*STEELERS 18, CHIEFS 16 *
Steelers' record: 13-5
One year ago: 11-7
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 21-11
Prior to this AFC Divisional Round Game, the Steelers had played 17 times in Kansas City in the 47 seasons since 1970, but during a 12-season stretch between 1992-2003, the Steelers were scheduled to visit Arrowhead Stadium eight times. And not once did the Chiefs visit Pittsburgh during that same span.
In Kansas City, one of the storylines is that the Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since defeating the Steelers in overtime, 27-24, in the 1993 Wild Card Round. But what happened that day, how the Steelers lost that game was something everyone believed was going to be a significant part of this 2016 Divisional Round Game.
The Steelers were in the second season of the Bill Cowher era, and was looking for his first playoff win in a game that would be against his former team where he had been the defensive coordinator for his mentor – Marty Schottenheimer. The Steelers had Neil O'Donnell at quarterback and Leroy Thompson at running back, while the Chiefs had Joe Montana and Marcus Allen, but neither team was able to establish a clear statistical edge.
The Chiefs had more first downs, but the Steelers converted a better percentage on third downs. O'Donnell posted slightly better numbers than Montana, and Allen was slightly more productive than Thompson. Neither team turned the ball over. Both were penalized five times. Both scored three touchdowns, but only one team blocked a punt.
Game action from the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Early in the fourth quarter, Montana drove the Chiefs 80 yards in nine plays, with Allen's 2-yard run getting the ball into the end zone to forge a 17-17 tie. But the Steelers responded with a nine-play, 74-yard drive that ended up in the end zone on a 22-yard pass from O'Donnell to Eric Green, and the Steelers had an improbable 24-17 lead. After that, each team went three-and-out, but Gerald Williams' third sack of the game forced the Chiefs to punt from their own 9-yard line, while the Steelers were lining up to punt from their 48-yard line with just under three minutes left in the fourth quarter and Kansas City down to its final timeout.
Needing to block the punt, the Chiefs did. It was Keith Cash who broke through the protection to block Mark Royals' punt, and adding insult to injury came when Fred Jones scooped up the loose ball and ran it 31 yards to the Pittsburgh 9-yard line. It still took the Chiefs four plays to score, but on fourth-and-7 Montana found Tim Barnett in the end zone for the tying touchdown. That sent the game into overtime, and the Chiefs drove for the game-wining field goal on the third possession of the extra period.
That loss ended the Steelers' 1993 season. Seven years earlier – in the 1986 regular season finale – the Steelers also lost a game to the Chiefs despite dominating every statistical category because Kansas City blocked a punt and recovered the ball in the end zone for one touchdown, returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and blocked a field goal and returned that for a touchdown. That 24-19 loss at Three Rivers Stadium was what convinced Chuck Noll to join the rest of the NFL and hire a full-time special teams coach. The Steelers had been the only one in the league without one, with Noll believing he could handle those duties himself.
Special teams have had a profound impact in previous matchups between these teams, and with Tyreek Hill returning both punts and kickoffs at such a high level for the Chiefs in 2016, special teams figured to be a critical area in determining the outcome of this matchup as well.
HOW THE STORYLINE PLAYED OUT**
From a kick coverage standpoint, this was the Steelers' best performance of the 2016 season, and they did it against the best returner they faced. Jordan Berry only punted once, and it traveled 35 yards and went out of bounds. Chris Boswell kicked off seven times, with four of those going into the end zone, and two of those four going for touchbacks.
Tyreek Hill returned four kickoffs, but for only 72 total yards, and his long return of the day was 21 yards. The Chiefs' average starting spot for their offense was their own 27-yard line, just a couple of yards beyond the spot where the ball is placed for a touchback.
Leading the way for the Steelers' coverage units was Vince Williams, who had two tackles. Tyler Matakevich, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Ryan Shazier, and Jordan Dangerfield had one apiece.
FIRST HALF STATS THAT STAND OUT
Le'Veon Bell became the first running back in franchise history to go for 100 yards rushing in the first half of a playoff game. Bell finished the first half with 18 carries for 101 yards.
In going 55 yards in eight plays for a touchdown on its opening possession, the Chiefs became the first team this season to score a touchdown on the Steelers defense on its opening possession of a game.
Ben Roethlisberger's 52-yard hookup with Antonio Brown marked the third straight playoff game in which Brown has caught a pass of 50-plus yards.
The Steelers held an 18-10 lead, and then Spencer Ware's 1-yard run cut that to 18-16 with 2:47 remaining in the game. The Chiefs had to attempt a two-point conversion to tie, and when Alex Smith passed to Demetrius Harris in the end zone it seemed as though the Chiefs had been successful. But a holding penalty on Eric Fisher, who was trying to block William Gay, nullified that and pushed the re-try back 10 yards to the 12-yard line. On that play, Smith's pass to Jeremy Maclin was incomplete.
IT WAS OVER WHEN
With a first down at their own 5-yard line following the kickoff, the Steelers ran Le'Veon Bell on first down to force Kansas City to spend its final timeout. Then, as usual, Coach Mike Tomlin instructed offensive coordinator Todd Haley to got for the first down to end the game. On second down, Ben Roethlisberger completed a 5-yard pass to Eli Rogers, and then on third-and-3 from the 12-yard line, Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a 7-yard gain and a first down. From there, it was take-a-knee three times, and it's on to New England for the AFC Championship Game.