With the Jacksonville Jaguars hemmed deep in their own end, where they were sealed virtually all game Sunday, Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali fended off a would-be cut block, read a screen “and just went up and grabbed one.”
Just like that. As if it happened all the time instead of being just the second pickoff of his eight-year career.
The tell on the truth of that came only after he rumbled 10 yards into the end zone for the first touchdown of his NFL career and first, in fact, he ever remembered scoring.
“I think he had to think about it a little bit,” joked counterpart Justin Houston.
Then he unfurled his version of a samba.
Or the “Tamba Samba,” as one observer mentioned, much to Hali’s amusement on a day where the Chiefs could do no real wrong.
Besides, if Hali seemed to grapple with finding his groove, consider the plight of the pitiful Jacksonville offense, which was dissected in the Chiefs’ 28-2 victory in a game matching two teams seeking rebirths after going 2-14 a year ago.
“I just never felt like we could get in a rhythm,” coach Gus Bradley said.
Bradley evidently is one who values understatement, considering the Jaguars didn’t cross their own 36 until midway through the fourth quarter, punted a franchise-record 11 times, saw quarterback Blaine Gabbert sacked six times and complete just 16 of 35 passes, and only rushed for 71 yards on 23 carries.
Asked afterward if the line had created holes for him, Maurice Jones-Drew said, “It is tough to say.”
Then, inadvertently reinforcing the doubt, he added, “It wasn’t entirely their fault.”
In their first game under new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and his attack-oriented style, the Chiefs had two key interceptions.
Never mind that both were thrown directly to them. Hali’s return was the first defensive TD for the Chiefs since 2011, and Brandon Flowers, who had the other to set up the Chiefs’ second touchdown with a 32-yard return, appeared to have what would have been a third interception and second TD return -- only for it to be ruled incomplete upon review.
The two turnovers gained were in contrast to the 13 they managed all last season and a direct reflection of the harassment they unleashed from the get-go on Gabbert, the Mizzou product who entered the game recovering from a broken thumb and left it late needing 15 stitches in his hand.
“Our main goal is to show what we have early, meaning this is going to be a long day, to let the offense know that and to keep it going the whole time,” said linebacker Derrick Johnson, who led the Chiefs with seven tackles. “And we did
“I’m sure that Jacksonville will get it together. Somehow. But today was definitely a long day for them.”
That started with absolute domination of the line of scrimmage, anchored by nose tackle Dontari Poe, who had five solo tackles, 1.5 sacks and tipped a pass in his first game at the slimmed-down weight of 346 after losing about 20 pounds.
“He’s a monster, man,” said Houston, who had three sacks. “If you’ve got a guy in the middle like that, it will make your whole defense’s job easier.”
Said Flowers: “It makes our job easy when the front seven does their job like that. They had great pressure on the quarterback, had him just rattled and moved the pocket all game. They were causing havoc up front all game.”
So much so that through Hali’s TD early in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs were on pace to confine the Jaguars to a historically inept performance.
Through three-plus quarters, Jacksonville had amassed four first downs and 63 yards of total offense, leaving the Chiefs with a legitimate shot at franchise records for fewest first downs allowed in a game (five against Oakland in 1997) and fewest yards (89 against Seattle in 1995).
The record-watch evaporated in the second part of the fourth quarter.
But the meaning of the day hadn’t.
Asked if it was the finest defensive performance of his nine seasons with the Chiefs, Johnson had to think for a second and said, “It ranks up there. Top three.”
First or not, he added that it puts “on film, to let everybody know, the Chiefs’ defense is for real.”
Time will tell on that, of course, because it’s hard to know how much of Sunday was New Chiefs and how much was Same Old Jaguars.
But while conceding that he had to do a lot of things better, Gabbert also correctly added, “Some of the things that happened today were out of our control.”
Namely, the Chiefs’ D, which as much as anything else was responsible for just the second opening win since 2005.
“Last year is just so far behind us,” Flowers said. “New regime, just new spirit.”
Including the Tamba Samba.