DENVER – Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali felt tired as the Denver Broncos marched down the field to start overtime Sunday night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
“We were all getting tired,” Hali said “We needed to make a play.”
The Chiefs bend-but-don’t-break defense broke a few too many times against the Broncos, surrendering long scoring plays that nearly spelled disaster. But the defense made key plays at critical junctures that spurred Kansas City to a dramatic 30-27 overtime win.
On Denver’s first overtime drive, the Broncos faced a third-and-9 from the Chiefs 19-yard line. Denver already converted key third downs twice on the drive, and another first down could easily lead to a game-winning touchdown.
Hali said Broncos left tackle Russell Okung defended him well throughout the game, but he knew he could find a weakness.
“I just figured, you know what – I’m going to line up and just go right through him,” Hali said.
That’s exactly what Hali did, bull rushing into the Pro Bowl tackle and setting him on his heels. Okung rocked backward within the defender’s grasp. Hali simply drove him into quarterback Trevor Siemian for a 9-yard sack that forced the Broncos to settle for a field goal and kept the Chiefs alive.
Hali didn’t believe he even laid a hand on the quarterback.
“I just touched Russell and put him back,” Hali explained.
Hali’s sack along with three sacks from linebacker Justin Houston and another from defensive lineman Kendall Reyes all came when the Chiefs needed a big play from its defense.
Houston’s third sack of the game came on another third down play, this time third-and-7 from Denver’s own 8-yard line. Houston drilled Siemian in the end zone and popped the ball loose. Okung recovered the fumble, but it didn’t stop the Chiefs from recording a safety.
The veteran Houston delivered a performance that reminded everyone of his domination before a knee injury slowed him a year ago. In his second game back following offseason surgery, Houston recorded 10 tackles, three sacks, three quarterback hits, an additional tackle for a loss, a pass defended and a forced fumble. That’s the kind of statistical line that made him a first team All-Pro in 2014.
Houston believed Sunday night’s performance stemmed from the hard work he put into his rehabilitation to return at the top of his game.
“I saw this game coming months ago,” Houston said. “I worked and I had faith and I believed. When you have those three things, nothing can stop you.”
Coach Andy Reid said Houston started shaking off the rust and rounding into form by the end of the team’s week 11 loss to Tampa Bay.
“I anticipated he would have a big game,” Reid said. “He pushed himself and that whole defense did.”
The Chiefs’ defense performance proved far from perfect. Siemian threw for 368 yards and the three touchdowns, and the Broncos added another 124 yards on the ground. The team surrendered big plays – including a 35-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders and a 76-yard scoring strike to Bennie Fowler on consecutive drives in the fourth quarter.
But whether it was defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches picking up a tackle in the backfield or cornerback Phillip Gaines breaking up a potential touchdown pass, the team’s defensed seemed to gear itself up to make the big play and the right time.
Veteran safety Eric Berry, the vocal leader for the Chiefs on the field, admits the team has flaws to remedy and can create less stress late with better play early.
But he believes Sunday’s win illustrates the team’s true character.
“It just how that we know how to win when the game is one the line,” Berry said. “That’s it.”