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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Don Wright) PITTSBURGH
The Chiefs threw a scare into the Pittsburgh Steelers and their black-and-gold clad crowd on Sunday at Heinz Field.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, hit in the right knee by a leg whip from Chiefs defensive tackle Vance Walker, headed for the locker room shortly after tossing a 3-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown with 34 seconds left in the third quarter.
Backup Bruce Gradkowski began to warm up, and suddenly the Steelers’ grip on the Chiefs looked tenuous.
But by the time the Chiefs’ first drive of the fourth quarter ended, Roethlisberger returned and led a field-goal drive that finished off the Steelers’ 20-12 win.
The Steelers, 10-5, clinched their first playoff berth since 2011, after two 8-8 seasons.
“The doctors just wanted to check it out,” Roethlisberger said of his knee. “I knew that it just hurt, but I’m fine.”
Roethlisberger, who ranked second in the NFL in passing yards entering the game, completed 18 of 25 passes for 220 yards and one touchdown against the Chiefs, extending his franchise single-season passing record to 4,635 yards. He also set a franchise record for completions with 384, breaking his record of 375 set last year.
His two favorite targets were Brown, who caught seven passes for 72 yards, and tight end Heath Miller, who caught seven passes for 68 yards.
“I thought that was a good job by our coaching staff as a whole,” Roethlisberger said. “They saw there was going to be opportunities to get Heath the ball. Heath Miller is a playmaker … get him the ball, and he does the rest.”
Brown, the NFL leader in pass receptions and receiving yards, has caught at least five passes in 31 consecutive games, dating to week one of the 2013 season, an NFL record.
His 122 receptions and 1,570 yards are Steelers franchise records, and his 12th touchdown catch tied the club record for a single season.
And this is a franchise that boasts Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth and future Hall of Famer Hines Ward.
“Those guys who came to the program before me, those guys are legendary based upon the trophies,” Brown said of Pittsburgh’s six Super Bowl wins. “That’s what it’s all about. Their individual statistics are great. Those guys are legendary and remembered for setting the bar.”
Brown, whose father, Eddie, served as Wyandotte High School’s coach, was a sixth-round pick by the Steelers in 2010 and was a rookie understudy to Ward and Mike Wallace for the club that lost to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV.
Now, he’s eager to be the featured receiver for a Super Bowl team.
“Obviously, I do what I love with great teammates,” Brown said. “This program has a proud history of making the postseason and being legendary, and anytime we get the opportunity to reach the postseason and give ourselves a chance, it’s always a tremendous opportunity.”