal with the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, well, then they just might turn out to be what the word on the street claimed they already were.

It was going to require their best performance of the season, and it was going to require their best performance in all three phases because the Chiefs came into this game with the highest scoring offense in the NFL, dangerous return men on special teams, and a defense that always found a way to be good enough when it had to be. Beyond that, it was going to require a singleness of purpose and a togetherness they really had yet to exhibit to this point in the 2017 season, at least to the degree required to defeat an opponent of this caliber.

By the end of the afternoon, the Steelers had a 19-13 victory over the Chiefs and a measure of vindication in that they finally showed they can be more than just a sideshow in 2017.

To be a part of the main event of this NFL season, their stars were going to have to start playing like stars, and to varying degrees and in different ways that happened here.

Bell, who not long ago admitted he had yet to be a “special player” so far this year, was very special, not only by rushing for 179 yards and averaging 5.6 per carry doing it but also by being the workhorse primarily responsible for allowing the Steelers to control the tempo of the game and dull the enthusiasm of the hostile crowd.

Brown, who can be criticized for occasionally trying to make the ultimate team sport into his own personal showcase, reminded everyone that he in fact has the individual brilliance to justify that mind-set. His eight catches for 155 yards marked his fourth-100-yard receiving game in six outings so far this season, and the play he made to manufacture a 51-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to provide his team with the game’s decisive points deserved to be placed in the same category as the Immaculate Extension he authored during last Christmas’ victory over the Ravens.

Roethlisberger’s pass had a chance to be intercepted, and it in fact bounced off the defensive back’s hands and then his head before Brown corralled it with one hand and then instantly regained top speed to pull away from the defense and get into the end zone.

And Roethlisberger himself contradicted his “maybe I don’t have it anymore” by having exactly what was necessary when it was necessary to quarterback his team to a victory on the road against what certainly was looking like and playing like the best team in the NFL through the first five weeks of the schedule.

When the stars are the stars, the Steelers’ complementary pieces are so much better, and against the Chiefs it started with their defense against the run. Poor run defense had been at the heart of both of their losses this season, but in Kansas City the Steelers allowed 28 rushing yards on a 1.9 average, and if quarterback Alex Smith’s four scrambles for 13 of those yards are separated from the rest, the Chiefs running backs who came into the game leading the league and averaging 5.7 yards per carry managed 15 yards on 11 attempts.

Those numbers were what they were, at least in part, because Bell’s numbers were what they were. To a large degree, it was the Steelers’ running game that put the Chiefs in the position of trying to get in sync offensively during a game in which the opponent was controlling the line of scrimmage and dominating time of possession.

This one was significant for the Steelers, but it was only one, and there are more good opponents waiting for them down the road, and there is certain to be more drama waiting for them around the next bend of that road.

But here yesterday, against a top quality opponent in a difficult venue, they showed how they would deal with it, and most significantly, they proved they could deal with it.