KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs began the 2015 NFL season with maybe the worst start among the 32 teams. A 1-5 record before the end of October usually spells doom for a team in the league standings.
But showing again that it does not matter how you start; it’s how you finish and Andy Reid’s team wrapped up the regular-season schedule with a 23-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.
Their club record 10-straight victories was good enough for the Chiefs to secure the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs, where they will face the Texans next weekend in Houston. It’s their second trip to the postseason in Reid’s three years as the team’s head coach. The Chiefs beat Houston 27-20 in Week 1 of the 2015 season.
“You cherish every win in the National Football League,” said head coach Andy Reid “We are not looking back and we’ll enjoy it until we get together on Tuesday. … I like this football team. They are a pretty humble crew. They don’t get caught up in the accolades; they just go out and play.”
On orders from Reid, the folks inside Arrowhead were kept in the dark about developments in Denver until the victory was assured for the Chiefs. Denver rallied behind Peyton Manning to beat San Diego, 27-20, and lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC. A Denver loss and a Chiefs victory would have given them the division title and a home game in the first round of the playoffs.
“That was pretty farfetched,” tight end Travis Kelce said of the Denver losing to San Diego scenario. “It was wishful thinking; at the end of the day, we don’t care who we got. We are fired up about being in the playoffs and taking on whoever we got.”
It was also a day for nostalgia with the NFL saying good bye to one of its best defensive players, as Oakland safety Charles Woodson played his 254th and last game in an 18-year career with the Raiders and Packers. A first-round selection by Oakland in the 1998 NFL Draft, Woodson first pro game was played at Arrowhead on September 6, 1998. The Chiefs won that one too, 28-8. Woodson closed out his career with seven tackles against the Chiefs.
“It didn’t end like you would want it to end,” Woodson said afterwards. “I just want people to say I left it all on the field. I gave the game everything I had. I’m very, very proud of that.”
For the Chiefs it was another chapter in what has grown into an unbelievable tale of resiliency after starting 1-5 and then winning all 10 games to finish out the season and make the playoffs. They are the first team since the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals to start 1-5 and earn a postseason ticket.
“With clinching last week on that emotional high, you can have a lull this week,” said quarterback Alex Smith. “We came out and played Chiefs football, high energy.”
The Chiefs got the jump on the Raiders from the first kickoff, scoring on their first two possessions as Smith connected with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin on a 25-yard touchdown pass, and then fullback Spencer Ware capped a 12-play drive with a 3-yard run to the end zone. The score was 14-0 with 51 seconds left in the first quarter and it appeared like it was going to be a long afternoon for Oakland.
But the Chiefs kept their visitors in the game, as the normally accurate Smith threw a pair of interceptions less than three minutes apart in the second quarter. He was picked first by cornerback T.J. Carrie, and then cornerback David Amerson grabbed a Smith throw at the Chiefs 24-yard line and returned the interception for a touchdown.
“You have to stay aggressive and run the offense,” Smith said of how he reacted to his interceptions that came on back-to-back throws. “They are going to happen and you have to deal with it.”
Throw in a PAT kick and a 29-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski and the score was 14-10 at intermission.
In the third quarter thanks to a special teams play and the offense, the Chiefs preserved their victory. K.C.’s punt defense was close all day to blocking kicks from Oakland punter Marquette King. Rookie linebacker D.J. Alexander was not blocked on his rush and he got his hands on the punt, knocking the ball out of the end zone for a safety.
“It was definitely a pivotal moment in the game,” said Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio. “In the history of the league if you go on the road and have a punt blocked it probably leads to a poor record.”
The Chiefs offense was gifted with great starting field position at their 47-yard line when the Raiders kicked off after the two-pointer. It was four plays later that Smith connected with tight end Demetrius Harris on a 15-yard touchdown pass. The PAT kick gave the Chiefs a 23-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
Both defenses dominated the second half, and Kansas City allowed just 205 offensive yards in the game, with an interception by safety Ron Parker and six sacks of Oakland quarterback David Carr. The Raiders offense scored its first points with two minutes left in the game when Carr tossed a TD pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree from 31 yards away. Oakland finished the season with a 7-9 record.
“We played a lot of close games,” said Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack. “We’re a young team and we’re learning week-by-week. But you can’t use that as an excuse. We have to learn how to finish games.”
The Chiefs will continue on, taking their remarkable comeback into the postseason, where the Hunt family franchise has a putrid record of late, like the last two and a half decades; they haven’t won a game in the playoffs since January 1994.
And, while the Oilers and the Astrodome are no longer part of the NFL, the Chiefs can close the circle by going to Houston and beating the Texans.