Put all that smoke-and-mirrors, misdirection-shovel pass stuff aside. Look past the young stud quarterback with the big arm made for highlight reels. In the fourth quarter of the season opener, the Chiefs’ offense stalled and left the defense largely hung out to dry. They didn’t pay for it, but they didn’t forget it.
Against a Pittsburgh Steelers team with an opposing offense on a roll behind a quarterback about as good as anybody in the league at making plays, and in a stadium where the Steelers had only lost two previous home openers, the Chiefs’ offensive line “manned up,” to use tight end Travis Kelce’s words.
“Absolutely, it was a mentality thing,” center Mitch Morse said of the fourth quarter. “We knew the onus was on us to give the defense the best opportunity. In a perfect world, we should’ve kept it the whole time. But Dustin (Colquitt) took a shot for us, and we were able to close out the game.”
The Chiefs won 42-37 in a game that at times appeared destined to finish as first-to-50-points-wins shootout at Heinz Field.
Morse referenced Colquitt drawing a roughing-the-punter penalty as the Chiefs punted the ball away with 12 seconds remaining in the game. The penalty gave the ball back to the Chiefs and allowed them to run out the clock without giving Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers a chance for last-second heroics.
The Steelers actually outscored the Chiefs 9-7 in the fourth quarter, but the Chiefs did something they failed to do the previous week against the Los Angeles Chargers, when they ran just 12 plays and gained a paltry four yards in the final period. That lack of offense forced the Chiefs’ defense onto the field for 29 plays and nearly allowed the Chargers to climb back into the game.
This time, the Chiefs controlled the ball and the clock enough to keep their defense from getting run into the ground.
“That was the first thing Coach (Andy) Reid said when he came into the team meeting room on Tuesday: We’ve got to finish games on both sides of the ball,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “He was saying how we had four yards the week before and they had 200. In order to have success in this league against great teams — and that was a really good team — you have to be able to finish in the fourth quarter.”
The Chiefs rushed for 40 of their 127 yards and 10 of their 25 rushing attempts in the fourth quarter against the Steelers. They gained an average of 4.0 yards per clip in the final frame, and they also held the ball for 7 minutes, 42 seconds and converted five first downs in the quarter.
“You always want to finish with the ball and get into the three to four minute run game and do some work,” right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. “Especially last week, the offensive line didn’t do quite a good job of finishing against the Chargers and gave them the ball back a couple times. We really took that upon ourselves this past week and tried to make that a goal.”
The Chiefs made no secret of their intentions in the closing minutes as they protected the lead. The team quickly becoming known for its young quarterback and arsenal of weapons in the passing game lined up with two tight ends and a fullback and ran the ball right at the Steelers.
The same Steelers known for bullying opponents in general, and the Chiefs in particular.
“We knew last week wasn’t good enough in the fourth quarter, especially when we needed to be to keep the defense off the field and keep the ball and finish the way we want,” fullback Anthony Sherman said.
“We just went back and watched the film and just realized that the fourth quarter is going to be our quarter from here on out. So we need to make sure we can run the ball when everyone else knows that.”