The more distance I get between myself and the sting of Foxboro, the more I'm appreciating what 2015 had to offer as a Chiefs fan.
I wrote about it last week, but feel even more so now; 2015 was a really fun season. The more I read comments and tweets with suggestions for the top 10 most fun moments of 2015, the more that impression was reinforced. There was so, so, so much great stuff to watch as a fan. It was extremely difficult for me to parse things down to 10 moments I personally enjoyed the most. But I did it. Because I'm a pro at pretending to be a pro.
There were so many great moments that a ton of wonderful choices had to be. For example, I actually left off Derrick Johnson becoming the all time Chiefs leader in tackles. That's a fantastic moment. The problem for me is that it was sullied by the team situation at the time (which was abysmal), and so the fun of the moment was ruined. Other honorable mentions include Andy Reid dabbing, Jah Reid pancaking then smacking Von Miller, Josh Mauga's ALMOST pick-six (with the incredible "he had a piano fall on his back" commentary), and many more.
Like I said, it was a really, really fun season. Some great moments got chopped. The 10 that remain aren't likely what you fine folk would have picked, but all of them held significance to me for a variety of reasons. Let's do this, shall we? And who better to start off the list than one of the best rookies the Chiefs have ever drafted...
Moment Number 10: Marcus Peters pick-six on Peyton Manning
You remember this moment.
You knew this was making the top 10. Still fun to remember Peters announcing himself on national TV. pic.twitter.com/zpwYpqldUq— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) February 2, 2016
This game may have ended in a stomach punch, but this moment was nearly perfect for a multitude of reasons.
First, and most obviously, it was the moment the Chiefs went up 14-0 on the Broncos with seemingly ALL the momentum. The Broncos offense hadn't done much to that point, and the Chiefs were a red zone fumble away from being up even more. I turned to my wife (we were at the game, which I'll get to in a moment) and said "there's a chance this turns into a blowout." In that moment, it felt like the Chiefs were about to blow the game wide open.
The second reason this moment was nearly perfect? Marcus Peters. He had played well in the preseason and famously picked off a pass on his very first NFL snap in Week 1. He had also gotten eaten alive by DeAndre Hopkins on a few snaps. We THOUGHT the Chiefs had grabbed a playmaker at corner, but we weren't sure.
One pick and half a football field later, all doubt had been erased. Peters didn't have a perfect rookie season, but this was the moment it became abundantly clear that the Chiefs had drafted someone who was going to make a difference. Peters was brilliant the majority of that night, and it's my firm belief that his rookie of the year campaign began with this snap.
Finally, Arrowhead. The fact that I was there will, of course, make it special to me. Also, it's hard to exaggerate just how frenzied Arrowhead Stadium got in that moment. First, when Peters picked off the pass. That alone made the crowd roar. But it went to a whole new level when it became clear he was going all that way.
This play was the beginning of a few things, and in that moment the possibilities for the season seemed endless.
Moment Number 9: Spencer Ware Arrives
We knew that Spencer Ware was a big, strong runner. We knew he was capable of running over defenders once he hit the second level. We knew he was tough to bring down.
All that was clear to us after preseason. What WASN'T clear to us, though, was how much more Ware was than a power runner. How he possessed the ability to be the focal point of an offense. How he had a shiftiness and vision in his running that NOBODY saw coming.
Then, with 9:50 left in the fourth quarter against the Chargers, Ware took a handoff up the middle, made a decisive cut, then made a couple MORE decisive cuts to shake a few defenders in the open field. Suddenly the power back had gained 50 yards on the play, largely due to his vision, decision making, and cutting ability. None of which he was supposed to have as a "short yardage back" kind of player.
I wrote extensively about Ware's game against the Chargers here, so I won't get too in-depth. You can just skip to a GIF of his cuts on the big run here, if you like. It was a fantastic play on a really good game.
What made that moment so fun for me was the "whoa, he can RUN" realization. Suddenly a whole new world felt opened up for the offense. I stand by a statement I've made here that Spencer Ware has top 10 (and maybe top 5) ability as a runner if he can stay healthy. The big run against the Chargers was the moment I realized that.
Moment Number 8: Dee Ford Kills San Diego's Comeback
If you were to ask me what Dee Ford's stats were against San Diego the second time the Chiefs played them, I couldn't tell you if my life depended on it.
Using the Google, I'm reminded that Ford had a three sack performance against a woeful offensive line, and that he had a big role in the defense holding the Chargers to three points on a day the offense didn't do much and needed all the help it could get. Thanks Google, I appreciate the reminder.
You know what I DID remember without having to look it up? Dee Ford saving the Chiefs' playoff berth.
You remember that game? It was one of multiple heart attacks the Chiefs gave their fans down the stretch as they hunted for a playoff spot. At the time, it seemed like every team in the AFC was in position for a wild card berth. The Chiefs couldn't afford to lose a single game.
Philip Rivers and the Chargers got the ball down seven with five minutes on the clock, and all I could think was "toomuchtimetoomuchtimetoomuchtime" over and over in my head. I've seen Rivers make things happen with way less time. I hate that guy. I just KNEW the Chiefs were going to let the Chargers march down the field and stupid Phil was going to ruin my day again.
And sure enough, that vision seemed borderline prophetic. The Chargers marched slowly but surely down the field, with that jerk Rivers completing miracle passes on multiple third and fourth downs.
(Seriously, on a long side note... take a look at that last drive. The Chargers converted on a third and 14, a fourth and 3, and a fourth and 10... twice. TWICE! I will forever tell people they are fools if they don't fear Rivers. Seriously, I hate that guy)
Finally, the Chargers faced a final play from the 11-yard line. They end up with Danny Woodhead (another guy I hate but would love if he were a Chief) one-on-one in what amounted to a go route (not really, but that's what he was essentially running into the end zone by the time the ball was delivered) against... Dee Ford.
Look, Ford had had a great game up to that point. But had you asked me what player I WOULDN'T want alone in coverage against Woodhead in that situation, he'd be near the top of the list. As Rivers released (with Tamba Hali closing in like only Tamba Hali does), my heart wasn't even in my throat. It was flopping around on the floor, having been gagged up after one too many trips to said throat.
Of course, then Ford reached into his soul and summoned coverage skills like I'd never seen from him. By the time the ball got to Woodhead, he was all over him like drool on a baby.
The circle there is meant to highlight how alone Ford was. He was absolutely the only player on the defense who could prevent a touchdown. There was no help over the top besides an always-alert Marcus Peters seeing the throw headed that way (in my opinion, the entire design of this play was to clog the middle and distract the safety long enough to get Woodhead a one-on-one matchup), and it was either make a play or kiss the playoffs goodbye.
Ford choose the former. Seriously, you want to see a picture that will stress you out even though you know the outcome? Look at how close this was.
That top arrow is the ball. The ball that is currently in the arms of Danny Woodhead. Basically, the ball is caught.
The bottom arrow points to a blur. That blur is the hand / arm of Dee Ford reaching into the arms of Danny Woodhead. One might say his goal is to make sure Woodhead catches his arm instead of the ball.
You cannot come closer to the difference between touchdown and pass defensed than this play. At least, not without seriously harming fans psychologically and probably violating a few laws.
What a play by Ford. What a game to keep the playoff hopes alive.
Moment Number 7: Watt Were You Thinking
I confess, I stretched WAY too much to try and find a funny way to fit J.J. Watt's name into that. It doesn't work, and I'm ashamed of myself. I mean, not ashamed enough to change it or take any other corrective action, but ashamed nonetheless.
Anyway, remember the hype on Watt heading into the Texans playoff game? Look, Watt is a great player, make no mistake. But it was getting ridiculous. Especially with regards to Watt's contributions to the Texans' offense. To hear national media tell it, the only thing that was keeping Watt from leading the league in rushing, receiving, and passing was a lack of snaps. It was nauseating.
With 4:52 left in the second quarter, the Chiefs were up 13-0 in a game that felt closer than a double digit lead. The Texans had the ball on the Chiefs 2-yard line and a full set of downs to work with. Onto the field ran Watt, much to the pleasure of adoring Texans fans.
The plan, clearly, was for Watt to use his superhuman strength / speed / manliness to ram the ball into the end zone. It was a nice plan.
Of course, to loosely paraphrase Mike Tyson ... everyone has a plan until Derrick Johnson chops their legs out from underneath them.
Watching the Chiefs take a team trying to punch them in the mouth and shove the ball right back in their face was ridiculously fun. Almost as much fun as watching stunned Texans fans trying to figure out how their superhero could possibly be denied. It also resulted in arguably the greatest tweet of my existence, which puts it over the top for me. Also, I love Derrick Johnson. It's important I make that clear.
Moment Number 6: The Doomed Heroes
I have no doubt this last selection will be controversial, as it comes from a losing effort against the Patriots in the playoffs. For some people, the sting of the loss (and some of the details around said loss) has destroyed any fond memories of that game.
This isn't the case for me. The Chiefs fought back at the end and, clock management disasters aside, made a game of it when it looked like it would get out of hand for awhile. And there were plenty of fun moments to be had in the football itself. None more fun than watching Alex Smith and Jason Avant go full hero ball.
There's 7:39 left in the third quarter. The Patriots have just taken advantage of a devastating fumble to claim a 21-6 lead. The Chiefs are facing third and 7 on their own 23-yard line. Jeremy Maclin is hobbled. Jamaal Charles is long gone. Spencer Ware can't go. Travis Kelce is getting ALL of Belichick's attention. The Patriots get quick pressure. It's hopeless. Game over.
Smith and Avant did not accept this.
I understand some of you can't get past how the game ended. I really do. But I love this play. It's all guts and hustle and "YOU'RE GONNA HAVE TO PRY THIS GAME FROM MY COLD DEAD HANDS" from both Smith and Avant.
Smith's play here is ridiculous. Just flat-out ridiculous. The escape from a pair of Pats rushers is almost spooky (that second duck from the incoming rusher was something straight out of Madden). Then Smith is forced to evade his own teammate (still love you Jeff Allen). Fortunately, Zach Fulton gives a handy (and perhaps slightly illegal) block to another threatening Patriots defender, buying Smith a second to look down the field.
And then he just... heaves it to Jason Avant, who alertly runs away from Smith and toward a bit of open space down the sideline (past the first down marker) between his corner and the safety.
Alex Smith puts the ball JUST over the head of the corner (who actually has really good coverage once he recovers from the shock of Smith's escape), and Avant rewards him with this catch.
What was it I said before? Oh, right... mercy.
What a catch. What a way to end a play like this. What makes it even better is seeing Hali's face in the background of this picture. I genuinely believe Tamba cares more whether the Chiefs win than I do. That's a rare trait in a professional athlete.
This play jolted me back (and the Chiefs) back to life in a game I thought was about to turn into a blowout. This play made me sit up and say, "waaaaaaaiiiiiiittttt just a minute... could they... maybe?" It's not a perfect play. One could argue that Smith's throw should have gone farther outside than it did (even considering he threw mid-step, but I'm just saying). But it's a great preview to what Smith and Avant did the rest of the way... they lost, but man did they go down swinging.
This play was a blast to watch, was the beginning of hope in a game that looked hopeless. Things didn't swing the Chiefs way, but I'll always look back on this play as one of my favorite moments of the year. Refusing to go quietly into the night is what 2015 was all about, and almost nothing encapsulated that feeling better than this moment.
I've gotta say, I've enjoyed writing about these moments so much I think I'm going to split this column up even further. Next time we'll dive into plays five through three. Then we'll have a Part 3 (really a Part 4 if you count the introduction article) in which we cover the two most fun moments of the season.
In the meantime, do yourself a favor and re-watch those gifs a few times. Maybe send the Watt one to a Texans fan. You know, for old times' sake.