Offense is closest to Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s heart. It’s his passion and his calling card as one of the NFL’s brightest minds.
But even Reid couldn’t escape the fact his team’s defensive performance was mostly responsible for the Chiefs’ first victory of 2014, a 34-15 triumph over Miami on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.
In fact, Reid embraced the defensive effort.
“Our defense really stepped up,” Reid said. “We had some tricky situations there they were able to get us out of.”
The only touchdown allowed by the Chiefs was a 19-yard drive after the Dolphins sacked and stripped the ball from Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, drawing Miami within 14-10.
Other than that, the Dolphins scored on a pair of field goals and a safety.
The Chiefs sacked Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill four times, including 1 1/2 by nose tackle Dontari Poe and one each by outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Houston, Poe and rookie linebacker Dee Ford all deflected passes.
And a pass defense that allowed Tennessee’s Jake Locker and Peyton Manning to complete 72.9 percent of their passes and amass a 126.9 passer rating with five touchdowns in the Chiefs’ two losses, suffocated Tannehill, who did not complete 50 percent of his passes and had but a 70.4 rating.
“The defense played so well … they were relentless,” Reid said. “Our secondary played good against good receivers. They have some receivers there that have some juice.”
Indeed, Miami’s speedy Mike Wallace came into the game having caught touchdown passes in each of the first two games this season and in six of his last eight games dating to last year.
But Chiefs cornerbacks Sean Smith and Marcus Cooper contained Wallace to five receptions for 74 yards, with a long of just 30 yards.
“The big play deflates you,” Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah said. “If you can keep that off you, now what are they doing in front of us? You can start clamping down a little bit more, a little bit more, and we were able to get that done and let the big fellows pass rush. Hats off to them. They were getting after that (quarterback). Hats off to them, they were getting after that guy. When he has happy feet, our job is easy.”
Right after the Chiefs built a 21-10 lead midway through the third quarter, Miami threatened to get back in the game when Jarvis Landry returned the ensuing kickoff 74 yards to the Chiefs’ 33.
But Tannehill threw three incomplete passes, forcing the Dolphins to settle for a 51-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis.
Later in the quarter, the Dolphins sacked Smith for a safety, making it 21-15. The Dolphins had a chance to take the lead following the free kick, but the Chiefs forced a punt, and Miami didn’t score again.
The Chiefs’ defenders knew what was at stake and shut out Miami in the fourth quarter.
“This was a must game,” Hali said. “The sense of urgency was high around our locker room. The guys understood that if were 0-3, trying to make the postseason is very hard in this league. We lost our first two games and no one had confidence in us, but our team rallied around each other and were able to pull this one out. It showed some character for our team. There’s something that lies in all these guys’ bellies … we have to do it as a team.
“We have to establish this chemistry of this is how we love playing the game: get three and outs, let the offense get on the field … and do what we love doing in the fourth quarter.”
The fourth-quarter performance was even more impressive considering the temperature was 88 degrees at kickoff, but the Chiefs didn’t wilt on defense because they substituted players liberally.
“They had a rotation going that was phenomenal,” Reid said, “so guys were able to stay fresh. It was great to see so many guys contribute there.”
Indeed, defensive ends Kevin Vickerson and Jaye Howard spelled starters Vance Walker and Allen Bailey, while Ford had a bigger impact than in the first two games.
“When it’s hot like that, you have to get fresh bodies in,” said Poe, who had four tackles and two quarterback hurries to go with his sacks and pass deflection.
“The sun is undefeated. You have to work with the number of people you’ve got. Defense is mostly energy and intensity, and we came out with that mind-set, and you saw the results.”