Ben Roethlisberger throws for one of his five touchdown passes last night. (Steelers.com)
PITTSBURGH – Maybe it was a message from Hall of Famer Kevin Greene to the Steelers a few minutes before kickoff. Maybe it was an extremely pumped-up Ben Roethlisberger running animatedly out of the tunnel at Heinz Field.
Either way, it was over before it even started Sunday night.
Certainly it had to feel that way for the Kansas City Chiefs, the helpless victims in the Steelers’ inspired 43-14 win on Sunday night. The Steelers scored 22 points on them in the first quarter, the most Pittsburgh had scored in the opening 15 minutes in franchise history.
Whatever Greene said, the Steelers weren’t saying afterward, but Cam Heyward allowed that it had to deal with “having fun and kicking butt.”
Wide receiver Markus Wheaton said he noticed beforehand that Roethlisberger was unusually amped for Sunday’s game, possibly owing to a poor performance a week earlier in Philadelphia.
“You’ll see Ben in the locker room before games quiet and not talking to anybody and kind of to himself,” Wheaton said. “And then he’ll come out and go crazy and have a huge game.”
Well, the Steelers defense kicked butt -- in Greene’s words -- and Roethlisberger had a huge game. It was just like the Steelers, these Steelers of great expectations, are supposed to play.
In the grander scheme of things, the Steelers are now 3-1 after the first quarter of this season.
Clearly, they must like where they stand. That 3-1 record would also be the same record they were in 2005, 2008 and 2010. If you weren’t aware, those would also be the last three times Pittsburgh advanced to the Super Bowl.
Now, no one is about to crown the Steelers -- or anyone -- Super Bowl-bound after just four games, not after last week’s brutal loss in Philly anyway.
But Sunday night’s win over the Chiefs was further reminder of why the Steelers are considered by many to be a favorite. And it was a reminder of how they’ll need to play if they are to get there.
The team that won Sunday at Heinz Field isn’t going to lose many games, if at all.
“It’s the confidence you have to have if you’re a team that’s trying to get to the Super Bowl or make the playoffs,” said Coates. “We just have to play our game and don’t beat ourselves. We have to keep doing what we’ve got to do. We’re going to be a hard team to beat. We’ve got a great chance to keep winning.”
The Steelers, who scored just three points last week in Philadelphia, 27 short of their goal of 30 per game, scored 29 points against the Chiefs -- and that was just the first half.
In rainy conditions, Roethlisberger struggled again with his accuracy, only if you consider misfiring on just three of his first 21 passes to be struggling and two of those misses were on the Steelers’ first possession. Three of Roethlisberger’s first six completions went for scores.
He ended up throwing five TDs for 300 yards, completing 22 of 27 passes for a 152.5 rating.
Hell, Antonio Brown even wore cleats that matched the team’s color scheme and Wheaton held on to the one ball thrown his way. There’s really no room for complaining.
Oh, and lest we forget, Le’Veon Bell also made his much-anticipated return after serving his three-game suspension. Though the NFL’s best all-around running back wasn’t his dynamic best, he was plenty good and got better as he knocked off 11 months of rust, finishing with 144 yards on the ground and another 34 in the air. Perhaps most encouraging is that Todd Haley played his 11 best, including DeAngelo Williams. Bell was lined up everywhere: Split wide, in the slot and out of the backfield. He played with Williams in the backfield and without.
“If the division of labor yields what we got today, absolutely, I’m willing to take it every game,” Williams said.
But what should have Pittsburghers absolutely giddy this morning was the performance of the defense. The same unit which gave up 34 points to a rookie quarterback last week, which had just one sack and had given up 300-plus passing yards in each of the first three games was absolutely smothering.
Despite the absence of starting linebacker Ryan Shazier and safety Robert Golden, the Steelers limited Kansas City to two meaningless fourth-quarter touchdowns. Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith was under constant pressure the entire night. Cam Heyward, who had his longest sack drought in nearly two years, brought Smith down on just the fourth play from scrimmage to set the tone early. Heyward had three of the Steelers’ four sacks.
“When the defense has success it’s because the D-line does,” Heyward said. “I’m not just talking about just myself obviously.”
As a result of the pass rush, the pass defense -- which had been hemorrhaging 332.0 yards per game -- held Smith to just 287 yards, the fewest its surrendered this season.
When the Chiefs were able to make plays on Smith’s many screen passes, which weren’t many, they were tackled on the spot. The Steelers forced two early turnovers – a Stephon Tuitt fumble recovered by Ross Cockrell and a Jarvis Jones interception -- and converted them into points thanks to some short fields.
“Great defense, that’s what you want them to look like,” said Jones. “Create turnovers and put the offense behind the chains so that our offense can get the ball and put the points up that they did tonight.”
Jones may have played the best game of his career. Artie Burns showed why he was a first-round pick. Vince Williams was a beast with 15 tackles. Tuitt may have had his best game since the middle part of last season.
Get the point?
Better yet for the Steelers, they are 3-1, tied atop the AFC North and there is no reason to believe they can’t get on a roll with the 1-3 New York Jets and 1-3 Miami Dolphins on deck.
“3-1, first quarter of football, I think we can work with that,” said Wheaton. “We’re satisfied we with where we are. Definitely going to be a climb from here, but we’re prepared for it.”
Play like the Steelers did Sunday night and not many teams will beat them.