In the moments following a convincing 31-13 win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, laughter could be heard in every corner of the Chiefs’ locker room.
There was banter. There was relief. And with a three-game losing streak finally in the rear-view mirror, there was also something else — joy. The kind that allows players to argue, half-jokingly, with each other about who deserves credit for which play in a game that morphed from a competitive venture into a sack party for a defense that had been long overdue.
Take Jaye Howard and Vance Walker, two buddies who play defensive end and shared a third-quarter sack. As they dressed, Walker played the straight man to Howard’s comic foil about the play.
“If I had to share with anybody, I’m glad it’s Jaye Howard,” Walker said with a grin.
Howard, who seemed to arrive at Raiders quarterback Derek Carr first, turned away and shook his head.
“Naw, it’s a full sack,” Howard said with a laugh. “He jumped on my sack.”
A few stalls over, outside linebacker Dee Ford, who shared a sack with Josh Martin late in the game, declared a similar notion to no one in particular, the combination of a win and a strong performance washing over him.
“They need to give me my full sack,” Ford said with a hearty laugh. “And whoever came in after that, they get the sack half. It takes work to get there, man.”
The Chiefs learned that much the previous two weeks. In games against Arizona and Denver, the Chiefs only recorded a total of seven quarterback hits and three sacks. On Sunday, they posted 11 quarterback hits with four sacks.
Not a bad day’s work.
“The coaches talked about pride,” said outside linebacker Tamba Hali, who got his sixth sack of the season Sunday. “They watched the games we played against teams with winning records, the way we play the entire game everybody running to the ball, trying to get something done.
“The games where we felt like we could win, we didn’t have that same energy. So we came out today, everybody on the same page, running to the ball and trying to create havoc.”
There were many reasons the pass rush finally came together for the Chiefs on Sunday after a two-week lull. For one, the Chiefs’ offense staked them to a 10-0 lead in the first half that grew to as much as 25 in the second half.
When teams fall behind, they have to throw. That explains Raiders quarterback Derek Carr’s 56 passing attempts, which — to a frustrated pass rusher — is like throwing a starving dog 56 raw sirloins.
“We’d rather they do that,” said Hali, whose dedication as a pass rusher is well established. “For all the guys that put in work pass rushing and trying to get to the quarterback, this is what we look forward to. Guys like (Dee) Ford and Josh Martin and Justin (Houston), all those guys love rushing. You wanna get these QBs in those situations.”
In fact, Hali said he was surprised the Raiders threw the ball so much, particularly after the way they ran the ball against the Chiefs last month — 179 yards in 30 carries.
On Sunday, the Raiders only picked up 78 yards in 17 carries.
“They stuck to the run at their place,” Hali said. “They didn’t really come after the run. It’s a credit to us, I guess.”
So is the fact the Chiefs were able to corral Carr, who is surprisingly difficult to sack, four times. Entering the game, the Raiders had been sacked the fifth-fewest amount of times in the league.
“He makes some good throws,” Walker conceded. “It will be interesting to see him when they open up the playbook. He makes some good decisions. … He’s more elusive than you would think. And even with his elusiveness, he’s still on point as far as passing the ball. He’ll get out there and throw.”
But the Chiefs — particularly Houston, who picked up his league-leading 17th sack on Sunday — made life tough on Carr. Houston terrorized right tackle Khalif Barnes from the start, recording a sack and a pressure on two of Carr’s first three attempts and goading Barnes into a false-start penalty shortly therafter.
“I was laughing,” said Ford, who earned spot duty in passing situations Sunday for the second straight week. “You kinda feel bad if you put yourself in the tackle’s shoes … you think about it that way, it makes you laugh. It’s like ’Oh, here’s where the fun starts.’ ”
In fact, Ford said he, Hali and Houston grew emboldened in their pass rush when they were staked to an early lead.
“It’s time to hunt then,” Ford said. “I love those times. I love them.”
On Sunday, he wasn’t alone.