Le’Veon Bell sets playoff rushing record as Steelers beat Chiefs, advance to AFC title game

The closest the Pittsburgh Steelers got to scoring a touchdown was 5 yards away from the end zone, and the one time they got there they didn’t give it to Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers would learn from their mistake and ride their horse the rest of the way.

Bell set a postseason record for the most rushing yards in a player’s first two playoff games with 337 yards — 167 last week, 170 against a good Kansas City Chiefs defense on 30 carries — and kicker Chris Boswell hit on all six of his field-goal tries as the Steelers beat the Chiefs, 18-16, in a hard-fought game at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

The Steelers will head to Foxborough, Mass., to take on the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game for the right to play in Super Bowl LI. The Patriots beat the Steelers, 27-16, in Pittsburgh in Week 7 without an injured Ben Roethlisberger.

The Chiefs scored a touchdown with 2:47 left in the game as Spencer Ware capped a 13-play drive to cut the lead to 18-16, and they appeared to tie the game on a two-point pass from Alex Smith to Demetrius Harris. But left tackle Eric Fisher was called for holding, and Smith’s second two-point attempt was batted away. The Chiefs had their chances, but Smith’s receivers consistently let him down and crucial penalties throughout the game crushed them.

The Steelers’ defense made plays time and time again in the victory and held the Chiefs to 227 yards, including 61 on the ground. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid lost only his third game in 19 tries following a bye week, and his biggest weapons, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, were kept mostly in check. Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, looking spry at age 38, led an attack that kept Smith off balance much of the night.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell has run for the most yards in a player's first two postseason games. (AP)
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has run for the most yards in a player’s first two postseason games. (AP)

But Bell was the engine all night offensively for the Steelers in just his third career game with more than 29 carries. In a game that was pushed back seven hours to accommodate for a bad ice storm that hit the region Saturday and Sunday, Bell used his patented patience as a runner — have you heard anything about that skill this past week? — to frustrate a Chiefs defense that struggled to stop the run consistently this season after the loss of their heart and soul, linebacker Derrick Johnson.

Bell has the 12th-most rush yards in a single postseason in only two games with at least one more to play.

Smith led an excellent first drive following a Steelers field goal, mixing tempo, formation and personnel nicely and keeping the Steelers off guard at first. The Chiefs moved 55 yards on six plays in 3:29 and looked to be well preheated to work through this Steelers defense. But the Chiefs gained a mere 51 yards for the rest of the first half, only 172 yards the rest of the game, and turned it over twice.

Luckily, the Chiefs’ defense — even while not getting much pressure on Roethlisberger — did their part in keeping the game close. The Chiefs held the Steelers down in the red zone twice and once right at the 20-yard line, forcing three field goals in the game’s first 20-plus minutes. The Steelers were 3-for-3 on scoring drives but came away with only nine points.

It appeared they would get more after a Bud Dupree pressure forced an Alex Smith interception by the Steelers’ Ryan Shazier. The Steelers had a first-and-goal from the Kansas City 5, but instead of running it with Bell — who had been eating up the Chiefs — Steelers offensive coordinator (and one-time Chiefs head coach) Todd Haley called for a pass. Linebacker Frank Zombo timed up Roethlisberger’s pass perfectly, deflected it into the air and it was picked in the end zone by safety Eric Berry.

But the Steelers got the ball back and got it back into the hands of Bell — lesson learned — who converted a key third-and-9 on the ground and amassed 101 yards on the ground before halftime. But again, they stalled in the red zone and had to settle for Boswell’s fourth field goal of the half. The Steelers led 12-7 at halftime but outgained the Chiefs, 275-106. Brown matched Bell’s rushing yards with 101 receiving at the break.

Bell ended up bringing the game home. He opened up the Steelers’ first possession of the second half with an insane run in which he picked his way through the first level of the defense, put a wicked move on cornerback Terrance Mitchell, then finished it 38 yards later with power.

The Chiefs cut the lead to 15-10 with a Cairo Santos field goal at the end of the third quarter, but Boswell would match it with his sixth of the night, pushing the Steelers’ lead back to 18-10. Smith and the offense would not get warm again until the middle of the fourth quarter when they converted a huge fourth-and-8 to Chris Conley and then Conley drew an unnecessary roughness call near the Steelers’ goal line.

But Ware’s touchdown wasn’t enough, and the Steelers iced the game with Roethlisberger hitting Brown on the third-down stop the Chiefs needed to get the ball back.

– – – – – – –

Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!