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Chiefs-Steelers rapid reaction: A Pittsburgh trouncing at Arrowhead — and Buffalo looms

Kansas City’s 42-21 win was impressive, but it will need to start faster against the Bills.

NFL: AFC Wild Card Playoffs-Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs ran a direct snap to Mecole Hardman, who handed it off to running back Darrel Williams, who had the ball knocked from his grip by Cameron Heyward. A player who always seems in the right place when things are working for Pittsburgh, T.J. Watt scooped the ball and ran 24 yards for the score.

7-0 Pittsburgh Steelers... and with the Chiefs offense having already punted three times and thrown the ball away on another drive, the night had the ambiance of one of those playoff games.

Enter Andy Reid. Enter Patrick Mahomes. And with Clyde Edwards-Healire down and Darrel Williams ailing, enter Jerick McKinnon.

After the Steelers’ touchdown, the Chiefs refocused. Mahomes got Tyreek Hill involved for a 20-yard reception. In a blowout like Sunday night’s game turned out to be, the critical play of the game comes early — and I thought it was Mahomes’ 23-yard first-and-15 scramble. The Chiefs weren’t about to punt for the fourth time in five drives. A couple of plays later, Reid turned Watt’s relentlessness against him; as he pursued Mahomes, the quarterback dished an underhand beauty right past him.

McKinnon’s score began a streak of six straight touchdown drives, and Mahomes finished 30 of 39 for 404 yards and five touchdowns. There is an NFL cliché that a touchdown can open the floodgates — and that is precisely what happened on Sunday night for the Chiefs. McKinnon started the party — and then Hill, Travis Kelce and Byron Pringle all had scores (Pringle actually scored twice).

The Chiefs had so much fun Sunday night that Nick Allegretti caught a touchdown pass. Kelce threw one.

As the offense owned the night, the defense picked up right where it left on from the last time Pittsburgh came to town three weeks ago. At this stage, the Steelers’ best weapon is running back Najee Harris, and the Chiefs defense held him to 29 rushing yards. Early-game drops by wide receiver Diontae Johnson disallowed the Steelers from keeping up — and once it was established that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would need to throw a lot to keep his team in the game, the defense settled in. Willie Gay Jr.’s forced fumble (picked up by Frank Clark) gave the Chiefs the short field they needed to make the score 35-7. And from that point forward, it was all she wrote — even despite a few garbage-time touchdowns.

After watching the Buffalo Bills annihilate the New England Patriots on Saturday night, I felt that coming into Sunday night’s game, Kansas City didn’t just have to win. It also had to make a similar statement: that the Chiefs are in another class — and that when their offense gets cooking, they can run over anybody in a similar fashion.

The bulldog Bills

As great a night as it was for Chiefs fans, there is one sore spot that stuck out. It took the Chiefs 15 minutes and a Watt touchdown to wake up — whereas the Bills’ show against the Patriots began at the opening kickoff. For Kansas City to accomplish its goals, a slow start against Buffalo is a non-option.

The Bills will come ready to score from the jump — and the Chiefs will need to be prepared to match. Sunday night’s second quarter to the fourth showed they’re capable of that type of performance. But Buffalo won’t punt seven times in a row to begin a game.

The Chiefs’ gauntlet to reach their third straight Super Bowl has begun.

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