The Bengals’ victory over the Chiefs in October produced an unwanted piece of trivia. For the first time in club history, the team had surrendered 30 or more points in three straight games in a nonstrike season.
The defense, expected to be a team strength, was reeling. Coordinator Bob Sutton talked about keeping emotions in check and relying on a veteran group that he believed in.
Sutton has been rewarded for that belief.
The Chiefs have one of the NFL’s hottest defenses. In the six weeks since the Bengals’ loss, the Chiefs top the NFL in scoring defense, yielding an average 14.0 points per game.
The Chiefs are 3-2 in that stretch, riding a three-game winning streak to San Diego for Sunday’s game.
“One of the real challenges when you’re not getting tangible results is to maintain the belief that if we keep doing the right things and we keep busting our tails that eventually we’ll get what we want,” Sutton said.
Good things started happening with the home loss to the Bears. A sack led to a fumble that was recovered in the end zone by linebacker Ramik Wilson.
The next week in a loss at Minnesota, the defense held Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to 60 rushing yards in 26 carries.
A week later, the Chiefs finally grabbed a victory to show for its defensive effort, beating Pittsburgh.
They’re coming off their most complete performance, a 29-13 victory at Denver. The Chiefs held a hobbled Peyton Manning to the worst passer-rating day of his career and came up with five interceptions.
The Chiefs have caught some breaks. They didn’t face the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger, who was out with an injury, played the Lions when they owned the NFC’s worst record, and took advantage of Manning’s injury.
Conversely, the Chiefs played without suspended cornerback Sean Smith for the first three games and faced the most difficult part of their schedule in the season’s first six weeks.
“We knew the pieces were put together,” linebacker Tamba Hali said. “We knew we could play better.”
The Chiefs were returning plenty of Pro Bowl experience. Linebackers Hali, Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson; tackle Dontari Poe; and safety Eric Berry were all viewed as among the best at their positions.
Added to the mix was first-round draft pick Marcus Peters, the cornerback who on the first snap of the season intercepted a pass that resulted in a short-field touchdown. With the return of defensive lineman Mike DeVito, the Chiefs appeared to be in solid shape.
The results weren’t there, but the confidence never wavered.
“We have guys who have been around a while who know how long a season is and now things can turn around, how injuries can affect teams,” Hali said. “You just have to keep grinding, keep playing and knowing that things can change. But don’t wait for it. You have to make it happen and find ways to make it happen.”
A defense without as much experience might not have responded the same way.
“I think the guys trusted they could get it back to where they wanted as long we kept working,” Sutton said. “That’s why we’re really happy with the ways the guys have approached it.”