Andy Reid insists he does not concern himself with the particulars of playoff scenarios. So after the Chiefs’ 17-13 nail-biting victory Sunday over the Cleveland Browns, he walked into the locker room unaware of the good news.
“I wasn’t even sure who had to win or lose,” said Reid, the Chiefs’ coach. “I just knew we had to win.”
Fortunately for Reid, Kyle Childress — his senior assistant — quickly filled him in. Turns out their victory, and Pittsburgh’s loss to the Ravens, had clinched a spot in the playoffs.
Reid relayed the news in his weekly postgame speech, a message he kicked off to the loud cheers of his players with the “dab,” a popular dance/gesture that players and coaches across the country have been doing for months.
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“I didn’t expect that,” outside linebacker Dee Ford said with a laugh. “He gets some cool points from me.”
“That got me so hyped when he did that,” left guard Jeff Allen said. “I couldn’t believe it — no one expected it. It came out of nowhere.”
So yes, this was a time for celebration, and why not? The Chiefs not only became the first team since the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals to start 1-5 and make the playoffs, but they also became the only team in NFL history to win nine straight games after a five-game losing streak.
“(Coach Reid) told us — ‘We clinched it, we’re in the dance,’ ” defensive end Mike DeVito said. “Everybody was fired up. Anytime you can come back from what we came back from and clinch a playoff spot? Forget it. It’s unheard of.”
The Chiefs, however, have managed to do so with a mental toughness that especially served them well Sunday, when the Browns — who dropped to 3-12 — put a significant scare into the announced crowd of 69,115 at Arrowhead Stadium.
A large part of that was due to the Chiefs’ subpar run defense, which surrendered 232 yards in 36 carries, an average of 6.4 yards. But the play of quarterback Johnny Manziel had something to do with it, too.
Manziel, an embattled second-year pro, was wildly inaccurate, completing only 13 of 32 passes for 136 yards, but he rushed 11 times for 108 yards.
Early, it appeared the Chiefs would roll. They scored first, courtesy of an 11-play, 65-yard drive that lasted more than 7 minutes.
The drive was capped by an impressive 11-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Jeremy Maclin. Smith threw a laser among three Browns, and Maclin — who was running a short slant over the middle — made a diving catch in the end zone.
“Yeah, it was a great call, and we got the coverage we wanted to,” Smith said.
A 40-yard field goal by Cairo Santos gave the Chiefs a 10-0 lead heading into the second quarter, but the Browns answered with a 45-yarder by Travis Coons.
The Chiefs began another promising drive, advancing to the Browns’ 22-yard line. But then disaster struck.
A hurried Smith threw a pass into coverage that was tipped a few times and hauled in by Browns outside linebacker Nate Orchard, who returned the ball 46 yards to the Chiefs’ 41 line before he was tracked down by right tackle Jah Reid.
Afterward, Andy Reid went out his way to praise the his 6-foot-7, 325-pounder for his hustle.
“For an offensive lineman to do that, that’s something,” Andy Reid said. “As it turned out, it was game-saving.”
Manziel wasted little time giving the ball away, as his next pass was intercepted by cornerback Marcus Peters and returned to the Browns’ 29-yard line. It was Peters’ team-high eighth pick of the season, tying Bobby Hunt’s club mark for rookies set in 1962.
“That was a huge turnover for us,” said Peters, who undercut the route. “We needed it.”
The Chiefs’ ensuing drive proved fruitless, however, as it was sabotaged by penalties. But they scored again before halftime thanks to Smith, who connected with tight end Travis Kelce on a skinny post for a 13-yard touchdown that gave the Chiefs a 17-3 lead.
Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen blocked a 51-yard field-goal attempt late in the first half, keeping the score the same into halftime.
But the Browns were resilient. They opened the second half with a nine-play, 82-yard scoring march that was capped by a 10-yard run by Isaiah Crowell.
Crowell finished with 88 yards in 16 carries, largely by attacking the edges of a defense that was without star outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali on outside zone plays.
“We’ve got to do a better job setting the edge,” Reid said.
After the Chiefs were forced to punt — a common second-half theme — the Browns continued to hog the football with a 21-play, 62-yard scoring drive that was prolonged by a successful fake punt. The drive lasted 12 minutes and ended with a 36-yard field goal that made the score 17-13 with 8:31 left in the game.
A penalty on the ensuing kick return forced the Chiefs to start their next drive at their own 3-yard line, which was bad news for an offense that was stuck in the mud in the second half.
The Chiefs notched only 58 yards in 14 plays and three first downs, and eight of those plays were runs — an apparent attempt to take advantage of the second-to-worst run defense in the league.
“That’s been one of their weaknesses,” Reid said. “It wasn’t today.”
A few Browns said afterward that they had a pretty good bead on what the Chiefs were trying to do in the second half.
“They gave us some plays that we actually practiced throughout the week,” Browns safety Donte Whitner said. “We understood what they were trying to do by formation — that’s why we didn’t give up any scores in the second half.”
So while the Chiefs eventually got a first down to give their defense a much-needed rest, they were stuffed on a third-and-1 run from their own 23 and forced to punt.
That gave the Browns the ball at their 42-yard line with 5:35 left in the game. Manziel’s ensuing drive proved to be fruitless, but after the Chiefs again went three-and-out, Manziel got the ball back with 1:52 left. He converted three first downs on their final drive, including one on third and 10 and another on fourth and 10.
But the latter, which came with 15 seconds left, ended up being the last play of the game. The Browns, who had no more timeouts, failed to get to the line of scrimmage before the clock ran out, causing Manziel to remove his helmet and slam it to the ground in anger.
“Obviously,” Manziel said, “I was frustrated there.”
But the Chiefs weren’t. For them, it was simply their latest showing of resilience. Their coach takes pride in being the same guy every day, and back in October, when they were 1-5, he stressed the importance of staying together, playing hard and getting back to basics.
“We kept doing the things that are going to help us win later on, which is preparing well, going to practice with a lot of energy,” inside linebacker Derrick Johnson said.
They have not lost since, though they came close Sunday.
The Chiefs have a chance to close out the regular season with a franchise-record 10th straight win against Oakland on Jan. 3
Reid often stresses cherishing every victory, an example he set Sunday with a locker-room celebration that brought the house down.
“That’s his personality, man,” Allen said. “He’s a player’s coach, we love him. That’s a guy you want to play for.”