MEMORABLE SERIES MOMENT
Chiefs 27, Steelers 24 OT
Jan. 8, 1994: Arrowhead Stadium
These old AFC rivals have met 30 times but only once in the playoffs. To make that occurence even more of an oddity, Joe Montana was quarterbacking the Chiefs. It was in the 1993 playoffs. The Pittsburgh Steelers went 3-4 down the stretch thanks in large part to the loss of RB Barry Foster. The Chiefs, behind pass-rushers Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith and Comeback Player of the Year Marcus Allen, were AFC West champs at 11-4. The wild-card Steelers had a 17-7 lead at halftime and a 17-10 lead after three quarters, and then took a 24-17 lead on Neil O'Donnell's 22-yard touchdown pass to Eric Green with just over four minutes left. The Steelers got the ball back and drove to midfield, but Mark Royals had a punt blocked by Keith Cash and it was returned to the Steelers' 9-yard line with 2:29 left. On fourth down, Montana threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Tim Barnett to send the game into overtime. On the Chiefs' second possession in OT, the 37-year-old Montana drove the Chiefs 66 yards for Nick Lowery's game-winning 32-yard field goal.
TALE OF THE TAPE
"Justin Houston really impresses me. I was watching the Minnesota game and they triple-teamed him on a play. They chipped with the tight end, the tackle picked him up, and then Adrian Peterson came across the backfield to back-up the tackle, and Houston still got up the field. He's really an impressive guy. Allen Bailey's another guy. He's got four sacks. Very impressive, and very similar to Stephon Tuitt. Very mobile but plays with a real low pad level and gets a great inside lockout, and it seems the (Steelers) guards have been having a problem dealing with that. He's extremely powerful in taking on double teams. He flips over both guards in sub-packages." -- Steelers Radio Network sideline reporter Craig Wolfley.
Can the Steelers muster enough emotion coming off emotionally charged back-to-back games?
Nearly the same question as last week, and again the answer is the same: doubtful. The Steelers' last nine losses have been against .500 or worse teams. The 1-5 Chiefs certainly qualify. Following back-to-back big wins, Mike Tomlin was forced to light some fires throughout this past week. By the end of the week the guys were walking and talking like a team that understood the need for emotion, so the hope is that the malaise has passed.
THREE QUESTIONS: With ILB Lawrence Timmons
Q: There sure were a lot of people interested in your weight today. Tomlin was hovering over that scale. Why was he disappointed you weren't 240?
LT: "I'm the same I've always been, about 242. They're just nitpicking. What's two pounds, right? When you're taking on O-linemen the whole time you're gonna need some weight with you."
Q: I know you have a great arm, and I saw your ball skills last week with that one-handed interception. Why didn't you become an offensive player?
LT: "Defense has stars, too. But I think it's just that I don't want anybody to hit me. Ever. That's why I don't like offense. They can have that side. I'd rather hit somebody than have somebody hit me."
Q: For you against the Chiefs, it's all about covering their tight end, isn't it?
LT: "Right. I don't think (Jeremy) Maclin's going to play, so (Travis Kelce) will probably be the focal point of their offense, especially with Jamaal Charles being out. And we've had some trouble with tight ends. (Antonio) Gates, (Rob) Gronkowski had great games against us, so we have to change that this week."
What to look for from the Steelers today in Kansas City:
Landry Jones should open by throwing deep to his main man Martavis Bryant and then begin handing off to Le'Veon Bell. But the Chiefs have the sixth-stingiest yards-per-carry average (3.6) in the league, so Jones will have to make intermediate throws and perhaps some scary outs that'll hang out there for pick-six-minded DBs like rookie Marcus Peters. Safety Eric Berry will also be hungry for his first interception since late in the 2013 season. No, Jones will need to make some big throws against a fierce pass rush in a hostile stadium with a new, inexperienced left tackle. What advice does OC Todd Haley have for Jones?
"Don’t turn it over. That’s really the key for us. It has been and will be. It is what is giving us a chance these last three-and-a-half weeks, protecting the football. It has to be No. 1. Regardless of the venue, that has to stay at the forefront of his mind."
With Charles on IR, QB Alex Smith is the Chiefs' leading rusher. But Maclin, whom the Steelers didn't expect to play, did practice Friday and reportedly will pass the concussion protocol and play Sunday. Maclin is the Chiefs' leading receiver with 39 catches and TE Kelce is second with 29. No one else has more than eight catches. It's all about keeping Smith in the pocket and covering Maclin and Kelce.
"Yeah, we haven't played worth a crap against tight ends," said DC Keith Butler. "We've got to play better than we have. This guy's a good football player. He's a good young guy who's got a lot of potential."
I've already laid out why the Chiefs have the emotional edge. At 1-5 they're still a 3.5-point favorite over the Steelers because Jones is expected to start over Ben Roethlisberger. Do the Steelers have the physical edges to overcome this potential flat spot? Well, in the last five games the Chiefs have played a brutal schedule and don't have near the scoring efficiency numbers as the Steelers and their pass defense has been shaky at best. But I don't believe Jones and kicker Chris Boswell can duplicate their performances from last week. Chiefs, 20-17.
BY THE NUMBERS
110: Consecutive games in which Heath Miller has caught a pass.
35: New career-long kickoff return by Dri Archer.
70: Consecutive games in which today's starter in the Steelers' base defense, Cam Thomas, has played. It's the fourth-longest active streak among NFL DTs.
1: Number of interceptions and fumble recoveries by safety Mike Mitchell as a Steeler. Both occurred one game ago.
134: Steelers' high for rushing yards in this series, by Franco Harris in 1972.
149.3: Jones' passer rating last Sunday was the second-highest for an NFL QB in his first career game (min. 10 attempts) behind Marcus Mariota's 158.3 this year.
2.3: Yards per carry for Adrian Peterson last Sunday against the Chiefs (26-60), only second time in his career he's been held to 60 or fewer yards with at least 25 carries.
* Bryant knows how to make a splash. In his first career game last year -- also in the second half of October -- Bryant's first catch was for a 35-yard touchdown. In his first game of 2015, Bryant caught touchdown passes of 8 and 88 yards, the latter a showcase of quickness, cutting ability and long speed.
"He’s big and he's really fast," said Haley. "He gets to speed fast. Those are not always characteristics you see that go together. A lot of times, you get big receivers like him and they are more built to speed, long speed, so to speak. This is a guy after a couple of steps he’s at full speed. His full speed is as fast as anyone. And he can catch. It’s a deadly combination."
* Sammie Coates isn't coming anywhere close to flashing Bryant's form. Haley talked about the struggling rookie as he continued discussing Bryant.
"Having coached receivers for a long time in the league, it’s a tough position a lot of times to get up to speed," Haley said. "The coverages are much more complex. From a conditioning standpoint and practice, we don’t have the numbers colleges do where guys just can specifically work on their job. As a young receiver in the NFL, you are taking a million card-offense reps and special-teams reps. That wears and beats guys down that aren’t used to it. You are seeing it with Sammie Coates."
* Speaking of Haley, this will be the third time he's coached against the Chiefs, who relieved him of his head-coaching duties after the 13th game of the 2011 season. He left with a 19-26 record (.422) and a loss in the 2010 playoffs. Since he's been gone, the Chiefs are 25-32 (.439) and have also lost a playoff game. With Haley calling the offensive plays for the Steelers, they've defeated the Chiefs 16-13 (OT) in 2012 and 20-12 last year, both times at Heinz Field.
* In last Sunday's notes column, I explained the reason most reporters didn't press Tomlin about playing Jones over Vick, that Jones has thrown an inordinate amount of interceptions during practice over the years. I was told Jones had to throw exactly where the card for the scout offense directed him to throw. Well, it's been further explained that defensive coaches make those cards and many times they'll draw up the other team's plays with a route bust included, further complicating the play for the scout QB.
* Could Bell play the Wildcat QB position and throw a few passes if needed in a dire emergency? "Nah. Nah. Not me," Bell said. "I don't think they'd have me do that."
With Jim McMahon and Steve Fuller injured for Mike Ditka's 1984 Bears, and Rusty Lisch ineffective against the rival Packers, Walter Payton finished the game with snaps at QB. He completed one of four passes for two yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception and rushed for 175 yards in the team's last regular-season loss until a 1985 Monday nighter in Miami.
* The Steelers are expected to get the league's fastest linebacker back in the lineup when Ryan Shazier plays for the first time since Week 2. But don't expect that speed to show itself right away.
"He might be a little rusty," said Butler. "Usually, if you don’t play in the NFL, the game tends to pass you by a little bit until you get used to it, the speed of it. He’s going to have to do that again, get readjusted to it."
* One of the Steelers' most underrated performances last week was turned in by new strong safety Robert Golden, who made eight tackles and broke up a pass. Golden credited former safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, whom Golden watched from the bench the last three years.
"Ryan was a great post player," Golden said. "Troy was a great film-study guy who taught me how to watch film, how to go out there and make my plays and everything like that."
"They give us their best game. That's the thing about us: We're the Steelers and we're going into their hometown, too. They've dropped five in a row so they have a lot to play for." -- Timmons on the Steelers' struggles the last two years against losing teams.