The undefeated Chiefs have made a habit of salting away wins with long fourth-quarter scoring drives this season.
But unlike the last three games, when those drives protected leads, the Chiefs found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter for the first time Sunday against the Titans at LP Field before a 10-play march keyed the Chiefs’ 26-17 come-from-behind victory.
“In the fourth quarter, we came out and made it happen, and that’s when you’ve got to stand up and be a real football player and take over,” said running back Jamaal Charles, who finished with 22 carries for 108 yards.
Tennessee, 3-2, managed only 83 yards of offense in the first half and fell behind 13-0, but backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who got the nod in place of injured starter Jake Locker (hip), rallied the Titans with 17 straight points to open the second half.
Speedster Chris Johnson took a dump off from Fitzpatrick as he avoided a sack then cutback across field for a 49-yard touchdown and the Titans’ first points.
Tennessee’s next drive netted a 22-yard Rob Bironas field goal.
The Titans eventually took their first lead on the opening play of the fourth quarter as Fitzpatrick dived into the end zone on a 9-yard scramble for a 17-13 lead, but the Chiefs had an answer.
Buoyed by a late hit out of bounds on a third-down scramble by quarterback Alex Smith, the Chiefs, 5-0, retook the lead on Jamaal Charles’ 1-yard touchdown run with 6:23 remaining.
“This team is showing when we need something to happen, or we’re down and people think we’re out, we can execute and do what we need to do,” wide receiver Dexter McCluster said.
The Titans’ next two drives ended with Fitzpatrick interceptions.
Cornerback Marcus Cooper, who scored the game’s first touchdown on a fumble recovery after a punt, helped seal the win with an athletic, one-handed pick.
“You know what, he did a nice job — a really nice job,” coach Andy Reid said. “He competed out there.”
Meanwhile, Quintin Demps picked off a pass for the second straight week, snagging a tipped ball.
Ryan Succop connected on field goals of 33 and 48 yards after the turnovers as the Chiefs iced the win.
“No question, it helps anytime you get in situations and you overcome it and play well,” Smith said. “This was a first for us this year, being down in the fourth quarter and having to have a game-winning drive. We were able to put it together and the defense sealed the deal along with special teams on those field goals.”
During the first half, it looked as if the Chiefs were poised for a rout.
Penalties short-circuited a promising opening drive near midfield, but special teams still provided an early lead.
Punter Dustin Colquitt lofted a 40-yard kick, which checked up after landing near the Titans’ 20-yard line and hit wide receiver Damian Williams’ ankle.
Williams inadvertently kicked the ball toward the end zone and ultimately lost a footrace with Cooper, who pounced on the loose ball for his first NFL touchdown.
Succop bumped the Chiefs’ lead to 10-0 with a 29-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter.
The Titans’ offense stirred to life and drove to the Chiefs’ 1-yard line — first-and-goal at the 1, no less — but came away empty when Dontari Poe and Anthony Toribio brought down Jackie Battle inches from the goal-line on Mike Munchak’s fourth-down gamble.
Smith lobbed a 41-yard pass down the visiting sideline for Donnie Avery on the Chiefs’ first play after the turnover over downs and Succop eventually tacked on a 24-yard field goal in the closing seconds before halftime for a 13-0 lead.
Tennessee would rally, but so too would the Chiefs.
“Five-and oh is a like a dream, but this is reality,” McCluster said. “It feels really good.”