Pittsburgh won a playoff game without reaching the end zone, holding on for a remarkable 18-16 win over Kansas City on the back of Le’Veon Bell and the leg of Chris Boswell.
The Steelers moved the ball at will against the Kansas City defense, but when it mattered most — in the red zone — Pittsburgh couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone. Six scoring drives for Pittsburgh ended in field goals, as the Steelers settled for just 18 points despite 389 yards of offense.
The Chiefs continued to hang around all game even with an embarrassingly anemic offense for three quarters. Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith had less than 80 yards passing in the first half, as the defense stifled the Chiefs the entire game. Smith totaled just 110 yards passing through three quarters, thanks to some ill-timed drops by his receivers, while the Chiefs rushed for 46 yards, 115 less than Bell as both teams headed to the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs came alive in the fourth a bit, marching down the field on Pittsburgh with the help of a personal foul penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit that gave the Chiefs life. But after scoring a touchdown to cut the lead to 18-16, Kansas City was flagged for a hold on James Harrison, negating a successful two-point conversion to force a re-try that, predictably, failed.
Andy Reid’s horrific clock management came back to haunt the Chiefs as well, as they were forced to blow their second timeout on a 4th-and-2 just before scoring the late touchdown, leaving Kansas City with just one timeout and the two minute warning. Still, Reid elected to kick deep with under 2:50 to play.
The Steelers nearly muffed the kickoff, and took over at their own five yard line with 2:38 to play. An on 3rd-and-4 with two minutes to play, the Steelers hit Antonio Brown for the game-securing first down.
Bell continued his incomprehensibly fantastic second half of the season, rushing 30 times for a Steelers-record 170 yards in the game. In two playoff games this season, Bell has rushed for 337 yards.
“Those guys up front did a great job,” Bell told NBC’s Michele Tafoya after the game. “You’ve got to give credit to the offensive line. Obviously Ben put us in the right plays, the coaches put a lot of trust in me to get the job done and it’s just me running hard. I just picked my spots where I could run hard.”
The Steelers followed their trusted formula of giving the ball to Bell, getting timely plays from Brown and hoping Roethlisberger didn’t kill the team on the road. Brown was relatively quiet on Sunday night until his game-securing catch, nabbing six balls for 108 of Roethlisberger’s 224 yards on the game. Jesse James also caught five balls, for 83 yards.
The defense was fantastic too, stifling Alex Smith and the Kansas City receivers all night. And Chris Boswell — not exactly one of the three Killer Bs, but an honorary one on Sunday — scored all the points, hitting a playoff record six field goals.
“Personally, record or no record, as long as we walked out of this stadium with a win and onto the next round is all that really matters to me,” Boswell told Tafoya on the field after the game. “It was just about doing my job. Come out here and put it through the yellow pipes. Don’t think too much.”
When asked if he wanted to be part of the Killer Bs now, Boswell joked he didn’t even belong in the picture. For one night, at least, he sure did.
Pittsburgh is now 36-23 all-time in the playoffs, an NFL record, and will travel to New England next week for the chance to go back to the Super Bowl for the third time under Mike Tomlin. The winner of this year’s AFC Championship will make their ninth trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history, and NFL record. There’s a lot on the line next week. The Steelers are probably going to need to score a touchdown in that one.