Steelers head to AFC championship
Pittsburgh holds off K.C. 18-16
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Pittsburgh Steelers did not spend much time in the end zone at Arrowhead Stadium in Sunday night's AFC divisional round game against the Kansas City Chiefs. In fact, it was the home team that scored the game's only touchdowns.
But the Steelers had the strong right leg of kicker Chris Boswell, along with the athletic limbs of running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown, and it was enough to beat the Chiefs, 18-16.
The victory sends the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game next Sunday against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. ET at Gillette Stadium.
Boswell made all six of his field goal attempts, while the Steelers' offense produced a lot of yards, but not a single touchdown. Overall the Steelers had 389 yards on offense, with Bell running for 170 yards and Brown picking up 108 receiving yards.
It will be the 16th time the Steelers have advanced to the AFC Championship Game. They won eight of the previous 15 games, including their most recent appearance in the 2010 season when they beat the New York Jets 24-19 at Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh faced New England twice before in the title game (2001, 2004), losing both times at Heinz Field. Overall they are 2-2 on the road in the AFC's deciding game. This season, the teams met on Oct. 23 in Pittsburgh, with the Patriots grabbing a 27-16 victory.
While the Kansas City defense could not handle Bell and Brown, the Chiefs' offense was out of synch and unable to produce any touchdown opportunities - save their first and last possessions in the game.
Quarterback Alex Smith connected with wide receiver Albert Wilson on a 5-yard pass nine minutes into the game. The Chiefs picked up the game's second touchdown with just 2 minutes, 43 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, when running back Spencer Ware scored on a 1-yard run. They went for two points after the TD, and Smith completed a successful pass to tight end Demetrius Harris. But Kansas City left tackle Eric Fisher was called for holding, wiping out the tying score. On their next attempt, Smith's pass sailed incomplete through the end zone. Their only other points came when kicker Cairo Santos made a 48-yard field goal with 10 seconds to play in the third quarter.
Boswell connected from 22, 38, 36, 45, 43 and 43 yards. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continually led the offense down the field, but could not crack the K.C. end zone. On five different possessions, Pittsburgh moved to the K.C. 20-yard line or closer. The Steelers kicked field goals on four of those, losing another when the Chiefs intercepted a deflected pass in the end zone.
Pittsburgh had the game's first possession and moved the ball briskly down the field but stalled in the scoring zone and the Kansas City defense held them to a 22-yard field goal from Boswell.
When the Chiefs offense got its first crack at the ball, they started in great field position thanks to the Steelers special teams. So concerned was Pittsburgh about K.C. returner Tyreek Hill, that Boswell dribbled a kick down to the 20-yard line. The ball was picked up by tight end Demetrius Harris and his 25-yard return gave KC a drive start at their 45-yard line. It was six plays later when Smith found wide receiver Albert Wilson in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown pass. The PAT kick gave the Chiefs a 7-3 lead.
After that, both offenses struggled to put points on the board. The Steelers added field goals of 38 and 36 yards, as their drives kept stalling out against the Chiefs defense. Kansas City's offense struggled to stay on the field, picking up just one more first down in the initial quarter. Smith was hit on the pass rush from Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree early in the second quarter, and his pass popped into the air and was grabbed by linebacker Ryan Shazier.
The Steelers worked it down the field and had first-and-goal at the K.C. 5-yard line, but Roethlisberger's pass was tipped by linebacker Frank Zombo and safety Eric Berry grabbed the interception in the end zone, snuffing another Pittsburgh scoring chance.
Just before halftime, the Steelers took one more crack at the end zone, but settled for a 45-yard field goal from Boswell and a 12-7 lead. The Chiefs tried to put something together with less than a minute to play, but running back Charcandrick West lost a fumble and Pittsburgh recovered. But the Steelers had just three seconds remaining and walked off the field with that five-point intermission lead.
NOTES: The change of kickoff time made by the NFL was a first in the league's postseason history. ... Sunday's game came 50 years to the date of the first championship game that would eventually be named the Super Bowl. On Jan.15, 1967, Green Bay beat Kansas City 35-10 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. ... NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was in the house for the game. ... At the opening kickoff, the Steelers had just two of their 46 available players appearing in their first postseason game. The Chiefs had 16 first-timers active.