Halftime Digest: Chiefs 20, Falcons 16

The Kansas City Chiefs used a little offensive razzle dazzle and timely defense to take a 20-16 halftime lead on the road at the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons.

Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware (32) celebrates a touchdown with center Mitch Morse (61) and tackle Eric Fisher (72) during the first half of the team's game at the Atlanta Falcons Dec. 4, 2016. (Photo courtesy Chiefs PR, Chiefs.com)

Kansas City Chiefs running back Spencer Ware (32) celebrates a touchdown with center Mitch Morse (61) and tackle Eric Fisher (72) during the first half of the team’s game at the Atlanta Falcons Dec. 4, 2016. (Photo courtesy Chiefs PR, Chiefs.com)

Things looked ugly early when the Falcons marched down the field on the first drive of the game, aided by Chiefs penalties, to take a 7-0 lead.

But the Chiefs responded with an even faster drive of their own. Quarterback Alex Smith connected on consecutive throws to tight end Travis Kelce for 56 yards. Running back Spencer Ware capped off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. The Falcons blocked the extra point to make it 7-6.

The game appeared headed toward a tied score at halftime until safety Eric Berry picked off a Matt Ryan pass for a 37-yard interception return with 37 seconds left in the half, giving the Chiefs the halftime lead.

Smith finished the first half 11-of-13 passing for 168 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Tyreek Hill lead the team’s rushers with 24 yards on two carries. Kelce added 99 yards on four receptions.

Keys to the second half for the Chiefs:

Keep up offensive creativity

Coach and offensive play caller Andy Reid programmed one of his more creative first-half performances on the season. The Chiefs outgained the Falcons 232 yards to 189, averaging 9.7 yards per play.

Misdirection helped the Chiefs pick up yards in chunks in the first half, a task that proved elusive coming in to today’s game. Keeping the Falcons off guard should allow the offense to keep moving efficiently.

Knock off the penalties

The Chiefs discipline improved in the second quarter, but eight penalties for 95 yards in the first half nearly spelled disaster. A pass interference call on safety Daniel Sorensen in the end zone gave the Falcons a second crack at seven. Atlanta converted for their only first half touchdown.

Another pass interference penalty on Berry accounted for 40 yards and setup the Falcons for the field goal that made it 10-6.

Penalties proved to be the Falcons most effective weapon in the first half. Wide receiver Julio Jones caught four passes for 52 yards, which pales to the 95 yards in penalties the Chiefs accumulated.

Keep winning in the red zone

The Chiefs offensive entered the game 31st in the NFL with a red zone touchdown conversion rate of just 42.1 percent. But the Chiefs scored on both their red zone trips in the first half.

Meanwhile the defense held the Falcons to a single touchdown on three red zone opportunities. Holding the Falcons to field goals is a what it takes to win in Atlanta, and the defense delivered in the first half.

Add in the late interception return for a touchdown, and the Chiefs bend-but-don’t break defense won the first half for Kansas City.

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Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and the Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.

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