Sunday's roundup: Steelers rally past Ravens, clinch AFC North
Pittsburgh — The clock ticking and a season filled with promise evaporating, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took the snap, turned to his left and put the AFC North title in the hands of Antonio Brown.
The star wide receiver caught the ball at the Baltimore 1 and waited for the hit he knew was coming. When it arrived from Ravens safety Eric Weddle and linebacker C.J. Mosley, Brown ducked his head and stretched the ball across the goal line for a playoff-clinching touchdown that symbolized his team’s considerable resilience.
Reeling in November. Heck, reeling early in the fourth quarter at home on Christmas against an archrival that’s more than had their number in recent years, the Steelers are heading to the playoffs anyway.
Brown’s lunging 4-yard score with 9 seconds left lifted Pittsburgh to a gripping 31-27 victory and a second division title in three years, delivering just as Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell predicted Brown would.
“Over there by the heaters before the final drive, he said ‘AB, you got to go down there and get the game winner,” Brown said.
It was a play Brown’s teammates have seen many times, just never with so much on the line.
“That’s AB,” wide receiver Damarcus Ayers said. “He does it so much in practice, it doesn’t ‘wow’ you in a game. In this particular moment it’s like, ‘he’s done it again.’”
Baltimore (8-7) was eliminated from contention.
Brown finished with 10 receptions for 96 yards to join Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison as the only players with four straight 100-catch seasons. Roethlisberger shook off a pair of third-quarter interceptions to finish with 279 yards passing and three touchdowns. Bell ran for 122 yards and a score and hauled in another on an ad-libbed play by Roethlisberger as Pittsburgh rallied from a 10-point deficit to win its sixth straight.
The Steelers (10-5) host during wild-card weekend on either Jan. 7 or 8, heady territory considering they were 4-5 after falling to Dallas on Nov. 13. As New Year’s nears, they haven’t lost again.
“I think today showed some resolve,” Roethlisberger said. “I think we showed some fight, no quit.”
The Ravens took the lead on Kyle Juszczyk’s 10-yard burst up the middle with 1:18 remaining. But Roethlisberger calmly led the Steelers 75 yards in 10 plays to eliminate Baltimore (8-7), the last 4 yards on a play that could live on in team history — depending on how far Pittsburgh’s momentum can carry it.
Joe Flacco passed for 262 yards, including a pretty 18-yard dart to Steve Smith that put Baltimore up 14-10 early in the third quarter. Smith ended up with seven receptions for 79 yards, but the Ravens crumbled late. Their defense put up little resistance as Roethlisberger clinically got his team in position to get back to the playoffs.
“We didn’t want (Roethlisberger) to have a good game,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We didn’t want (Brown) and (Bell) to kind of put their imprint on the game, or their stamp on the game, and they did that. They’re a good team. They’re well deserving. They won the division, we’ll applaud them, but we’ll be back.”
It’s a destination that seemed to be disappearing right in front of Pittsburgh’s eyes in the third quarter. Roethlisberger threw a pair of interceptions deep in Pittsburgh territory — both poorly thrown balls to heavily covered targets — that helped the Ravens take control.
“It’s pretty special the way we won it,” Roethlisberger said. “Especially after feeling the way I felt at a certain point in that game and feeling like you let guys down and you blew it.”
Instead it’s the Ravens who will spend a long offseason wondering how their mastery over the Steelers — and a potential postseason berth — dissolved in the final 12 minutes. Baltimore will miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.
“With everything you work for and you don’t reach your goal, so it’s. it’s just somber,” Weddle said. “It’s down. Give them credit. Ben got it rolling.”
(At) Kansas City 33, Denver 10: With their postseason spot secured, the Chiefs turned to Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to roll past the Broncos and keep their AFC West title hopes alive.
Kelce had 11 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown, and Hill took a handoff 70 yards for another score, as the Chiefs (11-4) beat the Broncos (8-7) for the third straight time and eliminated the Super Bowl champions from postseason contention.
Kansas City punctuated the win in style when 346-pound defensive tackle Dontari Poe, lined up at quarterback, threw a jump pass to Demetrius Harris with just under two minutes left.
The Chiefs were already assured of a wild card when Pittsburgh beat Baltimore earlier in the day. But a win next weekend in San Diego coupled with an Oakland loss in Denver would give the Chiefs their first division title since 2010, not to mention a first-round bye and home playoff game.
Meanwhile, the Broncos trudged through another inept offensive performance.
Trevor Siemian was 17-of-43 for 183 yards and a game-ending interception, and the only TD drive he led came after a pick gave him the ball at the Kansas City 6. Justin Forsett scored two plays later.
The lackluster performance came one week after a dismal showing in a 16-3 loss to New England led to a locker room shouting match between the Denver offense and defense. The Broncos downplayed any kind of disharmony this week, but their performance on a sloppy, soggy Christmas night at Arrowhead Stadium only seemed to underscore the rift during a most frustrating of seasons.
Kansas City took control of the prime-time matchup from the opening bell.
Alex Smith capped a 77-yard touchdown march with a 10-yard keeper in the first quarter, and Hill out-ran the banged-up Broncos a few minutes later to give the Chiefs a 14-0 lead.
It was the fourth TD scored by Hill against the Broncos this season.
Forsett’s touchdown gave the Broncos fleeting hope, but it was dashed moments later. Kelce took a screen pass and followed perfectly executed blocking for an 80-yard touchdown and a 21-7 lead.
The Chiefs’ defense took care of the rest to make it a festive night for their fans.