Matt Forte swung into the flat Sunday, and as Derrick Johnson, who was eyeing the New York Jets’ running back the whole way, sprinted to cover him, he saw a receiver slide his way in hopes of blocking his path.
This, Johnson knew, was a good old-fashioned pick play, and Lord knows, given the amount of football he’s played, he’s not only seen it before, but knew exactly what to do.
So Johnson, the four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker, darted under the pick, broke in front of Forte and — what do you know? — the ball was right there, waiting for him.
“He tried to back-shoulder the running back, and he thought he could dart it in there,” Johnson recalled with a grin, following the Chiefs’ 24-3 win on Sunday before an announced crowd of 71,587 at Arrowhead Stadium.
But once the 33-year-old Johnson, who dropped an interception earlier in the game, hauled it in, he wanted more. He darted through traffic and traipsed into the end zone 55 yards later for a touchdown that gave the Chiefs a 21-point lead with a little under four minutes left and finally ended the Jets’ comeback hopes.
“These old wheels started rolling,” Johnson said, “and I saw all of my teammates blocking for me.”
The score was important because, while it was far from the only takeaway the Chiefs’ defense tallied on Sunday (eight in all, tied for the second-most in team history and the most by a Chiefs team in 26 years) it was the one that lifted the Chiefs out of the danger zone.
See, for all the turnovers the Chiefs created — six interceptions and two fumbles — the Chiefs’ offense only accounted for 10 points and generally struggled to put the Jets away. So over and over in the second half, the same scenario played out. The Chiefs, who only led by 14 for most of the half, would punt or be stopped, turn the Jets over, and do it all over again.
Johnson’s score brought an end to that cycle, though Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick — who was harassed into a miserable 20-for-44, 188-yard and six-interception performance even though he was not sacked once — cannot say the same. After Johnson’s pick, Fitzpatrick proceeded to throw another interception (his last of the day) to rookie cornerback D.J. White, the perfect ending to a game like this.
“Guys were getting their hands on the ball,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, when asked to explain the Chiefs’ litany of interceptions. “We were able to disguise coverages and hold it for a period of time.”
The Chiefs set the tone from the get-go, too, as cornerback Marcus Peters tallied the first of two interceptions by jumping a route in the first quarter.
The Chiefs scored four plays later on a 12-yard touchdown throw from quarterback Alex Smith — who completed 25 of 33 passes for 237 yards and one touchdown — to tight end Travis Kelce (six catches, 89 yards). A Cairo Santos field goal, as well as a rumbling 27-yard fumble return on a kickoff by tight end Demetrius Harris, put the Chiefs ahead 17-0 midway through the second quarter.
The Jets got on the board with a field goal before the end of the half, cutting the deficit to 14, but the Chiefs seemed primed to put them away for good midway through the third quarter when running back Spencer Ware dived in from 6 yards out to seemingly give the Chiefs a 24-3 lead.
That, however, is when the Chiefs’ mysterious combination of bad fortune and bad offensive football took hold. The referee ruled that Ware lost control of the football before he touched the pylon, meaning that it was a touchback — the score did not count — and the Jets would get the ball back.
In a typical NFL game, this would be a dangerous moment, a momentum-turning event that could lead to a devastating collapse. But this was no ordinary game.
New York, predictably, marched the ball down the field on its ensuing drive, but on a second-and-goal from the 5, Chiefs safety Eric Berry — who had just broken up a floater in the end zone — hauled in a deflected pass off Johnson to halt the drive.
It would not be the last time the Chiefs’ defense was there to save the day, either. When the Chiefs failed to score on the ensuing drive — Ware’s fourth-and-inches rush attempt at the Jets’ 39 was snuffed out by a strong defensive front — the Jets, aided by three third-down conversions (including an iffy pass-interference penalty on cornerback Phillip Gaines), marched to the Chiefs’ 6. However, Peters tallied his second interception of the game, this time on a tipped pass by fellow cornerback Steven Nelson, to end the threat.
This marked the Jets’ fifth turnover of the game, but they still committed three more over the final 8 minutes of the contest. Safety Daniel Sorensen also tallied an interception, followed by Johnson’s pick-6 and White’s game-ender.
But of the three, none was more timely than Johnson’s, which came with the Jets driving, the Chiefs leading (17-3) and less than four minutes left to go.
Johnson, who was eager to make up for his earlier dropped interception and end this game for good, told himself during the return that he was not going down.
“An old man like myself ... I’ve gotta cherish the moment,” Johnson said. “I’m fortunate at my age to do what I’m doing.”
Perhaps that’s why Johnson saw everyone laughing as he jogged to the Chiefs’ joyous sideline following the play.
“They were saying ‘Wow,’ and I’m like, ‘I’m not that old!’ ” Johnson recalled with a laugh. “But I’m fortunate enough to get that on my highlight film.”