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Steelers beat Chiefs at Arrowhead, point season in right direction

Raise your hand if you played the Win-Loss-Win-Loss game with the Steelers’ schedule back in August and put Ws next to “at Chicago” and “Jacksonville” and Ls next to “at Baltimore” and “at Kansas City.”

We got it backwards.

We’re used to the Steelers failing to pick up the easy wins, but this year they’re juxtaposing those ugly losses with an impressive collection of road wins, including Sunday’s 19-13 victory over the previously unbeaten Chiefs.

It’s the first time the Steelers have taken down the league’s last undefeated team since 2004, when they knocked off the 7-0 Eagles at Heinz Field in Ben Roethlisberger‘s rookie season.

That was a week after they topped the 6-0 Patriots in Pittsburgh.

So in a sense, that makes Sunday’s win a historic one, but we also should learn from that history.

The Eagles and Patriots made the Super Bowl in 2004 while the Steelers were literally left sobbing after losing to the Patriots in the AFC championship game.

The lesson here is that while the Steelers have beaten the Chiefs in two tight games at Arrowhead Stadium in the last nine months, including last season’s divisional playoff game, it doesn’t mean the Steelers have vanquished the Chiefs for 2017.

It could mean, however, that if the Steelers do have to play the Chiefs again, they won’t have to contend with the noise at Arrowhead.

This win could come in handy when it comes to tiebreakers. The Chiefs (5-1) still own the best record in the AFC, but they’ll need a better record than the Steelers (4-2) to earn a higher seed in the playoffs. The Steelers, of course, have to stay ahead of the AFC South-leading Jaguars (3-3) because the Jaguars have the tiebreaker over the Steelers with their Week 5 win in Pittsburgh.

Yes, it’s too early to map out playoff scenarios, but just a week after this star-studded team’s 3-2 record was appreciated as if it were a pair of socks for Christmas, a first-round bye is back on the table and the Steelers at 4-2 are in a spot that seemed predictable with trips to Baltimore and Kansas City on the schedule.

But they reached this point in an unpredictable way.

Not only are the Steelers losing when they’re expected to win and winning when they’re expected to lose, but instead of their offense hiding their defense it’s the other way around.

The Steelers were going to hang 30 points on opposing defenses this year like Zorro carving a “Z” into the chest of his adversaries, but they haven’t hit the big three-oh once. They’re not even averaging 20 points a game. They’re 21st with 19.7 points per game. Meanwhile, they’re fourth in the league with 17 points allowed per game and tied for second with 20 sacks. That includes James Harrison‘s sack of Alex Smith that all but clinched the game with a minute left.

In his first significant action this season, Harrison schooled Eric Fisher just like he did in the playoffs last season, when a holding call negated a two-point conversion that would have tied a game the Chiefs lost 18-16.

Sean Davis ultimately broke up the pass on the two-point try in that game, and on Sunday he robbed Demetrius Harris of a touchdown by ripping the ball out of his hands on fourth down early in the fourth quarter with the Steelers leading 12-3.

Thanks to plays like that, nineteen points was enough for the Steelers to win Sunday’s game, and perhaps it was more important that the Steelers hit 30 in another department.

Le’Veon Bell carried the ball 32 times for 179 yards and a touchdown. It was just the fourth time he’s carried the ball 30 or more times in his career.

For the second year in a row, the Steelers turned to Bell after hitting rock bottom. Last season, they broke a four-game losing streak by handing Bell the ball 28 times for 146 yards in a 24-9 win at Cleveland. Of the seven games in which Bell has carried the ball 27 times or more, six have come since that game. The Steelers are 15-0 when Bell carries the ball 23 times or more.

Roethlisberger bounced back from his five-interception disaster in a 30-9 loss to the Jaguars by completing 17 of 25 passes for 252 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Antonio Brown did most of the work on the touchdown, turning a pass breakup by Phillip Gaines into a 51-yard score that gave the Steelers a 19-10 lead with 3:24 left in the game.

It wasn’t the type of game that will put to rest any thoughts that Roethlisberger is past his prime, but with Bell carrying the offense Roethlisberger doesn’t need to have everything that he had in 2008 or 2010.

Bell will have to stay on the field as long as his teammates do, however, if he’s going to help Roethlisberger earn a third Super Bowl ring. The next season that Bell is healthy from start to finish will be his first. The Steelers didn’t workhorse him until late November last year, and by the AFC championship game he was done. This year, his body might have to hold up through at least 10 more 20-carry games.

If it does and the Steelers do encounter the Chiefs again, and if Smith keeps missing open receivers in crunch time and if Harrison is still Fisher’s daddy (at 39 he’s literally old enough to be the 26-year-old’s daddy), the Chiefs likely will head into the 49th season since their last Super Bowl appearance.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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