That giant exhaling noise heard across the country was a couple million Kansas City Chiefs fans who could finally take a breath after watching their team do just enough to beat the Cleveland Browns, 23-17, and win their eighth game without a loss.
The Chiefs scored on two Alex Smith touchdown passes in the second quarter – a 12-yard pass to fullback Anthony Sherman and a beautiful 28-yard strike to Dexter McCluster – that were bookended by two Ryan Succop field goals in the first quarter (42- and 35-yards) and a 40-yarder with 17 seconds left in the game that provided the final margin of victory.
The Browns, 10 point underdogs coming into the game, must not have gotten the memo that the game started at Noon, Central time because Kansas City completely dominated the first 27 minutes of the first half – holding Cleveland without a first down and 19 total yards. Meanwhile, Kansas City had racked up 206 yards of offense and held the ball for all but six minutes of the game. At that point, it was 13-0 Chiefs and a play here or there could have turned this into a comfortable rout for the home team.
Unfortunately for Kansas City, with four minutes left in the half and with the Browns barely showing a pulse, Chiefs coach Andy Reid let Succop attempt a 52-yard field goal on 4th-and-3 – not a horrible decision on a picture-perfect day in KC despite Succop’s 56% career accuracy mark from 50+ yards (9-for-16).
However, Succop’s kick sailed wide left by a couple of feet and Cleveland suddenly had good field position for the first time in the game, taking over on their own 42 yard line.
That’s when Browns starter Jason Campbell, Cleveland’s third-string QB despite 71 starts in his eight year career, woke up. His first pass at the 3:16 mark of the second quarter went 19 yards to tight end Jordan Cameron for Cleveland’s first 1st down of the game. His next pass, a perfectly executed flea flicker, went 39 yards down field to Josh Gordon for a touchdown and despite being dominated in every conceivable way, the Browns only trailed 13-7 and were now in the game.
Alex Smith answered Campbell’s score with a six-play, 75-yard drive that ended with McCluster’s TD catch. 20-7 Chiefs and a touchback on the ensuing kickoff left 80 yards of field and 1:11 on the game clock for Campbell to navigate.
A 47-yard pass to tight end Cameron led to a 44-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff and the two teams went into the locker room with the Chiefs still holding a 20-10 lead, but the Browns seemed to have grabbed all the momentum.
Campbell came out after halftime and took Cleveland 80 yards on nine plays, hitting running back Fozzie Whittaker for a 17-yard touchdown and suddenly it was 20-17 Kansas City and you could hear a pin drop in Arrowhead.
The Browns defense, which had given up nearly 300 yards and 20 points to Kansas City in the first two quarters, spent the second half keeping Smith on the run, sending Jamaal Charles to the sidelines with a bruised knee and holding the KC offense to a handful of yards and only a couple of first downs.
But, as they have all year, the Chiefs defense and special teams came to the rescue. The defense didn’t allow Cleveland to get any closer than 20-17, and with 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the good fortune that the Chiefs have had all year appeared on the field of Arrowhead one more time.
Standing on his own goal line, Dustin Colquitt punted the ball to Browns receiver Davone Bess, who had been having a miserable day with key drops and miscues. Bess caught Colquitt’s short punt at midfield … took one step with the ball … and promptly fumbled it. Chiefs linebacker Frank Zombo fell on the loose ball at the 47-yard line and what would have been a first down on the Chiefs side of the field for Cleveland turned into a Chiefs possession.
Smith and the offense ran three more minutes off the clock and then punted the ball back to the Browns. With the Arrowhead faithful rocking and screaming once more, the Browns had a false start penalty on Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas and four plays later, he had a critical holding penalty that wiped out a first down run by Campbell.
On the very next play, Justin Houston sacked Campbell and forced a fumble that linebacker Derrick Johnson recovered at the 17-yard line. However, a Neutral Zone Infraction penalty on Tamba Hali overturned the fumble recovery and gave Cleveland another chance.
The defense held again and when Campbell’s last-ditch desperation pass to Davone Bess bounced off the receivers hands, Kansas City took over at the 31 yard line with 2:01 left in the game. The Chiefs even made this last bit of the game suspenseful when they failed to pick up a first down on a 3rd-and-2 run by Jamaal Charles, but when Succop’s third field goal of the game sailed through the uprights, the Chiefs had their eighth win against zero losses and remained the NFL’s only undefeated team.
It’s obvious by now that this year’s team is only going to blow another team out with defensive and special teams scores and that every game will be close. The team also knows that it will be getting their opponent’s best effort every week because of the unbeaten record.
The Chiefs ended the first half of their season without a loss and now begin the hardest part of their schedule with a trip to Buffalo – KC’s personal House of Horrors over the years – where they get to take on another back-up quarterback with a good and opportunistic defense behind him.
Then it’s a bye week during Week 10 and the Chiefs will begin a brutal four-game stretch where they play at Denver, home against the Chargers, home against the Broncos, and then on the road at Washington that will probably determine if they can keep home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Playoffs???? And to think that last year this team was 1-7 at this point of the season on their way to a 2-14 year.
Andy Reid HAS to be the Coach of the Year … right???
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