GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium was electric on Monday night.
It normally doesn’t take much for Kansas City Chiefs fans to get ready for Raider Week, but Monday night was different. The team came into the game 3-1 after defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in convincing fashion. It felt like the Chiefs had found their stride — and I was among those who thought that they would dominate the Las Vegas Raiders in all aspects of the game.
But I was quickly reminded that in rivalry games, anything is possible.
Both teams’ opening drives were uneventful. The next Raiders possession started with George Karlaftis and Frank Clark combining for a sack of quarterback Derek Carr on first down. Then a penalty on third-and-short put Las Vegas into third-and-long. It looked like the Chiefs were in position to get the ball back. But poor tackling on third down gave the Raiders a fourth-and-1 at their own 42-yard line.
As most teams now do, Las Vegas chose to be aggressive and go for it. Expecting a run, the Chiefs loaded up the box. It was a good thought — except that it left wide receiver Davante Adams one-on-one with Kansas City cornerback Rashad Fenton. That left the NFL’s best wideout wide open for a 58-yard touchdown reception.
Kicking woes once again found the Chiefs on the following drive, when replacement kicker Matt Wright missed a 41-yard field goal. The Raiders responded with a 69-yard touchdown drive. 48 of those yards came from two pass interference penalties: one on Fenton and a questionable call on rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson.
The Chiefs then went three-and-out. The Raiders turned the next six plays into a field goal that put them up 17-0.
At this point, it really felt like nothing would go right for Kansas City. Offensive chemistry seemed off. Both the offensive and defensive lines were being outmatched. And officials seemed to be throwing all the flags in the Raiders’ favor.
The turning point
Sometimes, the spark comes from the least expected place.
On the next drive — with the Chiefs staring at a second-and-17 after Patrick Mahomes was sacked — it felt like another drive was about to stall. Kansas City’s play-call — a handoff — only made it seem more likely. But what looked like a safe call to protect Mahomes and the offensive line turned into a 30-yard scamper full of guts, grits and effort from running back Jerick McKinnon.
This wasn’t a typical hole-wide-open 30-yard run. Instead, it was a message that at least one Chief showed up to play — a statement run showing the type of fight that championship teams possess. Six plays later, Mahomes found tight end Travis Kelce in the back of the end zone for the first of his four touchdown receptions on the night.
The sleeping giant was now awake.
The Raiders still came out fighting, but you could feel the energy returning to the defense. On third-and-6 in the next drive, Carr hit Adams for 18 yards — but Kansas City cornerback L’Jarius Sneed flew up to land a big hit that jarred the ball loose and out of bounds.
Three plays later, the Chiefs’ defense had Las Vegas facing a third-and-8. All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones fought through blocks to hammer Carr, forcing (and recovering) a fumble. It was just the play Kansas City needed. It would give the offense one more chance to get a touchdown before halftime.
But as the defense (and the Arrowhead crowd) celebrated, you see the officials huddling up. They decided to flag Jones with a controversial roughing-the-passer penalty. So instead of the Chiefs’ offense getting the ball, the Raiders’ drive continued. It ended with a field goal and that made the score 20-7.
It was the type of call than can demoralize a team — and a crowd. But this is what separates regular teams and championship teams — and what distinguishes regular fans from Chiefs Kingdom’s fans. A call that could have removed all the air from Arrowhead Stadium instead gave life to every player (and fan) wearing red.
The Chiefs would go on to score 17 unanswered points, taking a 24-20 lead toward the end of the third quarter. The Raiders kept fighting, but the Chiefs put together a gutsy second half to secure a 30-29 win over its division rival.
The bottom line
This was the type of game that championship teams win. In the face of adversity — when the odds (and sometimes even the officiating) — seem to be going against you, you keep fighting to pull out the win.
Monday night was a reminder to opposing teams (and NFL officials) that Arrowhead and Chiefs Kingdom is very much alive. It is still the league’s most difficult place to play.
The Chiefs are a championship team with championship fans. The same energy will be needed to defeat the Buffalo Bills in Week 6. And as head coach Andy Reid might say, “We look forward to the challenge.”