The Chiefs didn’t play the Tennessee Titans this season, but the memory and bruises from their last meeting are fresh.
The Titans, the Chiefs’ AFC Wild Card-round opponents on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium, won Dec. 18, 2016, at Arrowhead Stadium, and that 19-17 outcome was notable for a couple of reasons.
The temperature at kickoff was 1 degree, but a different kind of freeze got the Chiefs beat that day. Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota drove the Titans into field-goal position, and former Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop came up short on a 53-yard attempt.
But Chiefs coach Andy Reid had called a timeout to “freeze the kicker” just before the snap, so Succop got another try.
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Succop said the reprieve gave him an opportunity to recalibrate, and he banged through the game-winner.
The game also was notable for the Chiefs’ offense going in the tank after taking a 17-7 halftime lead. The Chiefs mustered 108 second-half yards, and quarterback Alex Smith had his worst passer-rating game of the season.
Smith also had the worst passer-rating game in his five years with the Chiefs against Tennessee in the 2014 opener. And that was the only game Smith has played in a Kansas City uniform in which he threw three interceptions.
Different year, different team is basically how Reid responded to the Smith-vs.-Titans trend.
“I know last time things started off like gangbusters,” Reid said Monday. “Then things were kind of average after that. It’s just coincidence though. He’ll do fine.”
Smith finished this season leading the NFL in passer rating at 104.7, a first for him and a first for a Chiefs quarterback since Len Dawson led the AFL in 1968.
Smith didn’t play in Sunday’s regular-season finale, a 27-24 victory at the Denver Broncos. That triumph was led by rookie Patrick Mahomes, who became the first quarterback drafted by the Chiefs to win a game for Kansas City since Todd Blackledge. Blackledge was drafted in 1983 and won his final game for the Chiefs in 1987.
Most of the Chiefs’ starting defense and several offensive starters rested on Sunday. Rookie wide receiver Jehu Chesson played all 67 offensive snaps. Fullback Anthony Sherman, who scored the first rushing touchdown of his career, logged a career best 53 snaps, including several at tailback because the Chiefs were depleted at the position.
Going into the Denver game assured of the AFC’s fourth seed gave Reid a chance to rest many of his front-line players, which should also prove beneficial with a short week of preparation leading into Saturday’s showdown against the Titans.
“As far as the (short week) goes, we were fortunate enough to rest guys a little bit,” Reid said. “Not all, but some. We had a couple of guys nicked up and we needed rest.”
Also, the Chiefs needed to get over the flu. Several players missed practice time last week, and running back Charcandrick West, who figured to be line for extensive playing time against the Broncos, remained home with the illness.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill wasn’t with the team in Denver because of his father’s death. Reid said Hill will be back this week, but the Chiefs no longer will have De’Anthony Thomas. The return specialist and wideout suffered a broken leg on a punt return against the Broncos and remained in Denver for the surgery, which went well, Reid said.