This is the law of the NFL: One week, you can look great. The next week? Not so much.
In case you forgot that, the Chiefs’ 27-20 win over Philadelphia on Sunday in front of an announced crowd of 74,971 at Arrowhead Stadium served as a perfect reminder.
A week ago, the Chiefs were the toast of the NFL. Their season-opening win over New England opened eyes around the league as they relied on a newfound dynamism and mental toughness to hand Tom Brady and Bill Belichick their second regular-season loss at home to an AFC opponent since 2007.
But for most of Sunday’s game, that performance seemed like ancient history. The Chiefs –– especially offensively –– did not execute as efficiently as they did against New England.
“No two games are alike in this league,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “I think you have to find ways to adjust sometimes.”
Fortunately for the Chiefs, the resiliency they showed in New England –– when they battled back to win after a quick Patriots start –– would prove to serve them well, as they managed to pull away late thanks to a few big defensive plays and some creative offensive play calling.
“The thing last week was that everything didn’t go right, but it was early –– it wasn’t where it was sustained through quarters (like today) and you have to learn how to fix things,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I was proud of our guys for doing it.”
That process began after halftime for the Chiefs, 2-0, who could tell at the break that this game against the Eagles, 1-1, would be no walk in the park. The Chiefs only led 6-3 at that point, as they could only eke out a pair of field goals against the Eagles’ smothering, aggressive front seven.
But while the Chiefs’ offense sought answers, the defense was on point. Led by Justin Houston –– who finished with five tackles and a sack and also caused a key turnover late in the game –– they harassed quarterback Carson Wentz, sacking him twice, and generally bottling up the Eagles’ offense.
Problem was, quarterback Alex Smith was getting beaten up by the Eagles in the same manner. After absorbing a big blow in the second quarter –– after which he got up slowly –– he was sacked three times in first half.
“That’s a really good defensive line –– they’re going to hit you,” Smith said. “I think it’s just important to not let it rattle you.
Both offenses finally got untracked in the third quarter, though. The Eagles put together a scoring drive that was capped by a 16-yard touchdown catch by Alshon Jeffery, and the Chiefs’ non-existent running game finally found some life when Kareem Hunt sprinted through a huge role and outraced the Eagles’ defenders for a 53-yard touchdown.
Hunt’s score gave the Chiefs a short-lived 13-10 lead, one that was erased when the Eagles responded with a field goal that tied the game early in the fourth quarter.
But that’s when the Chiefs were able to lean on their resiliency to finish the job. On the Eagles’ next possession, Houston deflected a third-down pass that was intercepted by defensive lineman Chris Jones.
This gave the Chiefs the ball at Eagles’ 31 and set up the go-ahead score, a shovel pass from Smith to tight end Travis Kelce, who barreled through the defense and leaped over the goal line for a 15-yard touchdown that put the Chiefs ahead 20-13.
And while Smith finished the game with a respectable stat line, completing 21 of 28 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown, the Chiefs’ defense continued its assault on Wentz, who attempted 46 passes (and completed 25 of them). Houston racked up the fourth of six sacks for the Chiefs on Philadelphia’s next offensive snap, spurring a momentum-nudging three-and-out.
“To be the team we want to be, a championship team and the championship defense we claim we are, we have to get off the field,” Houston said.
The Chiefs got the ball back with about 5 minutes left in the game and proceeded to finish off the Eagles with a six-play, 56-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Hunt, who finished with 81 yards and two touchdowns in 13 carries.
“I thought Kareem and the offensive line kind of got warmed up as we went,” Reid said. “We weren’t having a ton of production in that first half with the run game … but we got it straightened out. The offensive line kept coming and ended up doing a nice job with it.”
The Chiefs were rolling now, and they couldn’t have picked a better time. The stadium was rocking, and for the remainder of the game, their defensive players hopped around before each play, soaking up the atmosphere. They’d found their groove again, after a slow start.
And in the NFL, a league where grooves aren’t guaranteed to last long –– or better yet, come at all –– they were just fine with that.
“When the Kansas City Chiefs start slow, hold your horses,” said outside linebacker Dee Ford, who had one of the Chiefs’ sacks. “There’s no such thing as a slow start. We play the whole game. They make plays, and we answer.”