PITTSBURGH (AP) — The shirts read “shut out the noise.” Shutting out the pain of suddenly losing the man behind the mantra will take far longer for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Still, there was something about the game-day routine that brought a sense of relief and normalcy just six days removed from the death of wide receivers coach Darryl Drake.
The receivers walked out to pregame warmups wearing gear with “shut out the noise” emblazoned on them, the phrase Drake adopted for his group heading into the 2019 season.
The Steelers took the field with “DD” stickers on their helmets, stickers that will remain there all season. Players gathered on the sideline to kneel in prayer. A moment of silence was held just before the national anthem.
Then the ball was kicked off and Pittsburgh went back to work, keeping Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in check in a 17-7 victory on Saturday night.
“It’s just been a very difficult week,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who attended Drake’s funeral in Tennessee along with general manager Kevin Colbert early Saturday before returning in time to lead his team to its second preseason victory in as many weeks. “If anything the game is kind of a break from that. You get lost in the things that you need to do.”
And what the Steelers (2-0) need to do over the next two weeks is figure out who will be the backup to starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. So far, Tomlin has seen little separation between Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph.
Rudolph guided a long first-half touchdown drive and finished 10 of 15 for 77 yards while Dobbs completed 6 of 11 for 95 yards with a red-zone interception on a night the Steelers (2-0) opted to keep several key starters on the sideline, from Roethlisberger to Pro Bowl offensive linemen David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey to rookie linebacker Devin Bush, who was held out because of a shoulder issue.
Asked if Rudolph, is ahead of Dobbs, Tomlin shook his head.
“Not as we sit here right now,” Tomlin said.
Not that any of it matters when Week 1 rolls around. Roethlisberger is firmly entrenched as the starter for 15 years and counting. The same is true in Kansas City, where Mahomes is coming off an MVP season.
Unlike Roethlisberger, Mahomes hasn’t yet earned the right to take most of the preseason off. The third-year pro completed just 2 of 5 passes for 11 yards in two series, a far cry from his previous visit to Heinz Field, when he threw for six touchdowns in a Week 2 win last September that served as a harbinger of the season to come.
“Yeah, that’ll all get worked out,” Reid said when asked about Mahomes’ performance. “Everyone can’t be perfect.”
Mahomes’ best play during his cameo may have been his decision to slide during an 8-yard scramble, something he didn’t do a week ago when he lowered his shoulder against Cincinnati rather than step out of bounds.
Chad Henne found Mecole Hardman for a 17-yard touchdown late in the first half for Kansas City (1-1), which managed a lone touchdown a week after putting up 38 against the Bengals. Hardman, a second-round pick, has two touchdowns in two weeks and his rapid emergence could give Reid another option to play with in what could be the NFL’s most potent offense.
Rudolph, a third-round pick a year ago who is hoping to supplant Dobbs as the top backup, was given the start instead. Playing with a group that included Pro Bowl running back James Conner and star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rudolph struggled early to gain some momentum.
It wasn’t until Rudolph found himself playing with the reserves that he started to get going. He directed a 14-play, 89-yard drive in the second quarter, a series that ended with a 14-yard sprint to the end zone by Jaylen Samuels.
Dobbs started off brilliantly, hitting James Washington for a 40-yard gain. He couldn’t sustain the momentum, thanks in part to an interception in which he overthrew Diontae Johnson. The ball sailed into the arms of Kansas City’s Charvarius Ward to cut short a scoring chance late in the first half.
Johnson, a third-round pick, ended up scoring in the fourth quarter when he made a diving grab in the end zone on a heave from fourth-stringer Devlin Hodges, a catch that would have drawn a nod of approval from Drake.
“It was emotional for the receiver group,” Johnson said. “We all know what Coach Drake did for us as a whole group. We know he is with us each and every day. We’re just dedicating this season for him.”
THIS BUD’S FOR YOU?
Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree is entering the season with a significant amount of pressure after Pittsburgh opted to pick up his fifth-year option, but have not approached him about signing a long-term deal. Dupree provided a spark, sacking Mahomes and Henne and knocking down a pass.
Chiefs: S Tyrann Mathieu (shoulder), WR Deon Yelder (knee), WR Marcus Kemp (knee) and LB Breeland Speaks (knee) all left and did not return. Reid said Kemp’s injury appeared to be the most serious.
Steelers: RB Benny Snell Jr. (groin) and LB Anthony Chickillo (knee) left. OLB Ola Adeniyi was held out with an undisclosed injury.
Chiefs: Host San Francisco next Saturday.
Steelers: Expect to give Roethlisberger his only reps of the preseason next Sunday when they visit Tennessee.