KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs second-year outside linebacker Dee Ford proved the wait was more than worth the time.
Making the second start of his career Sunday in place of an injured Justin Houston (knee) against the San Diego Chargers, Ford displayed the skills the Chiefs expected when the team selected him in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Sitting behind Houston and Tamba Hali limited Ford’s production the past two seasons, of course.
But given an opportunity to produce Sunday with extended playing time and build off Week 13’s start, Ford broke out with seven solo tackles (three for a loss), three sacks, three quarterback hits and a pass defensed in the 10-3 win.
Ford, who produced the first multi-sack game of his young career, said it was a matter of adjusting to the flow of the game to gain momentum.
“You start to get a feel of the game – and I spoke on that a lot – once you experience and you get to your first sack, then comes the second one, there comes the third one,” Ford said. “You have to really be aware of that scenario and really take advantage of it.”
Ford has also learned patience from developing the past year with the added benefit of receiving mentorship from two of the top pass-rushing outside linebackers in the NFL.
And he put all of the lessons learned to good use Sunday to become the first Chiefs player to total three or more sacks in a single game since Houston produce four in Week 17 of the 2014 season.
“With whatever your role is, you got to fill it out,” Ford said. “Be man enough to humble yourself and learn from two of the greatest linebackers in this league and I’ve been able to do some things.”
While Ford was clearly happy after the game – displaying a smile that never left his face – his teammates were also overjoyed to see the hard work he puts in throughout the week during practice pay off.
“That was great to see,” defensive end Jaye Howard said. “A guy like that, it’s tough being a first rounder come in here and sit behind two Pro Bowlers. He waited his time and he was able to capitalize on his opportunities.”
Cornerback Sean Smith agreed with Howard, adding what he observed of Ford against the Chargers didn’t surprise the defense.
“It was like watching practice,” Smith said. “The guy works so hard during the week. Between him, Houston and Tamba, they’re always putting in extra work with hands, steps and things of that nature. They work so hard, we expect nothing less when we step on the field on Sunday.”
Ford’s flair for making plays against the Chargers extended beyond harassing quarterback Philip Rivers.
The Chargers were driving in the waning minute of the fourth quarter with an opportunity to tie the contest and eventually faced a second-and-11 on the Chiefs’ 11-yard line with two seconds on the clock.
Rivers took the snap and attempted to complete a quick pass to running back Danny Woodhead on the right side of the end zone.
Ford found himself locked up on Woodhead, one of the NFL’s top receiving running backs, but Ford’s confidence never wavered as he stayed with a dangerous receiver to ensure the pass fell incomplete.
“That’s what the Sam position in a 3-4 linebacker (position) has to do in a 3-4 defense,” Ford said. “You can’t be a one-trick pony, I hear that a lot. And I have great coaching, so I’m able to take what I do well, which is pass rushing, and I’m able to apply it a complete skillset.”
Coach Andy Reid complimented Ford’s performance, but the final play may have caused Reid some anxiety.
A reporter asked Reid what the coach’s reaction would be if he knew before the game Ford would defend Woodhead on the last play.
“I would ask you for another question,” Reid said with a chuckle.
Ultimately, Ford’s breakout game played a major role in the Chiefs extending a winning streak to seven games, improving to 8-5 after starting the year at 1-5.
And even the offensive players admired Ford’s effort.
“Three sacks and one of the biggest passes defended of the season probably of our season so far – you could make that argument,” backup quarterback Chase Daniel said. “It’s fun.”