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Chiefs vs. Steelers Instabreakdown: Mahomes shines in first Wild Card game

A slow start ends in familiar fashion — as Kansas City wins in a blowout.

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

Final Score: Kansas City Chiefs 42, Pittsburgh Steelers 21

Offense (Bryan Stewart)

It certainly wasn’t pretty at the start of the game, but the Chiefs’ offense got rolling in the second quarter of Sunday night’s Wild Card playoff matchup. It was eerily reminiscent of several games they played two seasons ago — when they last won the Super Bowl — starting slow, but flipping the switch to light up the scoreboard in what seemed like no time at all.

The Chiefs’ offense actually surrendered more points than they scored in the first quarter, as they were held to no scoring and gave up a fumble-return touchdown to Steelers’ pass rusher T.J. Watt. But after that, it was never the same. The Chiefs then scored touchdowns on six consecutive drives.

Patrick Mahomes finished the night 30-of-39 with 404 passing yards, five passing touchdowns, an interception and 29 rushing yards. It was a vintage Mahomes playoff performance, spreading the ball around to several playmakers with flair. Tight end Travis Kelce caught five passes for 108 receiving yards and a touchdown. Five other receivers eclipsed at least 37 yards — including Jerick McKinnon, Tyreek Hill, Byron Pringle, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman.

McKinnon’s arrival might have been the game’s biggest development. He is ready to roll as the Chiefs’ lead running back in the postseason.

McKinnon was an all-around playmaker for Kansas City, rushing for 61 yards on 12 carries and catching six passes for 81 receiving yards — one of which was a touchdown. That’s 142 yards of total offense — a game-changing output. Moving forward into the playoffs, McKinnon’s development arc is going to potentially be critical to the outcome of this Chiefs’ season. For good reason, his explosiveness reminds fans of Damien Williams — and on purpose or not, the coaching staff has unlocked this particular secret ingredient at the perfect time.

Offensive player of the game: quarterback Patrick Mahomes

As much as I love what McKinnon did on Sunday night, Mahomes made history.

That was the type of playoff performance we have become used to seeing from No. 15. If he continues along this trajectory, the odds are good that a month from now, Kansas City will find itself back in the Super Bowl.

Defense (Talon Graff)

The game got off to a slow start with a scoreless opening quarter. A T.J. Watt scoop-and-score made things look a little dicey — but the defense never wavered, giving the offense the time it needed to get all cylinders working. Every Pittsburgh drive in the first half ended in punts. In fact, five of the seven ended after three plays. The other two ended after five and six plays respectively.

The Steelers did find pay dirt after a long 10-play drive that covered 75 yards. It was the first time that Ben Roethlisberger and his offense had more than four consecutive minutes of possession time.

The biggest play of the game came from Willie Gay Jr., who slow-played Najee Harris in the open field — and after forcing Harris back inside, knocked the ball out. Frank Clark fell on the loose pigskin. It was the first fumble of Harris’ career — in the biggest game of the season.

The Kansas City pass rush was fine — but with the limited reps the Steelers took, there weren’t many early opportunities to get to the quarterback. Tershawn Wharton added some more highlights to his reel when he transported himself into the backfield with what can only be described as a Houdini-like magic act. He notched a sack — and while in zone coverage, also showed off his vertical leap when he nearly intercepted a pass. Mike Danna added a sack on the final Pittsburgh drive.

Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris is a young stud of a ball carrier — but Steve Spagnuolo’s unit was able to keep the rookie grounded, holding him to just 29 yards. The Chiefs’ defensive line — namely Chris Jones — was too much for the Steelers’ offensive line to handle. The front four consistently created backfield penetration, taking away lanes and forcing Harris to bounce fruitless runs to the outside.

The secondary was aided by a number of dropped passes — most notably by Diontae Johnson. But Charvarius Ward played most of the game lined up across from Chase Claypool, who had a tough time getting much going against the Kansas City cornerback. On the other hand, Mike Hughes had a much more difficult time making positive plays in Rashad Fenton’s absence. L’Jarius Sneed had an interception taken away due to a roughing-the-passer penalty — and late in the fourth quarter, had a second bounce off of his hands.

Defensive player of the game: linebacker Nick Bolton

On Sunday, Bolton continued his impressive rookie campaign. In his playoff debut, he and Sneed led the team in tackles. Bolton plays with fierce tenacity that helps explain the X-factor vibe he brings with him. Bolton just keeps impressing — and looks like he’ll be regarded as one of Brett Veach’s most valuable draft picks. And while we’re on the subject, Anthony Hitchens also deserves praise for how he has performed — and as the veteran of the group, he has also displayed admirable leadership to the young linebackers.