The key plays, stats and grades from the Kansas City Chiefs’ 18-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Player of the game: Steelers kicker Chris Boswell won the game for his team, kicking an NFL playoff-record six field goals in the victory.
Reason to hope: The Chiefs took a step forward by winning the AFC West for the first time since 2010, and they have several talented, young players who are under contract for the next several years. Provided the foundation remains in place — and that includes coaches and front-office personnel — the Chiefs are primed to be competitive for a long time.
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Reason to mope: Coming up short of the AFC Championship Game is certainly a disappointment, especially after reaching this stage last year.
Looking ahead: The Chiefs have an interesting offseason ahead. Eric Berry and Dontari Poe are free agents, and other teams will understandably try to poach the front office and coaching staff of an organization that has gone 43-21 the last four seasons.
Rushing offense: The Steelers ranked 13th in the league in rushing defense (100 yards per game) and the Chiefs finished Sunday’s game with 61 yards in 14 carries, an average of 4.4 yards per carry. The Chiefs only attempted four rushes for 20 yards by halftime against a defense that can be run on a bit, and to the naked eye, they failed to get the job done multiple times against even boxes. There were times the Steelers actively tried to take away the run, but the overall yardage total was unacceptable.
Passing offense: The Steelers ranked 16th in passing defense (242.6 per game) and the Chiefs finished with a mere 172 yards, with Alex Smith completing 20 of 34 passes. Smith completed 10 of 16 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown by halftime, but that included an interception that came off a floater he unleashed while being sacked. He did throw a touchdown later in the game, but while he was only sacked once, he was harassed plenty of other times. Eric Fisher’s hold late in the fourth quarter that negated a game-tying two-point conversion was brutal. Not even close to being good enough against a team that can be thrown on.
Rushing defense: The Steelers ranked 14th in the league in rushing (110 yards per game) during the regular season, and finished Sunday’s game with 171 yards in 34 carries. Le’Veon Bell ran for 170 yards in 30 carries, and he had 101 yards by halftime as the Chiefs elected to give them even boxes, presumably in an effort to prevent big passing plays and play bend, but don’t break. The strategy was sound, but it requires more offensive points than they scored. But I can’t give a “C” grade after a team rushes for 5 yards per carry. The Chiefs’ interior run defense needs to improve if they want to go further next season.
Passing defense: The Steelers ranked fifth in passing (262.2 yards per game) during the regular season, and finished Sunday’s contest with 224 yards. Ben Roethlisberger was 20 of 31 for 224 yards and an interception. Roethlisberger had 170 yards by halftime but was only 14 of 23 passing as the Chiefs managed to come up with some big third-down stops in the red zone. The passing defense was solid, preventing big plays for the most part. Roethlisberger converted a clutch third down late, but overall, this wasn’t the problem.
Special teams: The Chiefs didn’t get much going in the first half in this area as the Steelers successfully corralled Tyreek Hill and kicked four field goals. Dustin Colquitt dropped a punt that was downed at the Steelers’ 2, and Cairo Santos converted his only field-goal attempt. Though Steelers kicker Chris Boswell set a playoff record wih six field goals, it’s difficult to ask for a blocked kick; those are so rare.
Coaching: The Steelers racked up a ton of yards (389), which was to be expected, considering it was always going to be tough for the Chiefs’ middling run defense to silence Bell with linebacker Derrick Johnson out. The key was forcing field goals in the red zone, and they did that successfully. That game plan was sound. Coach Andy Reid had a nice offensive game plan on the first drive, but the combination of the Steelers’ adjustments – and two turnovers – short-circuited the Chiefs’ first-half offense. The Chiefs simply didn’t execute well enough offensively to win, and while that falls on Reid, there were no glaring mistakes. The players needed to execute better against a battle-tested team like Pittsburgh, which is equipped to go into New England and win this week, but ultimately the responsibility falls on Reid, and he accepts that. Since they lost at home after a first-round bye, it’s impossible to give a passing grade here.