Prior to the Chiefs’ showdown against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, fullback Anthony Sherman spied the gloomy, overcast sky and stepped onto the wet grass. The field at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was somewhat muddy — not too much, but definitely enough — and a smile spread across his face.
“It’s old school,” Sherman said, following the Chiefs’ 26-10 win over the Raiders. “You play in the rain, you play in the mud … it’s like playing in high school. It just brings out a different energy, a different atmosphere to the game.”
After the first five weeks of the season, the Chiefs needed it, as they ranked 15th in passing offense and 21st in rushing defense. They’d been throwing the ball a ton, at roughly a 63 percent clip, which was much higher than the 54 percent rate they threw it at last year, when they went 11-5 and won a playoff game for the first time in 22 years.
But once the Chiefs returned from last week’s bye, optimism began to grow throughout the week that they just might get back to the ground-and-pound style they used to bludgeon teams a year ago — especially since the Raiders ranked 27th in run defense entering the game.
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And while players understand they never know how a game will go, the gloomy weather made it is easy for the Chiefs to attack the Raiders on the ground. They piled up 183 yards in 40 carries — an average of 4.6 yards per rush — and three touchdowns.
The tough guys, like Sherman and the offense linemen, loved every bit of it.
“It’s fun to be a bully out there,” right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif said. “When they have to respect your run game, and they’re a little bit scared of it, that really helps you. You’re the one dictating the tempo.”
And so did their quarterback, as Alex Smith — who has largely been inconsistent over the first four games — returned to the super-efficient form he showed during the second half of last season.
On Sunday, Smith did not throw a touchdown, but he also did not throw an interception, and completed 19 of 22 passes for 224 yards. He also tied the team record for consecutive completions, with 15, and couldn’t have been happier about the return to balanced normalcy on offense. The Chiefs rushed 17 times more than they threw it and relied on quick screens, read option, play action and the occasional downfield ball to move it when they did pass.
“It was more similar to (last year, just) getting back to us,” Smith said. “That’s what we hang our hat on, to be able to be multiple and do a lot of different stuff. We can get big and run it, we can spread it out and run some read stuff. Doing all that stuff, I think we have a lot of confidence in it.”
The Chiefs’ turned to the ground game early and often Sunday. The Raiders jumped out to a 7-0 lead, courtesy of a seven-play, 46-yard scoring march on their opening drive, but after cornerback Marcus Peters hauled in his league-leading fifth interception of the season — which came in front of his hometown crowd — the Chiefs put together a 10-play, 57-yard scoring drive that was capped by Spencer Ware’s 2-yard touchdown run .
It was not the last time the Raiders would see Ware on this rainy day. The third-year bruiser rushed 24 times for a game-high 131 yards and a touchdown, but also shared some of the rushing duties with Jamaal Charles, who ran nine times for 33 yards and a 4-yard touchdown — his first of the season — that gave the Chiefs a 13-7 lead.
Kicker Cairo Santos, who missed the ensuing extra point, also failed to knock in a 38-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in the half. That gave Oakland enough time to drive 44 yards and set up a 46-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski, who cut the Chiefs’ lead to 13-10 at halftime.
But from that point on the combination of the Chiefs’ defense — which was lights out after the opening drive, stifling the Raiders’ physical ground game to 65 yards in 17 carries and harassing quarterback Derek Carr into a 22-of-34, two-turnover performance — and their ground-oriented offense allowed them to take control.
The Chiefs took the ball to open the second half and mounted a 75-yard scoring drive that ended with Smith tossing a screen to Dontari Poe — yes, the Chiefs’ 346-pound defensive tackle — who turned upfield and plunged into the end zone for a score. It counted as a 1-yard run because it was behind the line of scrimmage, and put the Chiefs ahead 20-10.
The Chiefs extended that lead to 26-10 with a pair of field goals, and with the Raiders’ offense struggling to get anything going, that was all the Chiefs needed to pick up their third win of the season.
Afterward in the Chiefs’ locker room, the mood was upbeat and confident, the polar opposite of their previous outing, a dispiriting 43-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I’m sure everybody here is pretty pumped,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “It put us in the right state of mind to come back home and study the next opponent with confidence.”
On Sunday, the Chiefs will play host to the air-oriented New Orleans Saints, who improved to 2-3 by defeating Carolina on Sunday. Given the way the Chiefs’ long-dormant offense looked Sunday in sloggy conditions, perhaps they should pray for more rain.
“That rain, that mud,” Sherman said. ‘”It’s like playing backyard football again.”