“During this particular course of the journey, you have an opportunity to learn about yourself in terms of how you respond to adversity.” – Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin after last week’s 34-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
What I think we all learned is, that in the words of the late Minnesota Vikings head coach Dennis Green, “the Steelers are who we though they were” when many predicted they would have the most explosive offense in the NFL and earn a trip to the Super Bowl 51 in Houston this coming February.
Just like last week’s first quarter set the horrific tone for the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, this week’s first quarter was a complete 180 in the Steelers favor. Pittsburgh got out to a 22 point lead thanks to the much maligned defense creating 2 first quarter turnovers (1 fumble, 1 interception), that led to 15 points, while also forcing Kansas City to punt 3 times. That is why I have to give a game ball to defensive coordinator Keith Butler. I didn’t see that “bend, but don’t break” mentality Sunday night when the game still mattered. Butler’s unit pressure the quarterback throughout the night and held the Chiefs without a point for 49:49. For the game, they sacked Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith 3 times, all by defensive end Cam Heyward. The defense only had 1 sack coming into the game. Kansas City gained 357 yards (270 passing, 87 rushing) for the game. But, through 3 quarters when the dogs were still hunting, it was 25 rushing yards and 228 passing yards.
My other game ball goes to offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Haley countered the Chiefs aggressive defensive by being aggressive himself attacking them down field, especially last season’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, Marcus Peters, who currently leads the league in interceptions (4). On the Steelers 1st offensive play of the game, Ben Roethlisberger went up top to Sammie Coates for a 47 yard gain, his 5th catch of over 40 yards already this season. “Lethal Weapon 7” was 7 of 9 for 135 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first 15. At one point he had thrown 3 consecutive passes for touchdowns. Haley and the offensive stayed aggressive the rest of the game. At the half Roethlisberger was 14 of 17 for 210 yards and 4 touchdowns and finished the night 22 of 27 for 300 yards and 5 touchdowns. Roethlisberger looked inspired to top Atlanta Falcons quarterback, and reigning NFL Player of the Month, Matt Ryan’s big day (503 passing yds, 4 TDs).
I can’t leave out Le’Veon Bell who returned to the field in explosive fashion running for 144 yards on 18 carries, for the most in the NFL this weekend, while also adding 34 receiving yards on 5 catches. The team got much needed “Juice” scoring 43 points while gaining 436 total yards (287 passing, 149 rushing).
My last game ball goes to Cam Heyward who had 3 sacks to go along with 6 tackles (6 solo). He also batted the pass that was intercepted and returned by linebacker Jarvis Jones setting the Steelers offense up inside Chiefs 5 yard line.
The redemption wasn’t just about the loss last Sunday to the Eagles. Last season the Chiefs dominated the Steelers in Arrowhead Stadium (23-13) without Roethlisberger, who was nursing a knee injury. Beating a 2015 playoff team this way is the type of deodorant Pittsburgh needed to wash away the stink of getting housed by a rookie QB, from division I-AA, who was expected to redshirt this season. I’m not going to overreact and say this game was a must win, but coming off last week’s beatdown, the Steelers played with a hint of desperation and dare I say NEEDED this win if they truly want to be the Super Bowl contenders they and many believe they are. They couldn’t finish the first quarter of the season, 2-2 and expect to keep up with the Denver Broncos (4-0), New England Patriots (3-1), and the Baltimore Ravens (3-1) for a chance at home field advantage in the playoffs and the AFC North title.
Next up for the Steelers, the New York Jets (2-2) at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger has now won his last 4 starts against Kansas City. With his 31-yard touchdown in the 1st quarter (7:27) to Darius Heyward-Bey, he has now thrown a TD pass in 40 straight home games, the 2nd longest streak in NFL history. He also now has 5 straight home games with 3+ touchdown passes and, six times now he’s thrown 3+ TDs in a quarter, which is 5th most in NFL history and he surpassed the 300 passing yards mark for the 47th time in his career.