Sometimes, a team just has to get out of its own way and survive.
The Chiefs overcame a slew of penalties, dropped passes, a fumble and two missed field goals but still blew out the Oakland Raiders 31-13 on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Oakland had drawn within 10-6 early in the second half before the Chiefs hit them with three touchdowns in a span of 4 minutes, 42 seconds in the third quarter — a 3-yard run by Knile Davis, and TD passes by Alex Smith of 20 yards to tight end Travis Kelce and a season-long 70 to Davis.
“Even at 10-6, we knew we had some opportunities that didn’t end the way we wanted them to,” said offensive tackle Ryan Harris, “but … we’ve been through the wringer the last few weeks, and that’s made us stronger. We knew whatever it was going to take, we were going to get this win.”
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The victory by the Chiefs, 8-6, snapped a three-game losing streak that began with a stunning 24-20 loss at Oakland, 2-12, which was 0-10 at the time.
More important, the Chiefs maintained their hopes for a wild-card berth. The Chiefs, who still trail Pittsburgh, 9-5, and Baltimore, 9-5, and are tied with San Diego, 8-6, will finish the season with showdowns against Pittsburgh Sunday and at home against San Diego. Buffalo is also 8-6 but has a worse conference record than the Chiefs and Chargers.
The Chiefs had plenty of opportunities to score early but were just one of seven on third downs in the first half.
Their last possession of the first half, which began at the Chiefs’ 35, included dropped passes by Jason Avant, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe.
“We were so close,” coach Andy Reid said, “but there were so many things that first half that we were a hair off. I felt like if we’d relax … those dropped balls in their territory that would have given us an opportunity to score right before the half.
“I thought the guys did that. They settled down and played, and let their personalities show, and weren’t pressing.”
Davis began the third-quarter flurry with his run that gave the Chiefs a 17-6 lead with 6:46 to play in the third quarter. On Oakland’s first play of the ensuing possession, Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr fumbled the snap from center, and Chiefs linebacker Frank Zombo, subbing for Tamba Hali, pounced on the ball at the Oakland 21.
“As I walked back to the sideline and everyone’s kind of laughing, I’m just living right,” said Zombo, primarily a special-teams player. “I’m in there for, like, one play, and I come up with a fumble recovery.
“I was in the right place at the right time, and I think I did the smart thing, just drop on it … we’re at the 20-yard line, there’s no point in trying to scoop and score and bobble it or anything like that.
“Just living right, I guess.”
One play later, Smith found Kelce at the 14, and he bounced off Oakland linebacker Miles Burris and carried linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong across the goal line for his fifth touchdown catch of the season and a 24-6 lead.
On the next possession, Davis, who had just six touches on offense during the losing streak, caught a short angle pass from Smith on third and 10. Once Burris slipped, Davis was off on a 70-yard gain, the longest play from scrimmage by the Chiefs this season and longest since Charles took a screen pass 70 yards at Oakland on Dec. 15, 2013.
“They were rolling the dice and bringing pressure,” Smith said of the Raiders. “They bring in exotic pressure, and I thought Knile made a great play. That’s what happens with a defense like that, and that kind of mentality in that situation.”
Davis’ second touchdown gave the Chiefs 21 straight points before the Raiders tacked on a meaningless touchdown with 34 seconds to play.
“That third quarter was just shocking,” said Oakland defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin. “Look at what we did in the first half. We thought, ‘Let’s just keep it up.’ We came out in the second half and didn’t do anything we wanted to do as a team.”
Indeed, the Chiefs’ only points in the first half came on 81-yard punt return by rookie De’Anthony Thomas and a 41-yard field goal by Cairo Santos.
Thomas’ punt return for a touchdown was the first of the season by the Chiefs, and special-teams coordinator Dave Toub had an inkling it was imminent.
“We’re still waiting to get a big one,” Toub said Thursday. “We just need to do a better job blocking the gunners, and we take care of the gunners, I think we’re going to pop one.”
That’s exactly what happened.
Thomas fielded Marquette King’s punt at his 19, took advantage of a block by Kelcie McCray and dashed to the left sideline, where he had a convoy of blockers. Junior Hemingway and Josh Martin shielded the Oakland coverage unit, Thomas reached the goal line and did a somersault into the end zone.