Steelers have no answers for Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes in home-opener loss
The stench of another arid defensive performance at Heinz Field still lingered late Sunday afternoon when offensive lineman Ramon Foster offered a glass-half-full assessment of the Pittsburgh Steelers precarious situation.
“It’s just game two,” Foster said after a 42-37 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. “We have time to catch momentum. We have time to correct whatever we have going on.”
What the Steelers have “going on,” at least at home, is an inability to keep the opponents out of the end zone. The 2017 season memorably ended with the Steelers giving up 45 points to the Jacksonville Jaguars in an AFC divisional playoff loss.
Playing their the first meaningful home game since January, the Steelers defense nearly upstaged itself while falling behind 21-0 — just like in that playoff loss. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, making his third career start, dropped a six-pack of touchdown passes on the Steelers – three in each half. The six touchdown passes were the most given up by the Steelers in 27 years and matched a career record for an opponent.
Despite getting 452 passing yards and a combined four touchdowns from Ben Roethlisberger, who fueled a comeback from a 21-0 deficit, the Steelers dropped to 0-1-1 heading into their game next Monday night at 2-0 Tampa Bay.
“The good thing about it is we have an extra day (of practice) this week,” Foster said. “We’ll be a team that does the necessary things to get it right. It’s early.”
True, the season is barely two weeks old, yet the Steelers have two fewer wins than the first-place Cincinnati Bengals and own the same record as the Cleveland Browns.
It’s the first time since an 0-4 start in 2013 that the Steelers are winless after two weeks. In each of the past two seasons, the Steelers started 2-0.
Defensive captain Cam Heyward stopped short of offering a Joe Namath-like guarantee of a win in Tampa, the surprise team in the AFC South.
“We’ve got a great group of guys that are going to come in ready to be hungry,” Heyward said. “We’re going to get the job done. We didn’t get the job done now. It’s going to start in practice, and we’re going to build toward it.
“We’re going to be ready Monday night.”
Asked why the Steelers didn’t play with an edge against the Chiefs, Heyward shot back: “I don’t know, but we’re going to be ready Monday night.”
Coming off a seven-sack performance in the opener, the Steelers sacked Mahomes just once, and it was produced by backup nose tackle Daniel McCullers.
Facing little pressure and a secondary that was minus cornerback Joe Haden, Mahomes picked apart the defense to the tune of 23 completions in 28 attempts for 326 yards. Tight end Travis Kelce had two touchdown catches, with Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley, Kareem Hunt and Demarcus Robinson chipping in one apiece.
The Chiefs scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and led 21-0 with 2:24 left in the opening quarter. The Steelers, meanwhile, had minus-five yards after two possessions, and Chris Boswell missed a 49-yard field goal after the offense gained some traction on the third series.
“We have to look at that critically,” said tight end Jesse James, who caught five passes for 138 yards. “We put the defense in a bad position starting off the game.”
Roethlisberger brought the Steelers back to tie it, 21-21, with 18 seconds left in the half. He threw touchdown passes to James, JuJu Smith-Schuster and rookie James Washington.
But the defense, which stopped the Chiefs twice in the second quarter, gave up touchdowns on the first three possessions of the second half.
“I feel like this team is such a good team, such as well-coached team that we really can overcome any type of adversity,” linebacker Vince Williams said. “We’re built on facing adversity. Being down 21-0 isn’t what you want, but I feel like there’s nothing this team really can’t overcome.”
Mahomes threw his second touchdown pass to Kelce, and the Steelers got a 1-yard touchdown from James Conner to tie it. But Mahomes moved the Chiefs back down the field and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Robinson in the back of the end zone for a 35-28 lead the Chiefs never relinquished.
A 29-yard touchdown strike to Hill put the Chiefs up by two scores early in the fourth quarter. A safety and a 3-yard dive into the end zone by Roethlisberger got the Steelers within striking distance at the two-minute warning.
Roethlisberger, however, never got the ball back. The Chiefs got a first down on two runs, and a roughing-the-punter call on Tyler Matakevich denied the Steelers a desperation chance in the waning seconds.
The loss featured its share of drama with wide receiver Antonio Brown caught yelling at offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner in the second half. Brown, typically the last player in the locker room after games, dressed quickly and hurried out as reporters were permitted to enter.
If it was another sign of turmoil on a team surrounded by it, Foster wasn’t accepting it. Or any other negativity, for that matter.
“No, no panic at all,” he said. “None of that. We’ll be a team that corrects this and moves forward. You guys know there 14 other games? That’s how we’ve got to approach it now.
“To say we bow our heads, no, never that.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.