For 22 minutes and 18 seconds, the Chiefs defense labored in the second half on Sunday. The Browns, who ran 21 offensive plays in the first half, ran 47 in the second.
The Chiefs’ offense couldn’t stay on the field and the defense couldn’t get off, usually a formula for disaster.
And without Pro Bowl outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, the task became that much more complicated.
But the Chiefs came up with enough stops to post a 17-13 triumph that clinched a spot in the playoffs.
“Anytime you hold a team to 13 points in the NFL, that’s a victory on the defensive side, and we won the game,” linebacker Frank Zombo said. “No complaints.”
Nor should there be from a defensive standpoint. The Chiefs didn’t turn in a statistical beauty, surrendering 368 total yards and getting outgained for the third time in four games.
But after the Browns, who trailed 17-3 at halftime, closed to 17-13 on Travis Coons’ 36-yard field goal with 8:31 remaining, they had two more possessions and pushed well into Chiefs territory on both.
And both times the Chiefs held. On the first, they got a woefully overthrown ball from Johnny Manziel on fourth down from the 30.
“I got trapped and I had to throw the ball,” Manziel said. “It (stinks) but that is on me.”
After the Chiefs didn’t pick up a first down, the Browns took over at their 30 and moved to the Chiefs 32 with 45 seconds remaining. The Browns had no timeouts and needed a touchdown, but the Chiefs were having a difficult time containing Manziel, who turned his first 100-yard rushing game as a pro.
“He’s a guy that you can’t get comfortable with,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “He’s one of those guys who’s going to run around and if somebody’s not open he’s going to make them get open.”
But when the Chiefs had to make a play, usually by making Manziel throw, they did.
After a first-down spike, Manziel misfired on second and third down. The fourth-down snap came with 15 seconds remaining and Manziel hit Darius Jennings for a 14-yard completion.
But the second ticked away as Manziel was trying to get his team hustled to a line. Moments after the clock struck 0:00, Manziel unsnapped his chin strap, removed his helmet and slammed it to the turf.
“Obviously I was frustrated there,” Manziel said.
He had frustrated the Chiefs most of the second half.
“His ability to extend plays like that, it hurts your (pass) rush,” Zombo said. “It’s a pain in the butt to rush quarterbacks like that.”
Manziel tipped his cap to the Chiefs’ defense, which didn’t record a sack for the second time this season, but kept him on the run without two of the game’s top edge rushers, Houston and Hali.
“They’re missing a couple of guys on the edge that makes them extremely dangerous,” Manziel said. “But I think the guys they had in there really stepped up.”
That was Dee Ford, who started for Houston for the fourth straight game while Houston recovers from a hyperextended knee, and Zombo. Hali broke his right thumb in last weekend’s victory at Baltimore and had surgery on Tuesday. The team listed him as questionable on Friday but Hali joined the inactive list for Sunday’s game, giving Zombo his first start of the season.
“It’s been a next-man-up mentality for a couple of years here,” Johnson said. “It can get hard, but we’ve got plenty of good guys on the team and those guys play well. When our Pro Bowl guys get back, they’ll jump right in and we’ll be even better.”