Well, that was exciting.
On Sunday night, the Chiefs traveled to Denver to play a football game.
The Chiefs were missing their No. 2 cornerback, one of their starting defensive lineman, their best (well, until now) pass rusher in 2016, and their best wide receiver. They were also featuring a hobbled Derrick Johnson and Dontari Poe (who left the game, that’s one to keep an eye on). And that’s if you forget about Jamaal Charles and Allen Bailey being gone.
The Chiefs were also coming off a disappointing loss to the Buccaneers and facing serious questions about their offense (and to a lesser extent, their defense), and were facing off against the defending Super Bowl champions coming off a bye week and very healthy.
A lot of things pointed to another ugly prime time loss. Instead, the Chiefs are the team nipping at the heels of the Oakland Raiders in the AFC West and have yet another fourth quarter comeback in their rear view mirror.
What happened? Well, lots of things. I have basically all the film I want to review, but I’m going a different route and just writing a few quickfire takeaways from this game to start off the week.
First, as we’ve noted time and again with these Chiefs, they’re never out of a game until the clock has hit zero. Not when they’re down 17 entering the fourth quarter. Not when they’re losing by two touchdowns at halftime and have only put up three points. And not when they’re down eight with 2:31 to go and facing second and 17 from their own 18-yard line and no timeouts left.
Seriously, think about those wins for a second. The team that none of us thought could play from behind has had multiple remarkable comeback wins against quality teams this season, two of them on the road. This team has grit, heart, or whatever else you want to call it (though it seemed inexplicably absent against the Texans and Bucs, but that’s a whole separate article). They really are never out of a game. It’s a marvelous change from recent years.
Another thing to take from this game is that Andy Reid has GOT to start letting the offense play in hurry-up mode more often. I don’t know exactly what is changing late in halves or games, but Alex Smith doesn’t look like the same quarterback lately when he’s rushing the offense to the line (in the best way possible.
Against, Denver, prior to the final drive of the regulation, Smith was 13/25 (52 percent) for 98 yards (3.92 YPA). From the final drive through the end of the game, Smith was 13/19 (68.4 percent) for 122 yards (6.42 YPA), including a couple of absolutely clutch throws like this one.
4th and 10. Game on the line. Free rusher screaming at you. No big deal, apparently. pic.twitter.com/rl13gonrXf— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) November 28, 2016
It does not get more “not what I expected from Alex” than that moment. Considering the weight of the game, the fact that he had a free rusher right in his face, and how much he struggled for most of the game... you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when he stuck that throw (and good on Tyreek Hill for getting the yard after the catch that was needed).
I’m not going to fight with anyone about Alex right now, not after such a great win. But when your quarterback is struggling, you need to change things up and do what works. And what works for the Chiefs, right now, is getting to the line quickly and dropping the cutesy plays (anyone else see Denver’s secondary screaming in on WR screens before they even sort of developed), and not giving Smith time to outsmart himself. The Chiefs were able to score quickly multiple times against a healthy Denver defense by hurrying things up. They shouldn’t ignore that message.
As a final thought (and again, we’ll be doing plenty of film review this week), Justin Houston is BACK. He was absolutely the best player on the field for either team, and frankly the only reason his production slowed down in the second half were plays like this...
I have no idea why the refs were letting Donald Stephenson hold as much as he did, but THAT was the impact he made on the game: being quick enough to grab on to Houston and hold on for dear life. Sheesh.
But regardless of all that, Houston made his presence felt against the Broncos, and not just as a pass rusher (though his three sacks and safety forced certainly helped). Houston’s run defense has been desperately missed during the first half of the season, and he got to remind all of us that he’s one of the best run defenders in the league at the outside linebacker spot. His strength at the point of attack and ability to shed blockers quickly and track ball carriers changes entire offensive gameplans because you just can’t run to his edge. It’s marvelous to watch, and such a relief to see that Houston is who he was before getting hurt.
Now, with Chris Jones and Rakeem Nunez-Roches (who had another wonderful game) flashing interior pressure, Hali still with just a little gas left in the tank, and Justin Houston back... all that’s left is to see the suddenly unstoppable Dee Ford return to action. This defense could be remarkably good down the stretch if it just gets healthy. Here’s hoping.
The bottom line takeaway from this game, though, is that the Chiefs are a good enough team to march into Denver with multiple key injuries and still walk away with a win. That’s a big deal. Now time to try and do it again against Atlanta and one of the most frightening offenses in the NFL.