The Chiefs won the kind of game it takes to stay unbeaten.
The Chiefs escaped with a 23-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday in front of a quiet crowd of 74,307 that wasn’t expecting such a nerve-wracking game at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Chiefs, now 8-0, hardly moved the ball in the second half against the Browns, 3-5. The NFL sack leaders didn’t come up with their first sack until the fourth quarter, and gave up six sacks of their own.
And the NFL takeaway leaders didn’t force a turnover until they came up with a muffed punt by the Browns at midfield in the fourth quarter.
Cleveland, who handed third-team quarterback Jason Campbell his first start of the season, had one last gasp to win or send the game into overtime when the Browns took over at their 16 with 3 minutes, 58 seconds to play.
The Browns could get no farther than their 31, and the Chiefs, who have yet to allow more than 17 points in a game this season, salted away their eighth straight win on Ryan Succop’s 40-yard field goal with 17 seconds to play.
The Browns threatened to tie the game or take the lead midway through the fourth quarter after stopping the Chiefs for the third straight possession of the second half and moving to the Kansas City 36 on a 37-yard pass from Campbell to tight end Jordan Cameron.
But Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas was called for holding; the Chiefs’ Justin Houston came up with the team’s first sack of the game; and a run lost a yard, putting Cleveland in a third-and-20 and after a short gain on a pass, forcing a punt.
Browns punter Spencer Lanning did his job, pinning the Chiefs at the 1.
The Chiefs were unable to punch it out, but got a huge break when the Browns’ Davone Bess, replacing injured Travis Benjamin, fumbled when returning the punt at midfield with 7 minutes to play.
Cleveland had drawn to within 20-17 on the first possession of the second half. Campbell hit Bess for 15 yards, Josh Gordon for 14 and Gordon again for 23 yards. The key play was on fourth-and-1 when Browns rookie coach Rob Chudzinski went for it at the Chiefs’ 19.
Willis McGahee converted the fourth down by picking up two yards, and on the next play, Campbell found running back Fozzy Whitaker for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 9:58 left in the third quarter.
The Chiefs led 20-10 at halftime on a pair of Succop field goals and touchdown passes by Alex Smith to fullback Anthony Sherman and wide receiver Dexter McCluster.
Succop made field goals of 42 yards and 35 yards as the Chiefs dominated time of possession but could not punch the ball in the end zone.
The Chiefs’ defense, led by inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, forced the Browns into three-and-outs on their first three possessions before the Kansas City offense scored the first touchdown of the game.
Smith completed six of eight passes on an 82-yard drive, including three to Sherman for 23 yards. Smith converted a third-and-five at the Cleveland 35 by scrambling down the sidelines for 23 yards. Two plays later, he dumped a pass to Sherman, who threaded his way behind blocks by guard Jeff Allen and center Rodney Hudson and scored on the 12-yard play, his first NFL touchdown for a 13-0 lead with 10:20 to play in the first half.
The Browns, still looking for their first down, took over at their 42 after Succop was short on a 52-yard field goal with 3:36 left in the half.
On the first play, Campbell hit Cameron for 19 yards, and on the next play, the Browns ran a flea-flicker. Campbell handed off to McGahee, who tossed the ball back to Campbell, who arched a pass to Josh Gordon.
Gordon outran Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith to the end zone and grabbed a 39-yard touchdown pass with 1:11 to play, making it 13-7.
The Chiefs answered with six-play, 75-yard drive of their own. Running back Jamaal Charles sandwiched runs of 14 and 17 yards around a reception for nine yards. Smith then hit McCluster down the seam for a 28-yard touchdown grab, his first offensive touchdown of the season, for a 20-7 lead with 1:11 left.
That left just enough time for the Browns to tack on a 44-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff with 10 seconds left in the half. The big play was a 47-yard pass from Campbell to Gordon, who beat Smith on a crossing route.
The Chiefs had a 22 minute, 46-second time of possession edge to Cleveland’s 7:14 in the first half and 16 first downs to the Browns’ three.