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Patrick Mahomes stars as Chiefs send Ben Roethlisberger into retirement

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs were too good for the Steelers. (AP Photo/Travis Heying)
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The Kansas City Chiefs put what they hope will be another run deep into the NFL’s postseason into motion and, by all appearances, ushered Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into retirement.

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Quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw five touchdown passes as the Chiefs beat the Steelers, 42-21, on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., in an opening-round AFC playoff encounter that almost certainly was Roethlisberger’s final NFL game.

“I’m nervous,” Roethlisberger said. “No, I am excited just because I get to go home tonight…. Being a husband and father, you never take a day off. You’ve got to keep going. And so as we move from one chapter to the next, it’s going to be different. But it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a new challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”

Roethlisberger did not exactly make an official retirement announcement during his postgame news conference. But he essentially said that he was done playing.

“This would be emotional no matter what,” Roethlisberger said. “We never like to lose and go out, and I’ll miss these guys. It’ll probably really hit me come training camp time.”

The second-seeded Chiefs advanced to a conference semifinal next weekend in which they’ll host the third-seeded Buffalo Bills. That’s a rematch of last season’s AFC championship game won by the Chiefs. The Chiefs, after a bumpier-than-usual ride through the regular season, are attempting to reach a fourth straight AFC championship game and a third consecutive Super Bowl.

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Mahomes threw for 404 yards in a 30-for-39 passing display Sunday. His touchdowns went to five different receivers and came on five straight possessions in the second and third quarters, as he and the Chiefs overcame a sluggish and sloppy start. The Chiefs got a sixth touchdown pass, thrown by tight end Travis Kelce on a fourth-quarter gadget play.

“We came back with energy,” Mahomes told NBC afterward. “That first quarter, we were playing tentative. It started with me. I think when we got to that second quarter, we kind of got back to who we are. And hopefully we can keep this momentum going to next week.”

Roethlisberger and the seventh-seeded Steelers could not come close to keeping pace. Roethlisberger threw for a modest 215 yards on 29-for-44 passing. He did throw cosmetic second-half touchdown passes to wide receivers Diontae Johnson and James Washington.

“It’s tough,” Roethlisberger said. “But I’m proud to play with these guys…. It has been just truly a blessing.”

The Steelers had gotten an unexpected reprieve for themselves and Roethlisberger a week earlier by eking their way into the playoffs on the final day of the regular season. So Roethlisberger played on in his 18th season with the Steelers, less than two months from his 40th birthday in March.

“We thought last week was going to be the end,” Roethlisberger said. “We didn’t know what was going to happen and got blessed to play another football game. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to. But it’s a blessing to be able to play this game.”

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He is set to join his 2004 NFL draft-mates, fellow quarterbacks Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, in retirement and await his Pro Football Hall of Fame vote in five years. He is a two-time Super Bowl winner and ranks fifth on the NFL’s list of career passing yards leaders behind only Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.

“I’ve been here a long time,” Roethlisberger said, “and it’s been a lot of fun…. I’m just so thankful. I hope that I’m able to pass the legacy of what it is to be a Steeler from [late owner] Dan Rooney…. Hopefully I can pass some of that on to some of the guys, and they can continue the tradition [and] what it means to be a Steeler can get passed down.”

That duty now falls, Roethlisberger said, to veteran defensive lineman Cam Heyward.

“I gave Cam a big hug and told him it’s on him now,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s his job to pass it down and to keep teaching and holding guys to the Pittsburgh standard.”

When Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin was asked during his postgame news conference about Roethlisberger, he said: “It’s been an honor and a pleasure, man. I don’t have the words.”

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Mahomes and Roethlisberger spoke on the field after the game.

“I just told him I had so much respect for him,” Mahomes said. “I’ve watched him growing up and the way he plays the game. He competes to the very end. And he did that this whole, entire season. And who knows what the future is. But it was great to be here and witness him.”

The Chiefs defeated the Steelers for the second time this season after winning the regular season meeting, 36-10, at Kansas City on Dec. 26. They’re back to being THAT version of the Chiefs after their 3-4 beginning to the season and Mahomes’s turnover issues had prompted questions as to whether they were still top contenders.

Mahomes steadied himself. The Chiefs won nine of their final 10 regular season games. And now they’re off to a victorious start in the postseason.

“When you’ve been to the Super Bowl the last two years and you walk off that field with a loss last year, you want to go back and get that revenge, get that win,” Mahomes said. “And so for us, we understand it’s a hard [conference], the AFC. We have the Bills coming here this next week and we’re going to have to play our best football.”

The turnover issues resurfaced for the Chiefs in the early going Sunday night. Mahomes threw a tipped-pass interception to squander a scoring opportunity. Running back Darrel Williams lost a fumble that was scooped up by the Steelers’ T.J. Watt and returned for a touchdown.

No matter. Mahomes threw second-quarter touchdown passes of four yards to running back Jerick McKinnon, 12 yards to wide receiver Byron Pringle and 48 yards to Kelce. The touchdown to McKinnon came on an underhanded toss. The strike to Kelce came 13 seconds before halftime on a third-and-20 play.

Mahomes kept it going in the third quarter with touchdown passes to Nick Allegretti, an offensive lineman who reported as an eligible receiver for the third-and-goal play from the 1-yard line, and Hill.

“We didn’t press them enough,” Tomlin said. “We didn’t make them feel the pressure in totality of what we were doing.”

Continue reading for more game coverage and analysis:

11:30 p.m.
Headshot of Nicki Jhabvala
Nicki Jhabvala: After a scoreless first quarter, the Chiefs blew away the Steelers, hitting a number of NFL and franchise milestones along the way. Among them:— Travis Kelce threw a touchdown pass and guard Nick Allegretti caught a touchdown, which I believe is the first time a tight end has recorded a TD pass and an offensive lineman has caught a TD in the same game. Kelce is only the sixth tight end since 1960 to notch a touchdown pass. He’s also only the eighth player in NFL history to have at least 85 catches and 1,000 receiving yards in the playoffs.Kelce totaled 108 yards off five catches against the Steelers for his seventh 100-yard receiving game in the postseason, the second-most in NFL history behind only Jerry Rice (eight). Kelce has had four consecutive 100-yard playoff games, the NFL’s longest active streak.— Patrick Mahomes went 30 of 39 (76.9 percent) for 404 passing yards, five touchdowns, one interception and a 138.2 rating. He now holds the Chiefs’ single-game record for passing yards, beating out Alex Smith’s 378 passing yards against the Indianapolis Colts in the 2013 first round. Mahomes’s five TD passes tied his own franchise mark for a playoff game, which he set in the 2019 second round against the Houston Texans.In three career games against the Steelers, he has totaled 14 touchdown passes.— Coach Andy Reid notched his 18th playoff win to pass Joe Gibbs for the fourth-most all-time, behind Bill Belichick (31), Tom Landry (20) and Don Shula (19).— And the dagger: The Chiefs handed Ben Roethlisberger his worst career playoff loss with a 21-point margin. His previous worst was a 19-point loss to the eventual Super Bowl champs, the New England Patriots, in the 2016 AFC championship.
Nicki Jhabvala, Reporter covering Washington's NFL team
10:45 p.m.
Headshot of Nicki Jhabvala
Nicki Jhabvala: The Chiefs got off to a slow start, but, unlike the Steelers, turned it around quickly to score five unanswered touchdowns before Pittsburgh finally crossed its own 45-yard line.Consider that Patrick Mahomes averaged only 3.75 yards per attempt in the first quarter. In the second and third, the Chiefs picked up chunk play after chunk play as Mahomes averaged 13.7 yards per attempt.In the second quarter, he was 13 of 16 for 196 yards, three touchdowns and a 157.3 rating. And somehow, he got even better in the third. He was literally perfect: 10 of 10 for 161 yards, two touchdowns and a 158.3 rating, the highest possible mark.
Nicki Jhabvala, Reporter covering Washington's NFL team
9:56 p.m.
Headshot of Nicki Jhabvala
Nicki Jhabvala: What could be Ben Roethlisberger’s last game is shaping up to be one of the worst of his career.His first-half numbers certainly are.Among all starts, including the postseason, his 35.7 percent first-half completion rate is the sixth-worst of his career, his 24 passing yards are tied for second-worst and his 1.7 yards per attempt is the second-worst.Pittsburgh punted on all seven first-half possessions, which tied a franchise record for the opening two quarters, and totaled only 45 net yards for an average of 1.7 per play. T.J. Watt ended the half with twice as many fumble return yards (26) as Roethlisberger’s net passing yards (13).While Pittsburgh’s defense was able to hold off Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the first quarter, it couldn’t contain them in the second. Kansas City racked up 237 yards and three unanswered touchdowns to jump to a 21-7 lead.
Nicki Jhabvala, Reporter covering Washington's NFL team
9:00 p.m.
Headshot of Nicki Jhabvala
Nicki Jhabvala: Pittsburgh’s offense had four possessions and produced only 12 net yards in the first quarter, and yet it’s still in it against one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses. Ben Roethlisberger can thank the Watt brothers (Derek Watt had a special-teams tackle that saved a touchdown on a punt return, and T.J. Watt deflected a pass that was intercepted by Devin Bush) and his unrelenting defense for that.The problem for the Steelers’ offense? Mostly everything so far, and it starts up front. Their offensive line is getting worked, as evidenced by Tershawn Wharton speeding through the middle of the line untouched to get to Roethlisberger. They opened with three three-and-outs, then finally got a first down on their fourth possession, only to be set back by a false start penalty on receiver Diontae Johnson.The Steelers are 0-4 on third downs, in part because they’ve struggled on second downs:*Second and eight: run stuff, minus-two yards*Second and 10: run, two yards*Second and five: pass, three yards*Second and six: pass, seven yards*Second and eight: incomplete pass
Nicki Jhabvala, Reporter covering Washington's NFL team