The boos tumbled from the mouths of nearly 64,000 black-and-gold clad fans sweating in the hot September sun at Heinz Field.
After watching their team claw back from a 21-0 first-quarter deficit, Steelers fans looked on in agony as the Chiefs’ boy wonder quarterback showed off his arsenal of offensive weapons in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a day away from turning 23, connected with Tyreek Hill for his sixth touchdown strike of the afternoon.
Not only did the score give the Chiefs a two-possession lead en route to the 42-37 win, it also tied Len Dawson’s 1964 franchise record for touchdowns in a game — the most given up by the Steelers since a 1991 meeting against Buffalo.
The late score gave Mahomes a total of 10 touchdown passes in his first two weeks as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, breaking the NFL record held jointly by Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Charles Johnson for most touchdown passes in the opening two weeks of a season.
Unlike the last two low-scoring affairs between the two teams, Sunday’s meeting deviated from the previous scripts — in large part thanks to Mahomes.
Mahomes finished the day with a sterling 154.8 passer rating, completing 23 of 28 passes for 326 yards and six touchdowns.
With an abysmal defense that gave up 21 points in the second quarter and 485 yards overall, Mahomes had to be that good to help the Chiefs beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh for the first time since 1986.
“He doesn’t see it as pressure,” Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley said. “He sees it as an opportunity, and he’s gone out there and he’s made the most of it.”
Mahomes opened up the first quarter by spreading the ball around, throwing three touchdowns to three different weapons: Conley, tight end Travis Kelce and running back Kareem Hunt.
The defense forced back-to-back three-and-outs and a missed 49-yard field goal by Pittsburgh, and the home crowd responded with jeers and boos.
And then, in the waning minutes of a quarter where the Chiefs looked unstoppable and the Steelers looked pedestrian, it all fell apart.
Catalyzed by Orlando Scandrick’s holding call on third-and-long late in the first quarter that wiped out a sack and defensive touchdown, the Chiefs’ good fortunes stagnated.
Instead of getting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (39 of 60, 452 yards, three TDs) off the field, the Chiefs (2-0) kept the Steelers’ march alive. It resulted in Pittsburgh’s first touchdown of the day.
Aided by the Chiefs’ poor tackling, failure to get pressure on Roethlisberger and knack for racking up penalties, the Steelers dominated the second quarter with three long touchdown drives. While the Steelers picked up their game, the Chiefs’ high-octane offense hit a couple bumps, leaving the field after three plays on its first drive of the second quarter and five on the second. Both times, the Chiefs’ offensive line was whistled for false starts on third down that made it impossible to convert.
By the end of the second quarter, the Steelers (0-1-1) completely wiped out the Chiefs’ massive advantage and tied the game at 21.
Mahomes got his team to regroup with a halftime speech, and then he went to work quickly in the third quarter, hitting Kelce for the pair’s second touchdown of the day on a 25-yard strike just two minutes into the period.
“He was leading that charge and talk,” Reid said of Mahomes at halftime. “He’s not shy when he’s around the guys at all. We knew we kind of shot ourselves in the foot in the couple of drives in first half with penalties. We felt if we could clean that up, we might be OK. … I didn’t sense any panic from anybody.”
The defense tried to shore up its side of the ball at halftime, too, making minor adjustments to tighten up the coverage. But the Chiefs still allowed the Steelers to respond with a 5 minute, 30 second scoring drive.
Frustration mounted when cornerback Steven Nelson intercepted Roethlisberger in the end zone during that drive, but the officials waved it off with a pass interference call. Upon hearing the officials’ ruling, Andy Reid threw his headset off in disgust. Two plays later, the Steelers evened the score yet again thanks to a one-yard run by James Conner.
“I was frustrated with our own penalties,” Reid said. “Then that one, I didn’t think he got him as it showed. The official made the right call.”
Mahomes went to work yet again, absolving the defense’s shortcomings with a four minute drive capped by a touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson. Then, he put more points on the board with his strike to Hill.
The Chiefs’ offense ran exactly as planned, spreading the ball among the assortment of threats assembled by the Chiefs’ brass. Mahomes threw touchdowns to five different targets and completed passes to seven. Both Kelce and Sammy Watkins had over 100 receiving yards.
“There’ll be games where teams come in and try and take away one or two guys, and that’s the good thing about this team, is that no one really cares about who is getting the shine,” Mahomes said. “Everybody just wants to win. … All those guys will take off and vice versa with everybody — we will try to spread the ball around to whoever is open.”
The touchdown to Hill gave the Chiefs a little breathing room, but not for long.
After tackling Hunt in the end zone for a safety, the Steelers carved up the Chiefs’ defense again on a three minute drive that ended with Roethlisberger diving head-first into the corner of the end zone.
Just like that, the boos of Heinz Field transformed to cheers as the Steelers’ Styx anthem blasted through the stadium.
But the Chiefs’ offense salted away the final minutes of the game to preserve a 2-0 start to the season, and just as quickly as they turned before, the cheers changed back to boos from Steelers fans as they flooded the exits.
“A young quarterback starting on the road, it’s difficult,” Conley said. “But he’s come in here, and he’s handled himself like a pro, and the Chiefs are 2-0. We’re thankful for that.”