NFL Wire News

Chiefs face elimination game vs. Steelers


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs play an elimination game at Pittsburgh against the Steelers. Victories in the final two games would give Andy Reid’s team a spot in the AFC playoffs, and that journey starts at Heinz Field.

Traditionally, that’s not a good situation for the Chiefs — on the road, in December, with a victory needed to stay alive, playing against a team also contending for the playoffs.

The last time the Chiefs faced that situation and won the game was 20 years ago, when they beat the Raiders 19-9 in Los Angeles on the final Sunday. The Chiefs finished 9-7 and made the playoffs. The Raiders finished 9-7 and missed the postseason. Since that 1994 season, the Chiefs are 14-32 in regular-season road games in December-January.

Last season, the Chiefs made the playoffs in large part because of a 9-0 start that allowed them to lead the wild-card race as they sat behind the division-winning Denver Broncos. The last game of the season was meaningless for their postseason berth, and Reid rested his starters.

It’s the opposite situation this year. They shed a three-game losing streak last Sunday with a 31-13 victory over the Raiders (2-12). But their opponent this week is a very different football animal. They face a Pittsburgh offense that leads the league with 424.9 yards per game and a Steelers defense that has struggled at times but can still cause havoc.

“You’re at that time of the year where if you’re still in the hunt, every game is magnified,” Reid said. “Both teams know that you’re down towards the end of the season, so it should be a heck of an environment for a football game. The players, there’s a little extra juice involved in these things. At the same time, you’ve got to go through the process. If you eliminate the process, then you’ve got problems.”

Last week in hopes of ending a three-game losing streak, Reid asked his team to relax and have some fun. It was a continuation of a theme he has stressed with the players since his first day at Arrowhead Stadium last year: Let your personality show, work hard and smart, enjoy the preparation and the games.

“You study the opponent and then you make sure that you study the scheme that you’ve been delivered by the coaches,” Reid said. “Then, you let your personality show within that. That’s what you strive to do and you strive to do that consistently. That won’t be any different this week in how we approach things.”

Reid’s philosophy seems to work well with veteran players, including quarterback Alex Smith.

“I’ve been around long enough that I enjoy these situations, kind of embrace them,” Smith said. “This time of year, a December game, big game, a little weather involved, you embrace that situation. These opportunities don’t come around very often. This is part of the reason you’ve been working so hard all year is to put yourself in this situation and you’ve still got life. We’re still in it.”

Reid’s approach hopes to lessen the pressure his players are feeling as the stakes go up each week. But, it can also be an invitation for some players to spend more time plotting how to show their personalities than handling the fundamentals of the game.

That would be the case with Travis Kelce, a second-year tight end who has become Smith’s favorite receiver. Kelce doesn’t just catch balls; he grabs them and then pops up making all sorts of gestures, sometimes signaling first down, other times pretending to shoot an arrow into the air. Two weeks ago, he was fined by the NFL for an obscene gesture during a game. Last Sunday after fumbling in three straight games, Kelce was rolling toward the end zone for a touchdown when he thrust the ball into the air at the 2-yard line to celebrate and almost had it knocked out by a chasing Oakland linebacker.

“It can make you a little tight, make you a little tense at times,” Kelce said of the playoff-like atmosphere. “That’s what the leaders in this locker room are here for, to keep you calm, cool and collected and have everybody just go out there and be themselves.

“I am a guy that has a lot of passion to play this game. I enjoy playing every single minute that I am out there. So it is one of those things where I kind of have to control the animal inside of me.”

This is the 29th meeting between these original teams. The Chiefs are 9-19. The last time the teams met was in 2012, with the Steelers grabbing a 16-13 overtime victory at Heinz Field. The last Chiefs victory was in 2009, a 27-24 decision at Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City has never won at Heinz Field, going 0-2.

The Chiefs’ last winning performance in Pittsburgh came in 1986, when they won 24-19 at Three Rivers Stadium. That victory on the last weekend of the regular season pushed the Chiefs into the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. The teams met in the 1993 AFC playoffs, with the Chiefs winning 27-24 in Kansas City.

NOTES: Among those not practicing Wednesday were TE Anthony Fasano (knee) and WR Dwayne Bowe (flu).

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