KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Overcoming their own shortcomings in the red zone, the Steelers advanced to the AFC Championship Game for the first time since January 2011 with an 18-16 win over the Chiefs on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium, thanks to a playoff-record six field goals by Chris Boswell.
On a foggy and chilly night — the game was moved to prime time from its original 1:05 p.m. start because of an ice storm that blanketed the Midwest — Le’Veon Bell gained 170 yards on 30 carries and Ben Roethlisberger made several timely completions to Antonio Brown and Jesse James to keep drives moving, even if they ended up short of the end zone.
The Steelers will face the New England Patriots for the AFC title Sunday in Foxborough, Massachusetts, with the winner going to the Super Bowl.
After Boswell’s final field goal gave the Steelers an 18-10 lead with 9:49 left in the game, the Chiefs moved within 18-16 on Spencer Ware’s 1-yard touchdown run with 2:43 left. They appeared to tie it at 18 when Alex Smith found Demetrius Harris on a two-point conversion pass, but tackle Eric Fisher was called for holding, and the next attempt wasn’t converted.
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce wasn’t happy with the call. “For it to end like that, with the ref taking it out of our hands, that hurts,” he said. “When refs want to take over the game, make it their own platform, there’s nothing you can do about it. That wasn’t a hold . . . That was [expletive]. The ref shouldn’t even be able to wear a zebra jersey ever again. He shouldn’t even be able to work at Foot Locker.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid elected to kick off instead of trying an onside kick with one timeout and the two-minute warning approaching. On third-and-3 from the Pittsburgh 12 on the first play after the two-minute warning, the Chiefs couldn’t get the stop they needed as Roethlisberger found Brown for a 7-yard completion. “That might not be a play you see on SportsCenter,’’ Roethlisberger said, “but the guys in the locker room know how big it was.’’
The Steelers outgained the Chiefs 389 to 227 in yardage but couldn’t take full advantage of four trips to the red zone. Boswell kicked field goals of 22, 38, 36, 45, 43 and 43 yards.
“The most important thing is getting the win,’’ he said. “It doesn’t matter if I set an individual record or not. It was just about doing my job, coming out here and hitting it through the yellow pipes. Don’t think too much, don’t think, like, ‘I’m the guy’ or anything like that. I’m just out here doing my job, doing my 1/11th for the team.’’
So is Boswell — like Ben, Brown and Bell — a Killer B?
Said the kicker, “I don’t even think I belong in that picture.’’
“Boswell was great,’’ Bell said. “If he has just one missed kick, it’s a completely different game.’’
Next up is the Patriots. “There’s a lot of things we’ll have to do to be successful against them,’’ Roethlisberger said. “They’re the best in the world for a reason. Not an easy test coming up. You’ve got to score points, can’t turn the ball over.’’
He added, “I’m gonna enjoy this today, maybe the bus ride to the airplane. Any time you do this, you have to enjoy a big win in the playoffs on the road against a really good team, in a hostile environment. You have to, because they don’t come around that often.’’
Said Bell, “New England should be fun. It’s going to be another hostile environment, going against Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks ever to do this.
“ . . . I’m a lot more confident in myself. My team is more confident, too. We feel like we can beat anybody. When they came to our house and beat us, we got a little chip on our shoulder about that. We feel like we owe those guys one. We’re going to have to play better than our ‘A’ game in order to win.’’
Roethlisberger had high praise for the Steelers’ offensive line.
“Le’Veon is awesome, but it’s the line that makes it possible,’’ he said. “We’re only as good as we are up front. Passing the ball or running the ball, they open up the holes. A lot of dirty, grimy work. Against that pass rush and that defense in the hostile environment, you have to tip your hat to the guys up front.’’