Steelers pull out preseason win over Chiefs
The day began with coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert attending Darryl Drake’s funeral in Tennessee.
It ended with the Pittsburgh Steelers, observing a moment of silence and wearing decals on their helmets Saturday night to honor their late wide receivers coach, carving out a 17-7 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs in their second preseason game.
Tomlin and Colbert, plus their wives, traveled to Gallatin, Tenn., for Drake’s service and had no difficulty returning to Heinz Field in time for the start of a game that was delayed an hour because of inclement weather.
“This has been a very difficult week,” Tomlin said. “If anything, the game was probably a break from that. You get lost in the things you need to do. Everything surrounding it, obviously, was (difficult).”
Undrafted free agent kicker Matthew Wright snapped a 7-7 tie with a 46-yard field goal with 12 minutes, 47 seconds remaining, and No. 4 quarterback Devlin Hodges launched a 24-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Diontae Johnson with 4:22 left.
Drake, who was entering his second season with the Steelers before he died last Sunday morning, was influential in the Steelers drafting Johnson in the third round. Johnson made his preseason debut and caught three passes for 46 yards. A second touchdown was negated by a pass interference call against Johnson.
“Our relationship was steady, growing each and every day,” Johnson said. “He loved me. I loved Coach Drake, too. It’s going to be a little different experience for me. … I’m just trying to move forward and just know that he’s always with me in my heart.”
Johnson said it was important to play well in his first game with the Steelers because of the way Drake treated him.
“He pushed me. He always wanted to make me do good, and he stayed on top of me,” Johnson said. “Even if it wasn’t about football, he was checking on me. I dedicated this game for him, and I’m dedicating this whole season to him and the rest of the receivers are, too.”
After the 60-minute delayed start, it took almost that long for the Steelers offense, led by second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph, to get going.
After a sluggish start, Rudolph finished 10 of 15 for 77 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, and he was sacked once while playing until late in the first half.
Josh Dobbs relieved and went 6 of 11 for 95 yards, no touchdowns and an interception before Hodges replaced him in the fourth quarter.
Through the opening four possessions, the Steelers generated two first downs and were 0 for 3 on third downs.
Rudolph found his rhythm on the fifth drive, directing a 14-play, 89-yard touchdown drive that put the Steelers ahead 7-0, with 6:39 left before halftime. It was capped by Jaylen Samuels’ 14-yard touchdown run around left end on which he went untouched into the end zone.
Rudolph completed 7 of 8 passes for 65 yards on the touchdown march (after going 3 of 7 for 12 yards on the first four possessions).
The Steelers were 3 of 3 on third downs on the drive, with Rudolph completing a 22-yard pass to James Washington on a third-and-11. Facing another third-and-11, Rudolph threw a 13-yard completion to Xavier Grimble.
The Chiefs tied the score with 1:11 left in the half when backup quarterback Chad Henne threw a 17-yard touchdown pass on third-and-15. It was a rare mistake by the defense in the opening 30 minutes.
Until that drive, the Steelers defense had allowed three first downs over four possessions.
Linebacker Bud Dupree had two sacks and batted down a pass.
Corner Artie Burns, who started and played into the third quarter, also knocked down a pass and made the tackle that resulted in a forced turnover midway through the first quarter.
Coming off a season in which the defense forced just 15 turnovers, tied for third fewest in the NFL, it was a positive when Burns hit running back Carlos Hyde near midfield, Terrell Edmunds punched out the ball with his right hand and Sean Davis recovered.
The Steelers forced three turnovers overall — all on fumble recoveries.
“That was encouraging,” Tomlin said. “I’d like to see us maintain possession of the ball a little better than we did in the game. I think that turnover margin speaks to both sides. We have to be good at getting it, but we also have to be good at securing it.”
The Steelers lost one of three fumbles and turned the ball over twice.
Dobbs replaced Rudolph with 1:11 left in the half and immediately uncorked a 40-yard pass to Washington. The Steelers turned the ball over on downs, but they got the ball back when Henne fumbled the snap, and linebacker Tuzar Skipper recovered at the 38.
Dobbs had a first-and-goal at the 6 when he threw an interception in the end zone with 10 seconds left in the half.
The new replay challenge rule on pass interference came into play with 14:15 remaining and the score tied, 7-7. Johnson was flagged for interfering with defensive back D’Montre Wade, wiping out a 24-yard touchdown pass from Dobbs.
Tomlin threw the challenge flag, but the call was upheld upon review.
“I’ll keep that to myself,” Tomlin said when asked about the replay decision.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .