Jamaal Charles unavailable? No problem. Charcandrick West hobbled and in the locker room? Big deal. The Kansas City Chiefs just grabbed the No. 3 running back on their depth chart and said produce.
Spencer Ware got his chance in the spotlight on Sunday and with the help of a couple scores from a dominating defense, the Chiefs pushed their winning streak to four games with a 33-3 thrashing of the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.
The victory got the Chiefs back to the .500 mark for the 2015 season. Now 5-5, they are headed back home to Arrowhead Stadium to play the Buffalo Bills (5-4) next Sunday.
The win streak has elevated them to second place in the AFC West, three games behind Denver (8-2) with six games to play. It was the sixth consecutive loss for the Chargers (2-8).
“I’m proud of the guys for the character that they have shown,” coach Andy Reid told reporters after the game. “They played their hearts out and they’ll continue to do that because that’s how they are wired.”
With Charles’ season over because of a torn ACL knee injury, West moved into the starting lineup and provided production for the Chiefs offense. West started against San Diego, but saw little action in the second half because of a hamstring pull.
Knile Davis was a game-day inactive player for the second straight week, so that left only Ware, the 230-pound versatile back from LSU to step into the halfback role. All he did was run 11 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns and caught one pass for 5 yards. He set up one of those TDs with a 52-yard run, the longest running play of the season for the Chiefs.
“He’s a powerful kid and he’s shown us the caliber of what we saw in practice and the preseason,” Reid said of Ware. “We were down a few different spots and guys stepped in and did a nice job.”
Ware and the rest of the offense got plenty of help from the Chiefs defense. San Diego managed just 201 offensive yards and quarterback Philip Rivers was in a constant state of disbelief and pressure, as the Chiefs sacked him three times and grabbed an interception. That takeaway was a big one, as outside linebacker Justin Houston caught an attempted screen pass by Rivers and returned the ball 17 yards for his first NFL touchdown. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali had two of the three sacks.
Nose tackle Dontari Poe scored his first NFL touchdown, but that did not come on defense. He joined the Chiefs jumbo package that they use for goal-line plays and made the end zone from the 1-yard line on a fourth-down run.
Although he did not throw a touchdown pass, quarterback Alex Smith established a new Chiefs record for passing attempts without an interception. He now stands at 253 passes, blowing past Steve DeBerg who in 1990 went 233 passes without throwing one to the other team. It’s the longest current streak in the league.
“It’s a matter of everybody being on the same page,” Smith told reporters after the game. “It’s really a credit to everyone. The guys up front were battling and the guys outside were seeing it the same way I was seeing it.”
Throw in a pair of Cairo Santos field goals (24 and 28 yards) and the outcome was a stunning in its totality. Offense, defense and special teams all contributed to the beat down of the Chargers. It’s been a long-time since the Chiefs dominated a fellow member of the AFC West like they did on Sunday.
The previous worse beating the Chargers got from the Chiefs in San Diego goes back to 1968, when Hank Stram’s team won 40-3 at old Balboa Stadium. It’s the Chiefs most impressive winning margin in a division game since beating San Diego 42-10 during the 2000 season.
“It’s about as tough as it gets,” said Rivers, who threw for just 178 yards, his lowest passing total of the season. “I was really fired up for the game, coming off the bye, the practices we had a feel for it … it got away from us.”
The Chiefs followed the script they’ve used for the last month by playing balanced offense and hard-hitting defense to post a 12-3 lead at intermission. On the first possession of the game, the offense lost wide receiver-returner De’Anthony Thomas, who went to the locker room after the second play when he took a blow to the head and suffered a concussion. Thomas did not return.
On their second chance with the ball, Smith hit a big pass play to West that looked very much like the touchdown play they combined on in last Sunday’s game in Denver. This time the completion went for 47 yards and ultimately the Chiefs faced fourth-and-goal at the Chargers 1-yard line. Reid decided to go for the touchdown rather than the field goal and Poe got the honors, flying over the top of the pile out of the fullback spot for his first NFL touchdown.
“We’ve been working him in there the last couple years,” said Reid of his 346-pound fullback. “He’s blocked for a couple runs, a couple passes. We thought we’d give him a chance. He surprised me when he went up and over. He’s an athlete.”
A successful PAT kick by Santos was wiped away when tight end Travis Kelce was called for illegal hands to the face, a 10-yard penalty. Santos then pushed the 43-yard PAT wide right and the Chiefs lead was just 6-0.
San Diego put three points up on an 11-play drive, as rookie kicker Josh Lambo nailed a 52-yard field goal. The Chiefs moved to the Chargers 11-yard line but in three plays gained a single yard. Santos came in and made a 28-yard field goal and the Chiefs were up 9-3.
As the second quarter was coming to a close, the Chiefs thought they had another touchdown, when Smith and Kelce combined on a 12-yard touchdown pass with less than 10 seconds to play. But replay review showed that Kelce never controlled the football and they had to settle for a 24-yard field goal and went to the locker room with a 12-3 lead.
The second half was more of the same, with first Houston reaching the end zone on his interception, and Ware adding a pair of 3-yard touchdowns. He ran for 83 of his 96 yards in the fourth quarter.
“It’s all about preparation,” Ware told reporters. “When someone goes down, be ready to step up. Now try not to lose what we have in sight. We had a job to do; we had to finish the game and that’s what we did.”
When the performance was over, the head coach would not be drawn into any discussion about where his team sits in the picture of the AFC playoffs. They are one game out of the wildcard spots, currently behind only Pittsburgh (6-4).
“You get the fish in the boat before you say ‘I caught it’,” Reid said of any postseason discussion. “You take care of business day-in and day-out. You make sure your fundamentals are right. You can control those things and you don’t worry about anything else.”
NOTES: Reid told reporters after the game wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas suffered a concussion … Reid said running back Charcandrick West is “day-to-day” with a hamstring strain … outside linebacker Dee Ford sustained a back injury during pregame warmups and was inactive.