Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs were able to move the ball at will while not taking too many chances downfield. With Travis Kelce out, Mahomes completed passes to nine different teammates while keeping Pittsburgh’s defense on its heels. Mahomes’ passing was complemented by an effective rushing attack that was led by Darrel Williams, Derrick Gore and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Defensively, the Chiefs quickly made the Steelers offense one-dimensional by shutting down Najee Harris and the running game. They also came up with the game’s first turnover on Charvarius Ward’s second-quarter interception of Ben Roethlisberger that set up Mahomes’ five-yard touchdown pass to Byron Pringle that made it a 14-0 game.
Rumors of the Chiefs’ demise were greatly exaggerated. Kansas City is firing on all cylinders and maintained its speed Sunday even without Travis Kelce, racking up 30 points and over 375 yards of offense in a lopsided victory Sunday. Patrick Mahomes turned to Byron Pringle to replace some of Kelce’s production, connecting with the receiver twice for touchdowns. Derrick Gore replaced Clyde Edwards-Helaire with contributions in the running and passing games, and Mecole Hardman even chipped in with a touchdown. Defensively, the Chiefs continue to roll, stifling Pittsburgh’s offense while enjoying three takeaways. The Chiefs are right back where they were a year ago and don’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
2) Will anyone catch the Chiefs for the No. 1 seed in the AFC?
No. Kansas City has won eight in a row and is playing with tremendous confidence and efficiency. Many will focus on the offense coming around after early-season struggles — the Chiefs have scored 34 or more in four of the last six — but the key is the defense, which has held all but one opponent to 17 points or less during the streak. The Chiefs close at Cincinnati and Denver, but it’s hard to see either beating them at this point, particularly with Kansas City knowing it would lose a tiebreaker with Tennessee for the top spot based on its earlier loss to the Titans.
What to know: As long as Patrick Mahomes is in the lineup, the Chiefs have a chance. They blew out the Steelers without Travis Kelce, who is on the COVID-19 list. Tyreek Hill played, though he didn’t practice all week. No matter. The Chiefs dominated as they wrapped up their sixth straight AFC West title while winning their eighth straight game. When Mahomes is on, as he was against the Steelers, the Chiefs can beat a playoff-contending opponent with their lesser receivers playing a starring role. — Adam Teicher
This isn’t a matter of coaching, because Pittsburgh has one of the best in the business in Mike Tomlin. It’s a combination of factors, from Roethlisberger’s eroding skills to a limited offensive line to a defense that is no longer strong enough to compensate for issues on the other side of the ball.
“It’s just execution,” said Steelers running back Najee Harris when asked about his team’s slow starts. “It would be kind of dumb to blame it on everything else other than us. It’s about time we point at ourselves instead of other X-factors. It’s something we have to get together as a team. It doesn’t have to do with anybody else, but we have to find a way to execute.”
Getting Pressure on the Quarterback
Whether it was by design or execution, the Steelers did not get pressure on Patrick Mahomes very much on Sunday. While they did get credited with two sacks, they only had three quarterback hits on more than 30 drop backs. On one touchdown, Mahomes had more than seven seconds in the pocket to sit back and find a receiver.
I’m not trying to call out a specific position group, but this is calling out a specific position group. The pass blocking wasn’t terrible all of the time, but when Ben Roethlisberger is trying to run a fake and gets smashed because nobody touched an interior defensive lineman, it’s just bad. And in the first half, when the Chiefs weren’t just sitting back on defense, there was often nowhere for Najee Harris to run.
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“We wanted to hang three banners this year,” coach Bruce Arians said. “We don’t have one of those division banners up there for a long time. It feels great. This is what we focused on to win our division. Our guys did it today. Can’t be more prouder of the group that played today.”
Injures forced them to be without Pro Bowl wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and running back Leonard Fournette, who comprised nearly 60% of their scoring offense. On defense, they were without outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul, inside linebacker Lavonte David and safety Antoine Winfield Jr.
Why the Cowboys won
They turned a rematch with a division rival into what can only be described as a snuff film. This was euthanasia in all three phases of football, and Washington went on to see their playoff hopes buried in spectacular fashion at the hands of the Cowboys. Prescott set the stadium on fire with 320 passing yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, a 142.6 passer rating and 21 rushing yards on four attempts in the first half alone, and one of his touchdowns went to Terence Steele, his starting left tackle in the absence of All-Pro Tyron Smith. Add that to two interceptions, three sacks and a defensive touchdown by DeMarcus Lawrence in the first half, and it all led to a 42-7 shellacking before the third quarter ever got underway.
The 32-year-old quarterback doesn’t know what the future holds for him with the Panthers (5-10) officially eliminated from playoff contention after their fifth straight loss on Sunday, but he believes the organization has a future under the second-year head coach.
“Coach Rhule is a great coach,’’ Newton, who is not under contract for 2022, said after what could have been his last home game as a Panther. “Last thing I checked, Coach Rhule wasn’t out there playing.
“I just know we’re a good football team. It may not look like that all the time, but I know what I see in practice and I know what I’ve seen over these last couple of weeks — we’re a good football team and we can win. It’s just about us believing we can win and not taking the easy route and be able to grunt games away.’’
Houston (4-11) had 16 players miss the game on the COVID-19 list — including top receiver Brandin Cooks, center Justin Britt, defensive end Jonathan Greenard and kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn — but managed to win consecutive games for the first time this season. The Texans beat Jacksonville last week.
Coach David Culley was impressed with the players who filled in for the missing starters.
“Those guys came in and they showed that they were ready to do what we needed to get done,” he said. “This team is so resilient. They’ve never really worried about what happens on the outside, all we’ve tried to do is just get better.”
Burkhead had TD runs of 25 yards and 1 yard as the Texans, who entered the game ranked last in yards rushing, ran for a season-high 189 yards. Rookie Davis Mills threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns.
“We played our most complete football game,” Culley said.
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Byron Pringle: For a while now, we’ve wanted the former K-State wideout to step up into becoming the team’s second or third receiver — and against Pittsburgh, he really took advantage of the opportunity. Pringle caught six of his seven targets for 75 yards and two touchdowns. He’s got the strong hands and run-after-the catch ability — and for a while now, it was great to see it all come together.
Charvarius Ward: The fourth-year cornerback faced a tough task against some talented Steelers receivers in a press-heavy game plan. He responded with a tackle for loss, a pass defended and a brilliant interception. Ward has put together a nice season.
Head coach Andy Reid didn’t overlook the greatness of Mahomes’ performance.
“This was one of his great games, and he only played two and a half quarters,” Reid emphasized to reporters in his post-game press conference. “The way he was seeing things, and handling himself out there against one of the best pass defenses in the NFL — my hat goes off to him; he never flinched. He went in, got work done during the week with the receivers that stepped in. We were confident that if we didn’t have Tyreek or Travis — either one of them — that we’d still be efficient.”
Not only did he miss Kelce, but he also wasn’t able to practice with wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who was taken off the Reserve/COVID list on Saturday. An entire week of preparation left Mahomes without the players he leans on the most, yet there were no signs of it impacting his play.
“In this league, you’re not going to have every one of your guys every single week — so guys have to step up,” Mahomes noted in his press conference following the win. “That’s why we’ve built the receiving room, the tight end room, the running back room the way we’ve built it... I’m just going to go through the reads, find the open guy — and we have a lot of good players on this team that are going to make plays happen.”
A tweet to make you think
The only logical conclusion we can make is that @tkelce has been holding this offense back. I’d try to get a conditional 6th or 7th round pick for him this offseason and build around @B_Bell10 and Noah Gray— Mitchell Schwartz (@MitchSchwartz71) December 26, 2021