It’s a formula we’ve seen before. The Kansas City Chiefs start slow in a playoff game, turning over the ball and falling behind. Then quarterback Patrick Mahomes steps up and starts carving them up.
Iniside Arrowhead Stadium, it felt like the game was over once wide receiver Byron Pringle scored the Chiefs’ second touchdown. Whether it was because of the Chiefs’ defense or the sad end to a storied quarterback’s career, the Steelers just didn’t look like they were going to be able to keep pace — much less come from behind.
Here are a few of the standouts we noticed during Kansas City’s first win of the postseason.
(Author’s note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.)
Jerick McKinnon: With Darrel Williams ailing and Clyde Edwards-Helaire inactive, we thought he might see more opportunities for the veteran running back — but few saw McKinnon’s electric 142-yard performance coming. He continued what he started in Week 18, playing a high-energy, high-speed brand of football — similar to Damien Williams’ postseason performances in 2019. If he can keep this going, the Kansas City offense is going to be a problem for the rest of their playoff opponents.
Travis Kelce: It was another epic performance from the tight end, ending with 108 receiving yards that included a huge 48-yard touchdown catch and even a touchdown pass of his own. Running free in the Steelers’ secondary — beating corners and safeties all night long — Kelce made it look easy. If there were concerns about his health or productivity heading into the postseason, it’s safe to say he’s answered them.
Patrick Mahomes: All five of his passing touchdowns came within a 10 1/2-minute span in which he showed the creativity, arm strength, accuracy and ridiculous playmaking ability that set the league on fire a couple of years ago. The big plays were back, with five receivers logging plays of 20 or more receiving yards. Once he got going, there was no stopping Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense.
Demarcus Robinson: Another week — and another stock down entry turns in a great performance. Robinson stepped up with four catches for 76 yards — and even recovered an onside kick to help close out the game. He still struck fear into the hearts of Chiefs fans with the way he palmed the football away from his body — but this time he held on, ending up with a solid game.
Byron Pringle: On a day where Mahomes throws for over 400 yards and five touchdowns, there will be plenty of credit available for his receivers. Pringle deserves some recognition for his two-touchdown performance (one each from Mahomes and Kelce) and for continuing to help move the chains like a No. 2 wide receiver.
L’Jarius Sneed: His interception was called back due to a questionable penalty, but that didn’t stop Sneed from celebrating. Kansas City’s best cornerback was a force on Sunday night, leading the team in tackles and showing up all over the field to help frustrate Ben Roethlisberger.
Mike Danna and Tershawn Wharton: We have been talking a lot about the team’s role players — guys who can step up to make impact plays to complement the team’s stars during the playoffs. Danna and Wharton were the only Kansas City defenders to sack Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Wharton nearly had an interception, too. Their contributions made a huge difference during what ended up being a really good day for the defense.
Darrel Williams: Given his toe injury, there was a question about whether Williams would be healthy enough to play. He dressed for the game, but had only one touch — one that ended very poorly. Taking a Wildcat handoff from Mecole Hardman, Williams fumbled the exchange, picked it up and tried to keep running with it — but then fumbled a second time, allowing the Steelers to scoop it up and score the game’s first touchdown. From there on, Williams wasn’t part of the Kansas City offense. It could have been because of his injury or McKinnon’s effectiveness — or it could be that the play put him in the doghouse for the night. Either way — with Edwards-Helaire coming back soon — Williams’ role for the rest of the postseason may be in question. One play can change a lot.
Andrew Wylie and Orlando Brown, Jr.: It didn’t hurt the team too much, but Kansas City’s offensive tackles needed all the help they could get against T.J. Watt and his teammates on Sunday night. The Chiefs had drawn up double teams, chip blocks and designed rollouts to keep Watt from wrecking the game. He still had a sack, three quarterback hits and a fumble return for a score. Alex Highsmith was also feasting, quickly beating Brown for a sack and some pressures of his own. We have to credit the Chiefs’ offense for working around it, but let’s hope the offensive tackles aren’t an issue that comes back to bite the Chiefs in this postseason.