Recapping top highs, lows of Chiefs’ 2015 season

KANSAS CITY, Mo.– The past season for the Chiefs was unpredictable and unprecedented.

Advancing to the second round of playoffs wasn’t exactly how many fans envisioned the season unfolding after the 1-5 start. But magic appeared and the Chiefs rewrote record books and ended streaks.

Despite a remarkable 2015 season, the Chiefs are no exception to having great moments and the not-so-great moments.

Some feats nearly made the cut of high moments, such as punter Dustin Colquitt finishing in the top three in several categories, including downed punts inside the 20. And even how linebacker Derrick Johnson made a successful comeback after rupturing an Achilles tendon last season to be named All-AFC by the Pro Football Writers of America.

Here are five top and low moments of the 2015 campaign:

Sept. 25, 2015; Kansas City, MO: Chiefs safety Eric Berry during pregame introductions against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Sept. 25, 2015; Kansas City, MO: Chiefs safety Eric Berry during pregame introductions against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

SEASON HIGHS

1. Eric Berry returns to football

Safety Eric Berry’s determination and strength are one thing, but the numbers he produced several months after being diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma is another.

Berry went in for testing in late November 2014 and received his diagnosis on Dec. 8. On June 22, 2015, Berry received the news he was cancer-free. A little more than a month later on July 29, he was cleared to practice.

It took just 172 days for Berry to go from his initial diagnosis to football activities. Being healthy enough to practice, however, doesn’t guarantee All-Pro type numbers.

He did it anyway.

Berry took the field for the first time in the Chiefs’ preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals, but did not record a tackle. In Kansas City’s third preseason game, he brought down former Chiefs running back Dexter McCluster for his first tackle on the field after tackling cancer, though it didn’t officially count.

His production escalated when the regular season rolled around. He opened the season with two tackles against the Houston Texans and recorded tackles in all but one of the 18 games combined during the regular season and playoffs.

Berry’s highest outing came on Nov. 22, 2015, which was 365 days since he was told the mass in his chest could be lymphoma. On that day, Berry recorded eight tackles against the San Diego Chargers.

“That tackle he made on the quick screen, I thought was a superior play,” coach Andy Reid said on Nov. 23. “You just don’t see that very often where he goes underneath an offensive lineman, pops up and makes a tackle on a screen. I mean, that was ninja-esque.”

Berry’s 55 solo tackles tied for No. 28 among safeties over the regular season. He added eight more in the playoffs. Berry also grabbed two interceptions for 40 yards over the regular season, and added an interception in the postseason win over Houston.

At season’s end, Berry earned first-team All-Pro status by The Associated Press for the second time in his career, as well as All-NFL and All-AFC honors, as well as Comeback Player of the Year by the PFWA. Berry is also up for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which is scheduled to be announced on Feb. 6.

And after the past 14 months, those honors have been well deserved.

2. Finally beating Peyton Manning

Losing to Peyton Manning is inevitable when considering he is a future first-ballot Hall of Fame candidate.

The Chiefs are far too familiar with falling victim to Peyton Manning, who has had the Chiefs’ number since 1999. Before the season started, Manning was 13-1 against Kansas City. That lone Chiefs win came on a Halloween afternoon, Oct. 31, 2004, when the Chiefs defeated a Manning-led Indianapolis Colts team, 45-35.

11 years and 15 days passed before Kansas City would reign victorious over Manning again.

In a game where Manning was favored to by 4 ½ points, he would get destroyed, throwing four interceptions and boasting a 0.0 QBR for the first time in his career.

“We had four interceptions on a legend, so it doesn’t get better than that,” rookie Marcus Peters said in a postgame interview.

Manning didn’t start another game until the playoffs, when the Denver Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers.

3. Rookie Supreme

The Chiefs drafted rookie cornerback Marcus Peters out of Washington with their first pick (18th overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft and it shaped up to be a solid one.

Peters, along with Cincinnati free safety Reggie Nelson, had eight interceptions, leading the league. Peters’ 280 returned yards more than doubled the No. 2 player on the charts, cornerback Trumaine Johnson of the St. Louis Rams. Those 280 returned yards on the season is No. 9 all-time.

Dec. 6, 2015; Oakland; Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Peters (22) before the game against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Dec. 6, 2015; Oakland; Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Peters (22) before the game against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

He had plenty of opportunities to pick off quarterbacks, as Peters was on the field for 1,037 defensive snaps.

That mark was the third-most for the Chiefs behind linebacker Derrick Johnson and safety Ron Parker. League-wide, Peters had the 25th most snaps among defensive backs, the 11th most among cornerbacks and the most of rookie corners.

“No. 22, he’s special, man,” nine-season veteran defensive end Mike DeVito said of Peters. “He reminds me of (Darrelle) Revis when Revis came out.”

Peters was also 1 of 5 players who had more than two pick-sixes on the year.

His performances on the field led to accolades upon accolades. He was AFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 15. He was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month for December 2015. He’s a Pro Bowler. He was tabbed as second-team All-Pro. He made PFWA’s All-AFC team. He was named PFWA’s Defensive Rookie of the Year.

And, rightfully so, he’s up for the NFL’s Rookie of the Year award, which will be announced on Feb. 6.

4. Streaking into the playoffs

At 1-5, the playoffs looked far-fetched. The probability that Kansas City would secure a postseason spot? 4.7 percent.

But then the Chiefs beat the Steelers and Detroit Lions to get to the bye week at 3-5. The Chiefs never looked back and reeled off eight straight to finish the regular season at 11-5.

In a streak that felt more of Madden and less of actuality, Kansas City clinched a postseason berth to beat the odds with a franchise-record 10 straight wins.

Since 1970, 223 teams started out seasons with a 1-5 record. Only two teams (0.9 percent) have advanced to the postseason: The 1970 Cincinnati Bengals and the 2015 Chiefs.

But the Chiefs didn’t want only 10 straight wins. They wanted 11.

There was one problem, however. Kansas City entered the postseason without a playoff win since defeating the Houston Oilers on Jan. 16, 1994.

Since then, the Chiefs were 0-8 in playoff games. But 0-9 wasn’t meant to be and the Chiefs steamrolled the Texans, 30-0, just a stone’s throw away from their last playoff win.

5. Maclin-Smith chemistry

It’s hard to believe just a season ago the Chiefs didn’t have a wide receiver touchdown.

With the addition of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver touchdowns were plentiful. Maclin led the way with eight, Albert Wilson hauled in three and rookie Chris Conley had two.

The chemistry between Smith and his receivers this season proved seamless than previous years, but the chemistry between Smith and Maclin is even greater.

Over the season, Maclin had 87 receptions on 124 targets, a 70.2 catch percentage. Quarterback Alex Smith completed 307 of 470 passes, a 65.3 completion percentage.

Statistically speaking, Smith was better off throwing to Maclin than to other players. Of Smith’s 3,486 yards passing, Maclin caught 1,088 yards receiving, or 31.2 percent of all of Smith’s passes. Smith threw 20 touchdowns on the year and Maclin caught eight touchdown passes on the year, or 40 percent of Smith’s touchdowns.

Compared to former Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, Maclin’s numbers stand out.

Last season, Bowe hauled in 60 receptions on 95 targets, a 63.2 catch percentage. Smith completed 303 for 464 passes for a 65.3 completion percentage.

Smith was worse than average when throwing to Bowe in 2014. Smith threw for 3,265 yards and Bowe had 754 yards receiving, catching 23 percent of Smith’s yardage.

And of the 18 passing touchdowns Smith threw, none went to Bowe.

Oct. 11, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) is helped off the field in the second half against the Chicago Bears at Arrowhead Stadium. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Oct. 11, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) is helped off the field in the second half against the Chicago Bears at Arrowhead Stadium. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

SEASON LOWS

Even in a magical season such 2015, bad things are bound to happen. And they sure did.

1. Jamaal Charles goes down

The sky was the limit for running back Jamaal Charles, who was coming off a third-straight 1,000-yard rushing season.

Through five games in 2015 Charles was averaging 72.8 yards rushing per game and 5.13 yards per carry.

But Charles didn’t get through the fifth game against the Chicago Bears after going down with a non-contact ACL tear halfway through the third quarter. He couldn’t put any weight on his right leg and hobbled off the field with the help of linebacker Justin Houston.

Despite missing 11 games, Charles still finished fourth in yards rushing (364) on the team.

2. Sean Smith and the losses

Cornerback Sean Smith pleaded guilty in April 2015 to a DUI charge and was subsequently suspended for the first three games of the 2015 season. His absence was notable.

In the first three games, the Chiefs gave up 825 yards passing and were 28th in pass defense at the time.

If Smith hadn’t been suspended for the Denver and Green Bay games, it’s entirely possible that the Chiefs could have pulled out a win in the former. The Chiefs also could have been more competitive against the Packers.

3. Concussions

In the year Hollywood basically declared war on the NFL with the movie “Concussion,” the Chiefs had their own fair share of the problem.

The plague of concussions rained over the Chiefs starting in Week 6 against the Minnesota Vikings.

Defensive end Mike DeVito sustained a concussion in the second quarter against the Vikings and didn’t suit up until Week 10 against the Denver Broncos. DeVito also went through concussion protocol after leaving Week 13’s game against the Oakland Raiders early. He missed Week 14’s matchup against the Chargers.

Oct. 18, 2015; Minneapolis; Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (19) leaves the field with a concussion during the second half against the Vikings at TCF Stadium. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Oct. 18, 2015; Minneapolis; Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (19) leaves the field with a concussion during the second half against the Vikings at TCF Stadium. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin also sustained a concussion in the fourth quarter against the Vikings. Maclin sat out against Pittsburgh, but returned to play in Week 8 against Detroit.

Wide receiver/running back De’Anthony Thomas left the game in Week 11 against the Chargers with a concussion and never returned, though the concussion injury tag was removed from the injury report for Week 17.

Rookie center Mitch Morse sustained two concussions in 2015. His first came against the Buffalo Bills in Week 12 and the second occurred in Week 17. He did not play in the postseason.

Safety Husain Abdullah suffered a concussion during practice leading to Week 13, and missed four games. He sat out the season finale for personal reasons before returning against Houston in the AFC Wildcard game.

Linebacker Dee Ford left the Week 17 matchup with the Raiders to go through concussion protocol, but he played in the following week’s playoff game.

Offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif left the AFC Wildcard game with a concussion and missed the divisional game against the New England Patriots.

That’s 10 reported concussions, including multiple for two players.

4. Lack of depth at punt returner

When Thomas went down, the punt return game drastically declined. Before his exit, Thomas had 227 punt return yards. After he left, the Chiefs had 128 punt return yards between Maclin and wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr.

If something happened to Hammond, who knows who the Chiefs would have thrown back there.

5. The disappearance of Knile Davis

Aside from his astonishing 106-yard kickoff return touchdown to kick start the AFC Wildcard game, running back Knile Davis’ season was lackluster.

Charles, who sat out nearly 74 percent of the season, had more rushing yards than Davis, whose best game was a 30-yard outing against the Patriots in the divisional game.

Without Charles, it was expected that Davis would step up, but running backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware proved the better options.

Davis was a healthy inactive in Weeks 10-11 before being relegated to returning kicks the rest of the season. He finished the year with 28 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown.

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Amie Just is a contributing writer for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach her or find her on Twitter: @Amie_Just.

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