The Chiefs took the kickoff to start overtime and powered their way to the touchdown that ended Sunday’s remarkable 33-27 triumph over the San Diego Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium.
But to get there, the Chiefs had to get it tied in regulation and force extra time with a touchdown on a late possession, an exercise that the team had not mastered in recent seasons.
For all the success in coach Andy Reid’s first three seasons in Kansas City — 31 victories and a pair of playoff appearances — the late-game, manage-the-clock, must-score drive has rarely been part of the tool belt.
Reid’s fourth season opened with precisely that situation, and the positive results led to a stunning victory.
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The circumstances were favorable as the Chiefs took over with 1:49 remaining, trailing 27-20. They had outscored the Chargers 17-3 over the previous 15 minutes and were riding momentum.
The Chargers had gone conservative and failed to pick up a first down, punting it away just after the 2-minute warning, and Drew Kaser’s boot spun in the Chiefs’ direction. The kick went 17 yards and set up the Chiefs at the San Diego 42.
At that point, confidence was soaring.
“One hundred percent confident,” Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said. “I don’t think there was a time in that game where anybody thought we were out of it.”
Still, the Chiefs had to finish the drive and Maclin and quarterback Alex Smith turned in the biggest play. Flushed out of the pocket, Smith bought time and fired a completion for 22 yards to Maclin, who caught the ball as he was going down at the Chargers’ 10.
Chargers safety Jahleel Addae plowed into Maclin, leading with a vicious shoulder hit and drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty that moved the ball to the 5.
Spencer Ware bulled into the end zone on the next play. Cairo Santos’ extra point tied the score, and the Chiefs’ offseason emphasis on late game and half situations paid off at the first opportunity.
Last season, the Chiefs got the ball 20 times with 2 minutes or less left in the first half or game. They scored one touchdown and kicked one field goal, according to ESPN research.
The Chiefs weren’t always trying to score in those situations; sometimes it was to protect a lead. But when they had to score quickly late — like the divisional playoff game against the Patriots last season — the operation didn’t run smoothly.
On Sunday, they scored so quickly that the Chargers got the ball back with 1:03 remaining and picked up a first down on their second play. But the Chiefs defense came up with a stop, and the Chargers never saw the ball in overtime.
The comeback was complete, and Maclin saluted Reid and the offensive coaches who drilled in the offseason on the finer points of 2-minute offense.
“I give credit to Big Red (Reid) and the offensive staff and just the whole team in general for what we did in training camp and working on these types of situations, knowing how much time is on the clock,” Maclin said.
“I thought we did a good job.”