BALTIMORE – One of the most incredible in-season comebacks in NFL annals continued on a cloudy Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium in what the locals like to call Charm City.
The Chiefs enjoyed the hospitality and won their eighth consecutive game, beating the Baltimore Ravens 34-14.
It was a historic victory for the Hunt Family franchise, as they became the first team in league history to follow a losing streak of at least five games with a winning streak of at least eight games within the same season. The Cincinnati Bengals lost six straight and then won seven in a row during the 1970 season.
Now 9-5, the Chiefs continue to hold the wheel for the wildcard slots in the AFC bracket for the playoffs with two games to play and both of those at Arrowhead Stadium.
The victory was very much like those that have come over the last month, where one unit of the team did the heavy lifting and the others did just enough to win. On this Sunday, it was the Chiefs defense that made the important plays: scoring two touchdowns, forcing three turnovers and not allowing a point in the second half.
Yes, the Ravens did rack up 366 offensive yards, score on their first possession and then hit a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. Those were the only moments when Baltimore came close to the end zone.
Safety Tyvon Branch returned a fumble 73 yards for a touchdown, his second score in the last three weeks with a takeaway. Cornerback Marcus Peters had two interceptions, including one that he returned 90 yards for a touchdown, his second score of the season.
“We don’t just focus on the offense scoring points,” said outside linebacker Tamba Hali. “Coach wants us to score in every phase of the game.”
The Chiefs now have six defensive touchdowns on the season and sit at plus-15 in the all-important turnover ratio.
“I think they feel opportunity,” said head coach Andy Reid. “So their focus there is just tremendous when those things happen. … I would just say the attitude there, the guys understanding it. They do it, that’s the main thing.”
Offensively, the Chiefs struggled, finishing with just 277 yards on 56 plays. They had as many touchdowns as their defense, but they did not turn the ball over and put together a fourth-quarter drive that finished up with a 32-yard field goal from Cairo Santos. As important as those three points were, was the offense running 8 minutes, 41 seconds off the clock.
“They broke character today and did things that we hadn’t seen on film,” said quarterback Alex Smith. “They gave us a bunch of unscouted looks, but we were fortunate to make good adjustments. … late in the third quarter we started that one big drive that really put the game away for us.”
Smith and the offense scored on the game’s first possession, with running back Charcandrick West running through the Ravens defense on a 38-yard touchdown play. Baltimore answered immediately with a scoring drive, as quarterback Jimmy Clausen connected with fullback Kyle Juszczyk on a 1-yard pass to even things at 7-7.
The Chiefs first defensive score came late in the first quarter when Baltimore running back Javorius Allen coughed up the ball after he was hit by linebacker Derrick Johnson. The ball laid on the ground for a few seconds among the legs of the scrum when Branch came running, reaching in, grabbing the ball and taking off for the score.
“We have some great pieces here, we have a great mixture of savvy veterans and young up-and-coming stars in this league,” said Branch. “I’m just glad I’m a piece of this puzzle; we have a good thing going.”
Quite possibly the play of the game came courtesy of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. Down 14-7 late in the first quarter, Baltimore faced a 4th-and-9 play at their 17-yard line. In a silly attempt to pump some life into his team, Harbaugh called for a fake punt, rather than kick the ball away. He had one of the NFL’s best punters Sam Koch take the snap and act like a running back.
Koch gained seven of the necessary yards before safety Daniel Sorensen made the tackle and the Chiefs took over on downs at the Ravens 24-yard line. Three plays later, Smith connected with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin for a 13-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the winning points.
Harbaugh defended the decision afterwards.
“We’re down 21-7 (actually 14-7) and we want to make something happen,” Harbaugh said. “We’re trying to create a play; we’re trying to win a football game and it came up two yards short. If you think I’m going to go into a shell with this team and not go for it, that’s not what I am. If anybody wants to criticize us for going for it and being aggressive have at it, I’m not apologizing for that.”
Going into the game, the Chiefs special teams were on alert for anything unusual from the Ravens, who have one of the best overall kicking game units in the league. Sorensen’s job on the punt-return team was to act as the lookout, the guy who waits until the ball is kicked before he takes off down the field and tries to throw a block for the returner.
“I saw the punter get the snap and then take a step forward,” Sorensen said. “I didn’t know what was up, but I knew that didn’t look right. I was just about ready to run downfield, but that extra step made me stop.”
There was no doubt the importance of the play to Smith.
“Looking back, that probably changed the game,” he said. “After that, they were down by two touchdowns and had to play from behind.”
In the first half, the Chiefs also added a 53-yard field goal from Santos with 50 seconds to play to take a 24-7 lead. But Baltimore climbed back into the game on the final play of the half, when Clausen connected with wide receiver Kamar Aiken on a Hail-Mary pass of 48 yards for a touchdown. It was the only time all day that the Chiefs defense was embarrassed by the injury-hobbled Ravens.
“That was a total bust on us,” said Peters. “We’ll go back and look at the film and talk about it. We have to go back to the drawing board and fix it.”
Fix it the Chiefs did in the second half, as Peters grabbed both of his interceptions. The first one he ran back 90 yards for a touchdown. The second pick came with less than three minutes to play and he did the smart thing and slid to the ground as he was going to be tackled.
The only Baltimore offensive player that dented the K.C. defense was Aiken, who finished with eight catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. Clausen hit passes of 48 and 40 yards and threw the two touchdowns, but otherwise struggled.
“You’re not going to win games turning the ball over,” said Clausen, who was starting for the injured Matt Schaub (chest) who was starting for the injured Joe Flacco (knee). “That’s a really good defense we just faced. … They’re going to be a playoff team, probably this year and they’re on a hot streak right now.”
The eight straight victories is the second longest winning streak in Chiefs history, topped only by the 2003 and 2013 teams that each won nine in a row. Reid now owns 169 career wins (regular and postseason) and moved past Bud Grant for the 17th most victories in NFL history. He’s 29-17 in three seasons with the Chiefs.
Typical of Reid, his thoughts were only on potential victory No. 30 coming up against the Cleveland Browns next Sunday.
“We still have to clean up some things,” said Reid. “We have a lot of room to improve.”
As they showed Sunday, the 2015 Chiefs have improved and done so at a historic level with two regular season games to play.