When it comes to Chiefs lore, nothing ever will exorcise the ghosts of Christmas past, aka the 27-24 double overtime playoff loss to Miami in the 1971 AFC playoffs that still stands as the longest game in NFL history and forever will mark the dividing line between a golden era and the prolonged championship drought since.
It would be 20 years before the Chiefs won another playoff game, one of just four postseason victories they’ve managed in the 47 years since putting together three in a row to win Super Bowl IV three years after playing in the first one.
Just the same, anything that creates more of a buffer between then and now and perhaps helps transform the legacy and context of Christmas Day in franchise history is mighty welcome.
So the Chiefs’ 33-10 muzzling of long-time tormenter Denver on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium moved the chains down the field some, even if it didn’t unwrap them for keeps.
And it came complete with its own iconic moment to shade in for the sight of poor Jan Stenerud — the delightful image of 346-pound Dontari Poe in the Wildcat formation rumbling toward the line of scrimmage before lobbing a touchdown pass to Demetrius Harris to punctuate the victory in a game that actually took more clock time (3 hours 22 minutes) than the so-called longest game (3:21).
In the process of winning their 10th straight AFC West game on a day they already had secured a playoff berth, the Chiefs swept the Broncos for the first time since 2000, ended a five-game home losing streak against Denver and eliminated it from playoff contention.
The Chiefs improved to 11-4 and still can win the division with a victory at San Diego next weekend if Derek Carr-less Oakland loses at Denver. Their first such crown since 2010 would come with a nice reward: the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
They did this despite being without injured linebacker Justin Houston (knee), who had been absolutely unstoppable in the first victory over Denver.
They also did this despite some of the same exasperating offensive lapses — including coach Andy Reid seeming to hamstring them with play selection and clock management — that have cost them this season.
For a bit of the second half, it seemed possible that conservatism would sabotage a 21-point first quarter outburst that marked the first and only quarter in Chiefs history (and first time in one of their games overall since 1968) in which they had two touchdowns of 70-plus yards, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Reid had distinctly downshifted at the end of the first half into the second, starting with not calling a timeout before the two-minute warning, and suddenly the Chiefs were punting on four straight possessions after Cairo Santos missed a 39-yard field goal.
Considering the Chiefs hadn’t score any points in the second half the previous two weeks and hadn’t had an offensive touchdown after intermission since their overtime win at Denver on Nov. 28, who knew where this was heading?
But Santos made two field goals to make it 27-10, and then Poe’s last-minute pass to Harris reduced all of that to nitpicking paranoia.
There is always stuff to fret about, of course, but basking in the moment is what’s called for here, especially when you consider that a defense already leading the NFL in takeaways added three more to reaffirm its identity even as the offense busted out in a way that defied the limitations it’s perceived to have.
In amassing a season-high 484 yards, the Chiefs at times looked like a team enjoying an embarrassment of riches, or at least some shiny new Christmas toys for quarterback Alex Smith — who had a season-high 46 rushing yards and completed 25 of 36 passes for 244 yards.
A week after Tyreek Hill rushed for a 66-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage and never had another touch, Reid ran him six times for 95 yards — including a 70-yard touchdown made possible by rare speed just to be able to turn the corner.
That made for a nice change of pace with Spencer Ware, whose hard-charging style was good for 62 yards on 13 carries and accounted for his 20-yard reception.
Hill’s touchdown also was enabled by a block by tight end Travis Kelce, who did the same to pave the way for Alex Smith’s 11-yard TD run on a day he also happened to have 11 catches for 160 yards — including his own 80-yard TD made possible by remarkable acceleration for his size and a block by Jeremy Maclin.
In fact, that was Maclin’s most tangible offensive contribution in a game in which he had three catches for 9 yards.
In one sense, that sort of output seems problematic given that backup tight end Harris had six catches.
Then again, it’s also testimony to the fact that at their best the Chiefs have a lot of offensive options ... to go with an opportunistic defense and terrific special teams … and a chance to still be seeded second in the AFC playoffs.
None of that erases Christmas Day 1971, of course, but at least for the moment it lends the day a new sort of meaning to the day: a gift to fans that offers hope for a meaningful postseason run.