Unbeaten KC looking to get even as Steelers roll into town
By DAVE SKRETTA, AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Alex Smith lived through last year’s playoff loss to Pittsburgh, then relived it countless times on video, trying in vain to learn how the Chiefs lost to a team that didn’t even score a touchdown.
With the Steelers rolling into town on Sunday, he had a chance to see it all unfold again.
“Any time you play an opponent in the recent past, you look back on that stuff,” the Kansas City quarterback said. “If they had success, are they going to repeat the same stuff? Do things different?
“We’re a different team now as well,” Smith added, “so you relish the opportunity a little bit, the chance. But you look at it. It does bring back memories of a missed opportunity.”
Smith is right on many accounts: The Chiefs did miss their opportunity that cold January day at Arrowhead Stadium, squandering a strong defensive effort in an 18-16 defeat.
The Chiefs are much better now than they were last season, the NFL’s lone unbeaten team through the first five weeks.
And the Chiefs do relish the opportunity to exact a little revenge on the Steelers.
“We’re onto a new year,” running back Charcandrick West said, “but we all know what happened.”
The Chiefs (5-0) have every intention of changing the script, too.
On offense, they’re more dynamic than the one that managed 227 yards total against the Steelers. Smith is now the league’s top-rated passer, Tyreek Hill has built on his dramatic debut season and rookie Kareem Hunt has emerged as one of the league’s premier running backs.
On defense, they return just about everyone that held Ben Roethlisberger and Co. in check.
“You take care of the ball, you play great special teams and defense you have a real chance of being 5-0. That’s why they are,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We respect it, we don’t fear it.”
Especially since the same video of the previous meeting — the one Smith and the Chiefs have spent the entire offseason lamenting — is likely to fill the Steelers (3-2) with some much-needed confidence.
They’re coming off a letdown last week against Jacksonville, when Roethlisberger tossed five picks, two of them returned for touchdowns, and the Jaguars rolled to a 30-9 victory.
“I don’t know about that,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re still top of the AFC North. We’re right there in the hunt in the AFC. So I think you guys are much more panicked that we are.”
Here are some crucial story lines as the Chiefs and Steelers prepare to meet again:
RUNNING BACKS: The Steelers’ LeVeon Bell gouged the Chiefs for 170 yards rushing last January, and he’s still one of the best running backs in the league. But the best right now is Hunt, whose 609 yards on the ground is nearly 150 yards better than fellow rookie Leonard Fournette.
By the way, Fournette ran for 181 yards and two scores against Pittsburgh last week.
PREMIER PASS D: Smith is having a career season, ranking near the top of the league in just about every passing category. But he’ll be facing the NFL’s stingiest pass defense, one that held the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles to 8 of 14 for 95 yards with an interception last week.
“He’s always done a good job of managing and minimizing negativity for his offense,” Tomlin said. “He can throw on the move. He can create by design or by scramble. His mobility is an asset. It really limits what you’re capable of doing at times. You better respect his mobility.”
TURNOVER TROUBLE: Not all of Roethlisberger’s interceptions last week were his fault, but the five still pushed the Steelers’ total to nine on the season. Compare that to Kansas City, which has not turned it over since Hunt’s fumble on the first play from scrimmage in the opener against New England.
“Turnovers are tough. Those get you in the long run,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Alex has always been good with that and our ball carriers are hanging onto the ball.”
BIG BEN’S BOUNCEBACK: Roethlisberger said he flushed last week’s performance when Monday rolled around, then provided a very simple explanation for how he managed it: “Two Super Bowls, 100 some wins, 300-some — I don’t even know my own stats,” Roethlisberger said. “I’ve been playing this game longer than you’ve probably been covering it.”
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