KANSAS CITY, Missouri — It’s not the type of performance that wins many games in the NFL playoffs. Going for 60 minutes without a touchdown generally leads to a sorrowful end to postseason hopes.
At least it did until Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium. The Pittsburgh Steelers did not score a touchdown, yet won the AFC divisional round game against the Kansas City Chiefs 18-16. Mike Tomlin’s team picked up 389 yards, allowed Kansas City just 227 yards, but could not reach the end zone. The point-producer was kicker Chris Boswell, who was six-for-six on field-goal attempts and that was enough to beat the Chiefs and continue the Steelers’ season.
“It was a tough game, a tough atmosphere,” said Tomlin. “We weren’t perfect tonight, but we were good enough.”
The victory sends the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game next Sunday against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:40 p.m. ET at Gillette Stadium.
Boswell connected on field goals of 22, 38, 36, 45, 43 and 43 yards. Offense was plentiful for the Steelers, as running back Le’Veon Bell ran for 170 yards on 30 carries and wide receiver Antonio Brown caught six passes for 108 yards.
“We kept them out of the end zone, which is a positive,” said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. “But we stalled there for a bit (on offense) and weren’t getting much. Early, we’ve got to do a better job early.”
It will be the 16th time the Steelers have advanced to the AFC Championship Game. They won eight of the previous 15 games, including their most recent appearance in the 2010 season, when they beat the New York Jets 24-19 at Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh faced New England twice before in the title game (2001, 2004), losing both times at Heinz Field. Overall, they are 2-2 on the road in the AFC’s deciding game. This season, the teams met on Oct. 23 in Pittsburgh, with the Patriots grabbing a 27-16 victory.
While the Kansas City defense could not stifle Bell and Brown, the Chiefs’ offense was out of synch and unable to produce any touchdown opportunities — save their first and last possessions in the game.
Quarterback Alex Smith connected with wide receiver Albert Wilson on a 5-yard pass nine minutes into the game, capping a six-play, 55-yard drive. “They went down the field on us in that first possession and the guys did not blink,” Tomlin said of his defense. “I liked the look in their eye and the resolve. They went out and continued to play and did it at a high level.”
The Chiefs picked up the game’s second touchdown with just 2 minutes, 43 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, when running back Spencer Ware scored on a 1-yard run. They went for two points after the TD, and Smith completed a pass to tight end Demetrius Harris in the end zone to tie the score.
But Kansas City left tackle Eric Fisher was called for holding when he pulled down Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison. That wiped out the completion and on their next attempt, Smith’s pass sailed incomplete through the end zone.
The only other points for the Chiefs came when kicker Cairo Santos made a 48-yard field goal with 10 seconds to play in the third quarter.
“We came out short, but they laid it all out there; they showed their grit,” said Reid. “We can learn from this. That’s hard to hear right now and be better for it next year.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continually led his offense down the field, but could not crack the K.C. end zone. On five different possessions, Pittsburgh moved to the K.C. 20-yard line or closer. The Steelers kicked field goals on four of those, losing another when the Chiefs intercepted a deflected pass in the end zone.
“Red-zone defense, those guys did a good job,” Tomlin said of the Chiefs. “It’s not only about our inability to execute. They executed (their defense). I’m just thankful we were able to get the victory. The guys fought together in a hostile environment and that’s good to see.”
Pittsburgh had the game’s first possession and moved the ball briskly down the field but stalled in the scoring zone and the Kansas City defense held them to a 22-yard field goal.
When the Chiefs offense got its first crack at the ball, they started in great field position thanks to the Steelers special teams. So concerned was Pittsburgh about K.C. returner Tyreek Hill, that Boswell dribbled a kick down to the 20-yard line. The ball was picked up by tight end Demetrius Harris and his 25-yard return gave KC a drive start at their 45-yard line. It was six plays later when Smith found wide receiver Albert Wilson in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown pass. The PAT kick gave the Chiefs a 7-3 lead.
It would prove to be their only lead of the game, as Boswell kept drilling field goals and the Steelers won and advanced to the next round.
“Eight teams became four and we are glad to be among the four,” said Tomlin. “We look forward to moving on. We don’t take that for granted.”
NOTES: The change of kickoff time made by the NFL was a first in the league’s postseason history. … Sunday’s game came 50 years to the date of the first championship game that would eventually be named the Super Bowl. On Jan.15, 1967, Green Bay beat Kansas City 35-10 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. … NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was in the house for the game. … At the opening kickoff, the Steelers had just two of their 46 available players appearing in their first postseason game. The Chiefs had 16 first-timers active.