For Marcus Peters, Wednesday was a day of — as coach Andy Reid charmingly put it in his midweek news conference — sweet and sour pork.
Peters was chosen AFC defensive player of the week for his scintillating two-interception performance in the Chiefs’ 24-3 win over the New York Jets. Then the second-year cornerback was sent home because of the flu, Reid said.
“Hopefully, that’s a quick one,” Reid said of Peters’ illness.
This marks the second time Peters has won the award. He also won it in December, when he recorded two interceptions in the Chiefs’ 34-14 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
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Peters, 23, has 12 career regular-season interceptions. He had a league-high eight last year, when he also led the NFL in pass defensed with 26, made the Pro Bowl and was chosen NFL defensive rookie of the year.
And while the Chiefs weren’t talking much Sunday about Peters’ individual accomplishment, the same can’t be said of the Pittsburgh Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who will try to improve to 3-1 when they face the Chiefs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field.
“He catches every ball that is thrown his way,” Roethlisberger said, with a chuckle, when asked about Peters. “What a phenomenal player.
“Offensive guys always make fun of defensive players — they play defense because they can’t catch. Well, he can catch everything. It hits him in the hands, he catches it. It bounces in the air, he catches it.”
But it’s not just the ball skills, Roethlisberger said; it’s the consistency with which Peters uses them, as he regularly makes teams pay for testing him.
“The way that he reads routes, the way that he jumps routes, it just seems like he almost has the team’s offensive playbook,” he said.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin even went so far as to call Peters “ball aware.”
“He’s a calculated risk-taker, the type of calculated risk-taker that’s required to be great at that position,” Tomlin said. “And he’s highly competitive — you see that in his bump man-to-man techniques.
“So he’s checking off all the boxes, and really, he needs no endorsement from me — his numbers speak for themselves. I think he’s got 12 interceptions in 19 games. That’s incredible.”
Still, that hasn’t kept teams from throwing at Peters: no cornerback was targeted more last year.
The Chiefs three opponents this year have continued to throw at Peters. He surrendered a touchdown to Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins and has been whistled for four penalties despite grabbing a league-high four interceptions.
Roethlisberger noted, however, that it’s difficult to completely avoid a cornerback in today’s NFL, where the balance of the game has been shifted toward the offense.
“It’s easier said than done,” Roethlisberger said. “If you have guy that just eliminates a side of the field as an offense, you’re kind of stuck. So you have to just pick and choose your battles.”
Reid said that he used to avoid Deion Sanders back in the day, but that was the only example he used.
“I had a chance to coach against him, and we kind of just said ‘We’ll let him him cover that guy, and we’ll go over here,’” Reid said. “So I imagine teams still do that, play away from somebody.”
When Sanders was in his prime, both with the 49ers and Cowboys, he would often travel with the opposing team’s best receiver — something Peters, who always lines on the left side of the defense unless his man assignment takes him elsewhere — has never been allowed to do in Kansas City.
However, Roethlisberger said that Peters’ playmaking flair still forces offenses to account for his presence, even going so far as to put him in the same sentence as some of the league’s undisputed best.
“There’s some corners out there — like Marcus, (Richard) Sherman, (Josh) Norman, (Darrelle) Revis and (Patrick) Peterson — that you can’t avoid, but you’ve got to know where they are,” Roethlisberger said. “And you also have to have faith and trust in yourself and your receiver.”
Sunday’s game will mark Roethlisberger’s first time facing Peters. The Chiefs beat the Steelers 23-13 last October, but Roethlisberger missed the game with a knee injury.
This time, however, he’ll get a chance to see Peters’ skills first-hand. And he’ll get a better look at whether Peters is somehow baiting quarterbacks into making these throws, or not.
“I’d love for you to ask him and tell me his answer — it’s hard to tell,” Roethlisberger said with a laugh. “He’s reading routes ... now is he guessing, does he know, I don’t really know. But whatever he’s doing, he’s pretty successful with it.”