Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 36, Pittsburgh Steelers 10
Offense (Talon Graff)
Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are two of the biggest offensive stars in the NFL — let alone on the Chiefs. So when news broke that both would potentially be out for the Week 16 matchup with the Steelers, the tension started to mount, How would the Kansas City offense look without the two of them on the field? Luckily, Hill was able to play — but Kelce missed the game.
In Kelce’s absence, plenty of depth players stepped up to make up for his production.
The running backs stepped up as a unit. Clyde Edwards-Helaire scored another ‘couch-jumper’ touchdown in the red zone. In the first half, Edwards had looked DOA when he was engulfed by two Pittsburgh defenders behind the line of scrimmage — but he was able to Houdini his way out and find a hole to the end zone. But unfortunately, he suffered a collarbone injury during the third quarter and was unable to return.
After taking over as the primary back, Darrel Williams looked durable — as usual — but it was Derrick Gore who put in a great day at the office. With such a commanding lead, play-calling shifted to the ground attack — and Gore received plenty of opportunities. More importantly, he capitalized on those touches.
Wide receiver Byron Pringle presented Chiefs Kingdom with a thoughtful (and well-timed) Christmas gift, putting together one of the best games of his career — and that was just in the first three quarters. Gore was actually the team’s second-leading receiver with 61 yards on three catches, while Mecole Hardman added a spiffy touchdown catch-and-run. While Tyreek Hill did play, he only had two catches for 19 yards; the preparations made while he was away from the team paid off, so he was able to take it easy.
Without Kelce, the tight ends were quiet; Blake Bell and Noah Gray were used more often in the running game.
The offensive line gave up two sacks to a formidable Steelers’ pass rush — one that is usually led by T.J. Watt. While the league’s premier edge rusher was not 100% — he was playing with cracked ribs — his teammates were still able to bring quarterback Patrick Mahomes down twice: once by Alex Highsmith — who gave Orlando Brown Jr. trouble on a few reps — and once more by Cameron Heyward. But there were also reps where it seemed Mahomes had time to cycle through his reads twice. So overall, it was a solid performance in pass protection. In the running game, multiple power runs were called — and that is where the line shined most, opening big holes for the running backs to hit.
Lately, Mahomes has done a much better job in taking the short and intermediate throws instead of deep shots that aren't really open. We saw that again on Sunday, as Mahomes was able to get the ball out of his hands quickly to negate the Pittsburgh pass rush. Thanks to a big lead, Mahomes didn’t have to do much in the second half — and for the second time this season, Chad Henne was able to get some late-game snaps. Even with a large number of rushing attempts — and his backup closing out the game — Mahomes still threw for 258 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Chiefs sent a message to the rest of the league: even without their two biggest weapons, the team can still do big things. It wasn’t an offensive explosion by any means — but seeing the offense look so comfortable while making plays with lesser-known players was gratifying to see.
Offensive Player of the Game: wide receiver Byron Pringle
The coaching staff clearly approached this game with the idea they would be without Hill and Kelce; the rest of the soldiers were mentally prepared to go into battle without their two on-field colonels. Pringle has flashed in the past — but on Sunday, he was the brightest star out there, leading the Chiefs with six catches for 75 yards and two touchdown catches.
Defense (Bryan Stewart)
If you aren’t yet viewing Chiefs defense as one of the NFL’s top 5, you’re late to the party.
With star players Chris Jones, L’Jarius Sneed and Willie Gay Jr. all back in the fold after missing last week’s game, the defense was once again dominant against the Steelers — so much so that in conjunction with the team’s great offensive output, they were able to rest key contributors late in the game.
During the fourth quarter, respected leader Tyrann Mathieu did leave the game with what is being called a quad injury — and in the coming hours, that is a big thing to watch. When the defense is set and healthy, they are as good as anyone in the league. A tough injury here or there could really change things in a bad way.
This season, the Steelers’ offense has never been accused of being a world-beater — but once again, the Kansas City defense did exactly what it is supposed to do against such a team: dominate it. The first half was a shutout performance — and the second half wasn’t much better for the Steelers; they mustered only 10 points.
Very early on, it was evident that the Steelers were in danger; their offensive line really struggled to block the Chiefs’ defensive line. In particular, defensive ends Frank Clark and Melvin Ingram both jumped off the screen, stressing Pittsburgh’s offensive tackles with consistent pressure.
With such a lopsided score in the second half, the intensity ramped down tremendously — but even then, it was great to see defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton excelling in his ideal role as an interior pass rusher, forcing a late sack and fumble from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
This was probably the final time Roethlisberger will play the Chiefs. He leaves Kansas City with a sour taste in his mouth: had averaged just 4.5 yards per pass attempt. From start to finish, the Chiefs’ defense smothered Roethlisberger and his surrounding cast.
Defensive Player of the Game: defensive end Frank Clark
In a game like where we saw good contributions from so many players, it’s hard to pick the standout player — but early in the game, Clark was the tone-setter. The best version of himself, he was logging consistent pressure off the left side of the Pittsburgh offensive line — including a drive-ending sack. If Clark can play this way for the rest of the season, it will pay major dividends in the Chiefs’ pursuit of another world title.