The Chiefs’ usually cautious offense, which hadn’t turned the ball over in the first three games, gave the ball away three times Sunday against the Giants at Arrowhead Stadium.
Of course, thanks to a dominant defense and Dexter McCluster’s punt return touchdown, the crowd of 73,386 watched the undefeated Chiefs steamroll to a 31-7 win anyway.
“From last year to now, it’s a big turnaround,” said tackle Donald Stephenson, a Blue Springs graduate who stepped in when No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher suffered a concussion in the first half. “It feels good and, if anybody deserves to be 4-0 right now, it’s the Chiefs for all the stuff we went through last year.”
Still, the offense made it more challenging than needed.
Two plays after Tamba Hali sacked Eli Manning and stripped the football for a fumble, center Rodney Hudson took the blame for a bad shotgun snap in the second quarter, which ended the Chiefs’ streak without a turnover to start the season at 13 quarters.
During the third quarter, Alex Smith threw his first two interceptions of the season — the first on an apparent miscommunication with Dwayne Bowe, who broke outside Prince Amukamara as Smith threw a slant inside, and the second on a pass to Jamaal Charles that was tipped at least four times and had to be upheld on review.
Still, those miscues didn’t prevent the Chiefs from remaining unbeaten under first-year coach Andy Reid, who spent the previous 14 seasons at Philadelphia.
“Those turnovers were a little crazy and everybody’s got a little piece of those,” Reid said.
On each occasion, the Chiefs’ defense responded by forcing a three-and-out and blunting any momentum for the Giants before McCluster turned the tide with an 89-yard special teams touchdown.
“Dex had been close on a couple of these, so it’s nice to see him bust one,” Reid said. “He had a couple nice third-down catches too on top of that, so he’ll probably sleep well tonight.”
Clinging to a 10-7 lead late in the third quarter, the Giants, 0-4, appeared to convert a third-and-17 on a pass from Manning to Victor Cruz, but Reid challenged the spot and it was overturned.
“The coaches upstairs did a nice job with that,” Reid said. “I have a lot of trust in those guys and they called it. That was a pretty big challenge there and they were very accurate with what they saw.”
Rather than press his luck on fourth down and less than a yard from the Giants’ 30-yard line, Tom Coughlin sent out the punting unit.
McCluster then drove a nail into the Giants’ coffin when he eluded long snapper Zak DeOssie with a 360-degree spin before slipping upfield and into the open. He juked past another Giants defender near midfield and raced untouched to the end zone.
“Honestly, I really don’t remember the spin,” McCluster said. “That play felt so long to me, but I just wanted to catch the ball first. Once I caught the ball, I saw some blockers and some opportunities to make some guys miss. After that, it was, ‘How bad do you want to get to the end zone?’”
It was the Chiefs’ first punt return touchdown since McCluster’s 94-yarder against San Diego in the 2010 season opener, the debut of the “new Arrowhead” on Monday Night Football.
From there, the Chiefs chewed up the first 9:17 of the fourth quarter with a 14-play, 80-yard drive capped by Smith’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Charles and, after safety Eric Berry recovered a Da’Rel Scott fumble, put the game away when Smith hit Bowe for a 34-yard score.
“That’s a great feeling — 4-0, trying to be 5-0 next week,” said cornerback Dunta Robinson, who started in place of injured Pro Bowler Brandon Flowers. “We’ve just got to stay humble, stay confident and understand that our job’s not done yet.”
The Chiefs broke on top when Smith, who completed 24 of 41 passes for 288 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, capped a 98-yard march with a 5-yard touchdown to Sean McGrath, who eluded his defender in the back of the end zone for his first NFL score.
That lead didn’t hold up very long as Cruz, who caught 10 passes for 164 yards, roasted Robinson for a 69-yard touchdown two plays later.
Coming out of the two-minute warning before halftime, Ryan Succop put the Chiefs back in front with a 51-yard field goal, which provided the 10-7 halftime lead.