A hobbled but defensively stout Pittsburgh Steelers team (4-2) edged the Kansas City Chiefs, 19-13, in a battle at Arrowhead that handed K.C. its first loss of the season. Here’s what we learned:
1. The NFL universe can be a series of macabre events for a struggling quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger, who was still recovering from the worst game of his career last week against Jacksonville. But sometimes…sometimes on a third-and-2 with your team clinging to a slender lead against the best team in football, you buzz an ill-advised pass into double coverage and the cornerback with the best chance to make a play turns on the ball, has it bounce off his hands and into the arm of Antonio Brown. Then Brown takes the ball 51 yards for a score. It was Roethlisberger’s first touchdown pass since the second quarter of an Oct. 1 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
2. And even then, you need help from your fantastic defense. The Chiefs had a chance to win, down just six points on their final drive. Alex Smith got the ball past midfield before the league’s ultimate closer, the situationally used James Harrison, burned around tackle Eric Fisher and planted Alex Smith into the ground. The sack forced a fourth-and-18 and, eventually, the victory formation for Pittsburgh.
3. This was a stunning defensive effort by the Pittsburgh Steelers who, at the four-minute mark in the third quarter, had surrendered just 25 total yards of offense to the Chiefs. Had it not been for Kareem Hunt taking a desperation Smith pass and rugby sprinting through tackles on his way down the field at the end of the third quarter, that number might have stayed the same through the final whistle. Pittsburgh clamped down on a crucial fourth-and-goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter to end that Hunt drive. For the first time all season, Alex Smith looked human. He was constantly on the run from what seemed like a relentless stretch of free-rushing Steelers blitzers. Kansas City was forced to be a common, block-and-tackle NFL offense, which doesn’t suit their personnel much.
4. There are fleeting moments when it seems Roethlisberger is on the verge of getting his swagger back. An example? Starting from his own 1-yard line with 8:51 to go in the first half, Roethlisberger found Vance McDonaldmatched up with a linebacker and hit him for a gain of 26. A few snaps later on a third down, Roethlisberger squeezed a pass to rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster while taking a shot from a free blitzer. After the pass, he pointed at the Chiefs defender who bounced off him and looked to be smiling. This can’t be the same quarterback who openly questioned his ability a week prior after a five-interception game, can it? Pittsburgh has been dealing with this duplicity for six weeks now. Thank goodness for Le’Veon Bell.
5. While we wait for the Ben Roethlisberger game, why complain? Bell is playing the most beautiful football in the league right now. There was a 25-yard run in the third quarter — eventually negated by a holding penalty — where Bell was stuck deep in the backfield, pinned by defenders from four sides. He manages to burst through a thin sliver of land and glide downfield. Bell finished with 32 carries for 179 yards and a touchdown — plus another three catches.