AFC North
S/R Staff

AFC North

Labriola on the win over the Chiefs

Labriola on the win over the Chiefs
S/R Staff
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The book is titled, “How to Lie with Statistics,” and if author Darrell Huff was writing about yesterday’s AFC Divisional Round Game here matching the Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs, he likely would be choosing from these statistics:

and for the Steelers and Demetrius Harris for the Chiefs – had a longer return than Hill’s longest. , , , and were the guys credited with making the tackles for the kickoff coverage unit. And the Chiefs had no punt returns during the game because ’s only punt traveled 35 yards and sailed out of bounds.

Keeping the ball out of Hill’s hands was Berry’s primary concern, but had to worry about keeping his kickoffs away from Hill and also about shouldering the burden of scoring all of the Steelers points in the game. Boswell was 6-for-6 to set an NFL postseason record for most field goals in a game, and as it turned out the Steelers would need every one of them.

The defense, as already noted, came up with two takeaways – another interception by and a fumble recovery by – and that allowed the Steelers to finish plus-1 in turnover ratio against the team that led the NFL in that category during the regular season. had another sack, and he drew a holding penalty that forced the Chiefs into an unsuccessful do-over on their attempt at tying the game with a two-point conversion.

But it was after that failed two-point conversion attempt by Kansas City, with the Steelers’ lead trimmed to 18-16 and two-plus minutes remaining in the game when the offense delivered in a way that rendered all of those red zone failures moot.

The Steelers had to be ready for an onside kick attempt, but Cairo Santos’ kickoff went deep, and Justin Gilbert fielded it and lost 2 yards trying to return it without blocking, which meant the Steelers offense took the field looking at a first-and-10 from the 5-yard line. There was 2:38 to play. The Chiefs had one timeout, and the two-minute warning would stop the clock a second time. The Steelers needed a first down. They definitely needed a first down, because punting to Hill from their own end zone to a team whose kicker had made a 53-yard field goal this season – when three points ends your playoffs and sends you home – is not the high percentage move.

A run on first down gained minimal yardage but it did force the Chiefs to spend their final timeout. But it was second-and-8 with 2:32 left, and the two-minute warning would stop the clock one more time. Again, the Steelers needed a first down, and Mike Tomlin went about the work of getting one aggressively. Even if the Steelers were able to bleed 90 seconds off the clock with a couple of running plays, that still would leave Tyreek Hill and Alex Smith and Travis Kelce and Cairo Santos a little more than one minute to get into position for an attempt at a game-winning field goal. Tomlin’s preference in these situations always is to put the outcome on the shoulders of his own players.

to that point had completed 18-of-29, and it hadn’t been his best day by a lot of different measurements, but Tomlin didn’t blink in terms of the strategy he would employ. He needed his quarterback to make good decisions and be accurate with the ball, and his receivers to be where they were supposed to be and make the catches.

On second-and-8, caught a pass for 5 yards, which set up a third-and-3 from the 12-yard line at the two-minute warning. An incomplete pass here would have set up the Chiefs beautifully for a come-from-behind victory. A completed pass for a first down would have set up the Steelers in victory formation.

The coach was aggressive in his approach, and the quarterback held onto the ball to extend the play before making the perfect throw to his first-team All-Pro receiver. All of the elements that infuriated Steelers Nation last week late in the victory over the Dolphins in the Wild Card Game came together to deliver a victory in this Divisional Round Game.

“We called a play to get some crossing stuff, and they did a good job getting me out of the pocket, so I just try to keep the play alive,” said Roethlisberger. “I knew [] was coming across the field and I think [Justin] Houston dropped underneath him and AB went behind him. Really it was about letting him clear and just putting the ball on him and just let him make the play. I am sure that play will not make SportsCenter or make all of the highlights, but talk to the guys in that locker room and that was probably one of the biggest plays of the game.”

One of the biggest, or the biggest. That can be argued. But it was the play that stamped their ticket to next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game in Foxborough.

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