After struggling mightily in the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last week, Ben Roethlisberger returned to form in epic fashion to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 43-14 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football.
After misfiring on a few throws early on, Roethlisberger settled in to throw four touchdown passes in the first half, including two to Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger finished the game 22-of-27 for 300 yards and five scores, spreading the ball around to four different end-zone targets.
“We had some run-pass checks and they gave us the option to throw it (early on),” said Roethlisberger. “I thought everybody got involved tonight, and that’s what is fun. When everyone participates and everyone gets involved, we can be pretty dangerous.”
Roethlisberger led the way for an offense that poured it on the Chiefs’ overwhelmed defense all night long, as nine different receivers caught passes in a 436-yard offensive onslaught. The quarterback’s brilliant performance even overshadowed the return of Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for 144 yards on 18 carries and added five catches for 34 more yards.
“I thought he (Bell) really stepped up,” Roethlisberger said. “Not just this game, but this week in practice. We ask him to do a lot, not just be a running back and run the ball, but we put in motions, we put him out at wide receiver, we throw screens to him, we do a lot. That’s the confidence and faith we have in him and his ability and how he can help this team as a selfless player who is willing to do whatever it takes to help us win.”
Bell’s big night was punctuated by a highlight-reel 44-yard run to set up the Steelers' final touchdown, a two-yard plunge by DeAngelo Williams.
“It was actually a check,” said Bell. “Ben told me right when the play was about to start, he told me, 'You better get it.' I started making my reads and Pounce pulled, he went outside the defensive end. I kind of went inside, broke a tackle, then I saw him on my left side and I used him in the open field because he's a great, athletic offensive lineman. The rest was history. I tried to get in the end zone, but the dude made a great tackle.”
* Thanks in large part to a 29-0 halftime lead that quickly rose to 36-0 after the Steelers' first drive of the third quarter, Brown didn’t catch a pass in the second half after grabbing four balls for 64 yards and two scores during the first two quarters. Not that it mattered, however, as other weapons stepped up to make the most of their opportunities.
Sammie Coates led the way with six catches for 79 yards, including a 47-yard bomb on the Steelers' first play from scrimmage. Coates beat Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters down the right sideline, but Roethlisberger underthrew the play-action pass, forcing Coates into a tough adjustment that the receiver made seamlessly.
Coates wasn’t the only threat stepping up, as Jesse James, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Markus Wheaton all scored touchdowns as well.
* After struggling to generate pressure and sacks over the season’s first three weeks, the pass rush exploded Sunday night, led by Cameron Heyward’s three sacks. The Steelers defensive captain was a man possessed, finishing with six tackles in an equally dominant performance against the run, second only to Vince Williams’ 13 unassisted stops on the night.
“Those guys (on the defensive line) are phenomenal players,” said Williams. “We have the best big people in the NFL and those guys really led the charge on the effort and the hustle tonight. So kudos to them.”
Williams chipped in a coverage sack as well, elevating the Steelers total to five on the season after a four-sack night.
* Keith Butler deserves credit too, as the defensive coordinator returned to the aggressive, blitz-heavy approach that saw the Steelers finish third in the NFL in sacks in 2015. A key zone blitz led to Alex Smith’s first-quarter interception that Jarvis Jones returned to the KC 4 after Heyward batted the quarterback’s pass at the line of scrimmage.
“They ran a zone pressure there, so I had the free rusher coming off the edge,” said Smith. “I was just trying to speed it up. Obviously, I would have loved to have it back and just throw it in the dirt.”
* Second-year offensive lineman B.J. Finney notched his first NFL start tonight in place of injured right guard Ramon Foster, and the undrafted free agent played well, opening up several holes for Bell in the run game.
“I was proud of the way he stepped up tonight,” said Roethlisberger. “Not gonna tell him how proud I am because we need him to keep playing well. He’s a guy that is a grimy, tough -- I saw him get down on a screen on one of the first plays of the second half, and he’s 10 yards downfield and cut the guy. He’s a very passionate football player, passionate person, and it shows in his play.”
* The Steelers continue to be efficient in the red zone, something that had been an issue in the past during Todd Haley’s tenure here. Not so this season, as the team scored touchdowns on all three of its trips inside the KC 20. Pittsburgh entered the game fifth in the NFL in red zone scoring at just over 71 percent, a number that went up after a perfect performance Sunday night.