In two of the Chiefs’ three losses this season, they had the ball late on the road with a chance to win. A drive against Denver ended with a no-chance incompletion, and a drive against San Francisco ended with an interception.
So when the Chiefs got the ball back Sunday with the score tied 20-20 and 1 minute and 57 seconds left against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium, it would have been hard to blame anyone who has seen this team on a regular basis for doubting whether they could get the job done.
Good thing that for the better part of 10 months — since the Chiefs’ deflating playoff loss to the Colts in January — Chiefs coach Andy Reid has been harping on his group about the importance of mental toughness.
“Any time you lose in the National Football League, it tests your character,” Reid said. “Without adversity, you don’t build character.”
Reid has addressed that game — and the way the Chiefs blew a 28-point third-quarter lead — repeatedly since then, stressing the importance of finishing everything they do. In a 24-17 loss to Denver in week two and a 22-17 loss to San Francisco in week five, they came up short of that goal.
But not Sunday. After Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith guided his team down the field on a nine-play, 62-yard drive that lasted 1:36 and ended with a game-winning field goal by rookie kicker Cairo Santos, the Chiefs could take pride in knowing they’re making progress in late-game situations.
“I’m proud of the guys when they do those things,” Reid said. “Often as a coach, you’re a teacher, so you’re going to tell them when they are not doing the right thing, compliment when they are doing the right thing. So it’s always good to give somebody a pat on the back for a job well done.”
One of the people Reid made sure to compliment in the postgame was offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, who was apparently in charge of the 2-minute game plan.
“I’ll give that to Doug Pederson,” Reid said. “He did a heck of a job putting together the plays, the coaching part of it, and a little extra. Doug headed that whole thing up.”
Smith agreed, and said Reid and Pederson deserve credit for using the bye week to tweak their approach to the 2-minute drill through self-scouting.
“They kind of put a tight little plan together for us,” Smith said.
But Reid, predictably, also praised his players for executing the plan. The Chiefs’ last season came to an end in January on an incomplete pass from Smith to receiver Dwayne Bowe, but on Sunday, they hooked up for a crucial 19-yard completion on second and 15 just before the 2-minute warning.
“Yeah, that was a good one,” Reid said. “Second and long and (Smith) got flushed to his left, which is tough enough to make a throw back to the middle of the field. He and Dwayne have a nice chemistry, a lot of trust between each other there, between the two of them.
“But yeah, that’s exactly why (I like Alex). Eyes down the field when you’re moving around, need a big play, made a big play, huge part of the game, and both of them were reading each other’s minds there.”
Smith said the Chiefs, who are 3-3 with games coming up against the Rams, Jets and Bills — teams with a combined record of 7-13 — are ready to build on their late-game breakthrough.
“We had two weeks to get ready with the bye week, but we took it on as a challenge and with no one giving us a chance,” Smith said. “I think we understand that coming into this game, we were a couple of plays away from being 4-1, and we understood we didn’t make the plays.
“This was an opportunity for us to show what we were made of, to show the country. It was a tough road game and four of our last six were on the road, so I feel like we’re in a good place and we’re going to keep going.”
Smith’s coach certainly hopes so.
“You learn from your mistakes, from that history that you develop there,” Reid said. “Every game presents you another situation that you’ve got to overcome. I was proud the way the guys handled that.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @TerezPaylor.