The revenge motive in the NFL, factor or not?
That depends on which side a team fell on the initial outcome.
For the Steelers, in preparation for their wild-card game against the Dolphins last week, it worked to remind them how they were handled at Miami during the regular season.
Pittsburgh walloped the Dolphins 30-12.
Now, it’s the Chiefs’ turn to think about payback with the Steelers visiting Arrowhead Stadium for an AFC divisional round game Sunday.
In the fourth game of the regular season, the Chiefs played a prime-time game at Heinz Field. Actually, the Steelers played. The Chiefs barely showed up in a 43-14 loss that wasn’t as close as the score suggests.
The Steelers led 22-0 after the first quarter, 29-0 at halftime and 36-0 before the Chiefs scored.
“It was embarrassing,” Chiefs center Mitch Morse said. “There’s a little chip on our shoulders. It left a bad taste in our mouths.”
Phooey, said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“’ll be honest, I didn’t really think it was much motivation,” Roethlisberger said. “You’re in the playoffs. If you need a revenge factor in the playoffs to help you win something’s wrong with you. We didn’t even think we beat (the Dolphins) because they beat us earlier.
“You’re in the playoffs. You’ve got to throw everything out, whether you played them before, didn’t play them, personnel, whatever it is, you kind of start fresh when you get here.”
Certainly, the Chiefs don’t need to relive every snap of that prime-time encounter, their most lopsided loss of Andy Reid’s four seasons on the Chiefs’ sideline.
On the Steelers’ first play, Roethlisberger connected with Sammie Coates for a 47-yard gain. That possession ended in a punt. The next three produced touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Chiefs running back Spencer Ware, who hadn’t lost a fumble in college or the NFL, fumbled for the third straight game. On the next Chiefs’ drive, quarterback Alex Smith’s pass intended for Ware was intercepted.
Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce caught fourth-quarter touchdown passes, but that was all the Chiefs could muster.
But the outcome changed things for the Chiefs.
The season resumed in Oakland after a bye week, and the Chiefs played perhaps their most complete game of the season, cooling off the hot Raiders 26-10. That started a season-ending finish of 10-2.
The reaction to the Steelers’ outcome helped define this team. The Chiefs had won two games entering that weekend but it took a wild comeback to beat the Chargers and eight takeaways to defeat the Jets. Both of those teams finished 5-11.
The Chiefs won their next five games and eventually won their first division title since 2010.
“They didn’t hang their head,” Reid said. “They learned from their mistakes. They were disappointed, obviously, but they learned and could progress and play the rest of the season.”
The Steelers didn’t find their way until later in the season. They followed the Chiefs victory with another over the Jets, then lost four straight, starting with the Dolphins’ game. Roethlisberger suffered a knee injury in that game and missed the next one.
But once the Steelers started winning they didn’t stop, taking the final seven games of the regular season and a playoff victory.
Roethlisberger said the Steelers looked at film from the initial meeting with the Chiefs, but the more usable stuff is from recent weeks. Chiefs inside linebacker Derrick Johnson played in the first game. He’s now out for the season.
Outside linebacker Justin Houston didn’t play then because of a knee injury. He has since returned but missed the Chiefs’ final two games. On Wednesday, Reid said he expects Houston to be available Sunday.
Roethisberger wouldn’t mind giving Houston a week off.
“I think Justin should just take his time, think about his health and family and take one more week off,” Roethisiberger said.