It’s Underdog Week at SB Nation — a term that is likely to be applied only rarely to the Kansas City Chiefs under the reign of quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
As fun as it is to be the NFL’s defending champion, there’s nothing like pulling out a victory when all the odds are stacked against you — and all the experts are picking you to lose. So for my contribution to Underdog Week, I decided to recall the five most memorable underdog wins in Chiefs history:
5. 2017 Week 1 at New England Patriots
Pre-game Vegas line: Patriots (-8)
This upset victory was sweet — especially considering the Patriots were hanging their newest Super Bowl banner prior to this season-opening contest. The 42-27 whooping was historic. Not only did the Chiefs score the most points ever against a Patriots team during head coach Bill Belichick’s tenure, their 537 yards of offense was also a record for his reign.
The incredible records broken in this game go on and on. The Patriots had won 87 straight home games when leading at halftime. They were 90-1 at home when leading by 10+ points at any point in the game since 2001. In their previous four season openers following a Super Bowl championship, New England had been undefeated — winning by an average of nine points.
The unbelievable statistics continue:
From 2013-16, the Patriots allowed 0 90-yard TD drives at home ...— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 8, 2017
The Chiefs had 2 90-yard TD drives in the 1st half tonight.
Chiefs are the first AFC team to beat Tom Brady at home in which he played the whole game since the Jets in Week 10 of 2006 pic.twitter.com/zse7QXrOlL— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 8, 2017
Chiefs: 1st regular-season win in New England since 1990 (had lost 5 straight since)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 8, 2017
As unexpected as it was for any team to beat the Patriots at home, head coach Andy Reid has had a good resume against Belichick’s team. They were two of the best teams in their conference, too — so this upset wasn’t as surprising as some of the others on this list.
4. 1994 Divisional Round at Houston Oilers
Pre-game Vegas line: Oilers (-7)
As funny as it sounds for a team led by Hall of Fame players like quarterback Joe Montana and running back Marcus Allen to be an underdog, that’s exactly what the Chiefs were when they visited Houston for a Divisional round playoff game in January of 1994.
Coming off of a last-second victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at home in the Wild Card round, Kansas City failed to carry over their momentum, falling behind 10-0 at halftime. But like he had done countless times before, Montana turned on his magic for the second half.
Three passing touchdowns after the intermission put the Chiefs up 21-13 late in the fourth quarter. After an Oilers touchdown brought the score to within a point, Montana once again orchestrated a productive drive as the clock wound down to the two minute warning. Right afterwards, Allen took the handoff from 21 yards out and burst through a seam into the end zone to seal a 28-20 upset win.
All Oilers safety Bubba McDowell could do was point out the supernatural.
“Amazing, just amazing,” McDowell said via the Los Angeles Times. “It’s almost like Joe Montana’s got magic. Seriously. How does he do it? I mean, how does he do it?”
3. 2009 Week 11 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pre-game Vegas line: Steelers (-11.5)
If you were among the Arrowhead Stadium crowd this November afternoon in 2009 (like I was), you’ll probably recall the stadium seats were filled with the wrong colors. The defending Super Bowl champions were coming into play the 2-7 Chiefs with plenty of Terrible Towels following them to Kansas City.
While the towels were waving at the opening kickoff, they quickly went down when second-year running back Jamaal Charles took the return 97 yards for a Chiefs touchdown. The game only got crazier from there.
The two teams entered the fourth-quarter tied at 17. Kansas City had stayed in the game thanks to two (!) interceptions from second-year linebacker Andy Studebaker in the third quarter — including one that he returned 94 yards. They ended up being the only two picks of Studebaker’s career.
After Charles scored a game-tying touchdown with five minutes remaining, the Chiefs defense held tough and forced overtime. They were once again tasked with getting a stop — and did so on the first possession of overtime.
On the ensuing drive, the Chiefs needed to convert a third down. Running a crossing pattern, wide receiver Chris Chambers came free and took a reception 61 yards down the sideline to the 4-yard line. That set up kicker Ryan Succop’s field goal to cap off a 27-24 overtime victory that was one of the NFL’s biggest shockers of the season.
2. 2011 Week 15 vs. Green Bay Packers
Pre-game Vegas line: Packers (-11.5)
This game was very similar to the Steelers upset, but I’ve ranked it more highly because of how much more difficult it was to see the 5-8 Chiefs having a chance.
First, the Packers were 13-0 entering the contest — only the eighth time an NFL team has remained undefeated through so many games. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was at the peak of his powers and was on his way to earning his first NFL MVP award.
Second, this game was the first since the firing of former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley. Interim coach Romeo Crennell would take his place for the remaining three games. Not only was it Crennell’s first game, it was veteran quarterback Kyle Orton’s first start as a Chief; he had been picked up from the waiver wire mid-season.
While Orton played well enough to earn a 104.6 passer rating, it was the defense that came through. All-time great edge rusher Tamba Hali accumulated three sacks — while defensive lineman Allen Bailey tacked on a crucial one late in the fourth quarter.
With five minutes to go, a touchdown run by running back Jackie Battle gave Kansas City a multiple-score lead. After a quick Rodgers touchdown, Battle sealed the deal with a 15-yard run to conclude an unimaginable 19-14 win.
1. Super Bowl IV vs. Minnesota Vikings
Pre-game Vegas line: Vikings (-12)
I don’t have to jog your memory too much on this one. The 46-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Otis Taylor... the now-famous 65 Toss Power Trap play taken in for a score by running back Mike Garrett... head coach Hank Stram directing his offense to “matriculate the ball down the field.”
It was all part of the AFL champion Chiefs shocking the world by taking down the NFL champion Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV. In that era, the two leagues were seen as very uneven; in the eyes of spectators and the media, the NFL was regarded the superior league. The Chiefs were 13-point underdogs at some sports books — which was a step up for the AFL after the New York Jets had defied a spread of 17.5 points to beat the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Not only did they have much to overcome on the field, but quarterback Len Dawson had to play despite the distraction of being tied to a federal gambling investigation during the week before the game; afterwards, the news reports about it simply disappeared. He quieted the talk by playing well enough to be named Super Bowl MVP.
This is still the biggest spread the Chiefs have ever overcome to win. It also gave each league two Super Bowl wins, helping the AFL shed its image as the inferior league before the two leagues merged the following spring, creating the NFL we know and love today.
2009 Week 17 at Denver Broncos (-10)
- The 3-12 Chiefs eliminated the 8-7 Broncos from playoff contention behind 259 rushing yards from Charles. Derrick Johnson had two interceptions returned for touchdowns, helping to push the final to 44-24.
2012 Week 3 at New Orleans Saints (-8.5)
- The Chiefs would eventually finish 2-14 — but the highlight of the season was a 27-24 overtime victory in New Orleans. The game is most memorable for the 91-yard Charles touchdown that sparked an 18-point second-half comeback for the win.