Kansas City, Missouri (AP) — Who needs to reach the end zone when you have Le’Veon Bell chewing up yards and the clock and Chris Boswell setting an NFL playoff record with six field goals? Throw in a stingy Pittsburgh defense for most of Sunday night, and a multitude of mistakes by Kansas City, and the Steelers’ 18-16 victory sent them into the AFC championship game.
The Steelers (13-5) needed to hold off a last-ditch threat by the Chiefs (12-5) before advancing to face New England next Sunday night for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Patriots won at Pittsburgh 27-16, but Ben Roethlisberger was injured and didn’t play.
“I think it’s going to be a showdown,” Bell said. “Two great quarterbacks going head to head. Two of the best teams in the AFC. It’s time to settle it next week.”
Since 2001, the Patriots and Steelers have combined to win nine AFC titles.
Spencer Ware’s 1-yard touchdown run took Kansas City within 18-16. The Chiefs at first converted the 2-pointer to tie it, but tackle Eric Fisher — the first overall selection in the 2013 draft — was penalized for holding. The next try failed.
With 2:43 remaining, Justin Gilbert misplayed the kick return and was tackled at the Pittsburgh 5. Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for 7 yards on third down and Pittsburgh then ran out the clock, securing a ninth straight victory for the Steelers. The Chiefs have not won a home playoff game since 1994, losing five in a row.
“I feel like we left a lot of plays on the field that we should have made,” linebacker Justin Houston said. “We didn’t; it’s the playoffs, every play counts.”
The scoring started furiously in the opening minutes then the game became a kicking exhibition by Boswell, who also had six field goals in the regular season against Cincinnati. And Bell put on a virtuoso running performance, patiently finding holes and then exploding through them. He added a team-record 170 yards rushing to the 167 he had in a win over Miami last week.
“The coaches put a lot of trust in me to get the job done,” Bell said of his 30 carries. “Just run hard. Just picked my spots where I could and run hard.”
The Steelers became the first team to win a playoff game without a TD since eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis in the 2006 AFC divisional round at Baltimore.
Using a no-huddle attack almost to perfection early on, the Steelers drove deep into Kansas City territory. But they bogged down inside the 5 and Boswell made a 22-yard field goal.
The Chiefs were just as efficient on a six-play march capped by receiver Albert Wilson lining up in the backfield, then slipping uncovered into the end zone for a 5-yard score.
Pittsburgh’s answer came on a 52-yard heave to All-Pro Brown, who somehow was covered by Houston. That led to Boswell’s second field goal, a 38-yarder. He added a 36-yarder to cap a 14-play drive on which Pittsburgh again barely huddled.
A clean game up until then turned to, well, turnovers, on successive series. Bud Dupree pounded Alex Smith, whose pass shot high into the air and was caught by linebacker Ryan Shazier.
The Steelers got to the Kansas City 5, where Frank Zombo leaped to deflect Roethlisberger’s throw, and All-Pro safety Eric Berry — burned for 26 yards on the previously play — picked it off in the end zone.
Boswell’s fourth field goal, from 45 yards, made it 12-7 at the half. His 43-yarder, setting the franchise record for a postseason game and tying the league mark of five, came on Pittsburgh’s first series of the second half. A 43-yarder midway in the fourth quarter gave Boswell the NFL record.
“It’s just about doing my job,” Boswell said. “Coming out here, put it through the yellow pipes. Don’t really think too much. Don’t think like I’m the guy or anything. I’m just doing my job and doing my one-eleventh for the team.”
Kansas City’s Cairo Santos got in on the kicking act with a 48-yarder to make it 15-10. At that point, 10 seconds from the end of the third quarter, the Chiefs were outgained 333 yards to 150.