The game meant more to both teams than an emblematic Governor's Cup trophy. Kansas City stood at 8-5, and with division rivals San Diego and Oakland still in the hunt for the AFC West, a win was more than necessary; it was mandatory. The game was more than just a friendly get-together between neighbors. At this point in the season, a trophy awarded to the franchise from Missouri Governor Jay Nixon isn't as appealing as a possible division title for both teams.
The Chiefs weren't the only ones who entered the game with a paper-thin lead in their division. The Rams stood at 6-7 atop a surprisingly underachieving NFC West. In fact, the NFC West is so weak that the 4-9 Arizona Cardinals were still eligible for postseason contention prior to play around the league on Sunday.
The Rams entered as two-point favorites, which wasn't surprising considering that Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel was returning for his first game following an emergency appendectomy eleven days ago. In his absence against the San Diego Chargers last week, the Chiefs fell victim to their most bitter loss of the season. The team was hoping to not fall victim to the same result in St. Louis, especially to the sub-par Rams.
The first quarter was ultimately forgettable for the Chiefs. Kansas City held the ball for only four minutes in the first quarter, and a handful of dropped passes and rushes for little or no gain was the main cause. The Rams received the ball at the beginning of the game and held onto it until the seven-minute mark; a drive which lasted for what seemed like eternity. Burning all the time off the clock, the Rams only managed to score a field goal after back-to-back false start penalties pushed them backwards.
The Chiefs' first possession ended in a three-and-out, and the Rams answered that with another field goal. Things were starting to look bleak for Kansas City, a team that has struggled in the past month in finding their footing on offense early in games.
With just about three minutes to go before the second quarter, Terrence Copper dropped what would have been a sure-fire first down, and would have been the first time the Chiefs would move the chains down the field. However, on that same play an illegal contact penalty was called on Rams cornerback Kevin Dockery that gave the Chiefs an automatic first down. On the very next play, the Chiefs got their first earned first down with a 12-yard pass from Matt Cassel to fullback Tim Castille. At long last, the Chiefs started to click again with Cassel—something we hadn't seen in three weeks.
No matter how promising the newfound success on offense was beginning to shape up, it just wasn't enough. Kansas City just couldn't get past the giant Rams logo in the middle of the turf. When Cassel had his best opportunity to help the Chiefs cross midfield, Kevin Dockery intercepted his pass intended for Tony Moeaki at St. Louis' 44-yard line.
Jamaal Charles took matters into his own hands late in the game.
Getty Images/Dilip Vishwanat
To sum up the first-half mediocrity on offense, the Chiefs didn't cross mid-field until the 9:15 mark of the second quarter. The Rams executed a great strategy in cramming the box against the run-happy Chiefs, forcing them to average only about 3.4 yards per attempt on the ground. A late splurge by the running game pushed that average up to 5.0 yards, thanks in part to Jamaal Charles, whom averaged 11.5 yards per attempt when the game was all said and done.
While the running game was slowly picking up steam, the passing game struggled in the beginning but picked up well enough to help them score points. A 28-yard strike to Dwayne Bowe cut the Rams' secondary wide open, but Charles was probably the Chiefs player with the biggest thirst for the lead. He ran through a scrum so hard that he lost his helmet within the five-yard line. The momentum stayed alive and the Chiefs took the lead with a touchdown pass from Cassel to fullback Tim Castille. Minutes later another short-yardage touchdown, this one a touchdown rush from Charles, gave the Chiefs a 14-6 lead heading into the half.
At halftime, it seemed like the Chiefs were finally starting to control the Rams and burn the clock. Once the third quarter rolled around, the Chiefs were noticeably running the ball a lot more than they were throwing it. The only scoring that occurred in the third quarter was when Ryan Succop connected on a 53-yard field goal. That kick tied his career long in field goals. Succop's second field goal on the day (a 38-yarder) came early in the fourth quarter.
The Rams got antsy now that they found themselves down by two touchdowns. Their drive immediately following the Chiefs' field goal saw quarterback Sam Bradford toss the ball on every down. A pass to Danario Alexander on this particular drive came under question of Chiefs coach Todd Haley, who immediately challenged it and won upon review. It just about broke the Rams' composure, who repeated their pass-happy attack once they got the ball back. A rushing touchdown by running back Steven Jackson cut the lead to only seven, and the Rams looked like they had the potential to storm back to tie the game.
But not so fast.
In a blink of an eye, the Chiefs put the cherry on top. A handoff to Jamaal Charles resulted in an 80-yard gain, and left the rowdy, optimistic Rams fans praying for a comeback silenced. They began to file out of the Edward Jones Dome the very second Thomas Jones rushed in from two yards out for a touchdown.
Things just got more embarrassing for Bradford and the Rams' offense in the final minutes. Bradford was both sacked and intercepted twice in just three minutes. Both sacks came from Chiefs defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry and both interceptions came from defensive back Kendrick Lewis. Gilberry's three sacks on the game set a career high while the rookie Lewis' two interceptions set his very own career best.
The game was the Chiefs' final outing on the road, and for their sake, it's best that their final two games are back home at Arrowhead. Their 3-5 record away from Kansas City is a stark contrast from their perfect record at home, but their perfect streak against NFC West opponents is a big contributing factor to this team's winning record. Against all four of their opponents from the NFC West, the Chiefs won each game by at least two touchdown scores. They franchise is now 10-0 against NFC West opponents since 2002.
Thomas Jones became the 25th running back in NFL history to break the 10,000 yard rushing barrier.
Getty Images/Dilip Vishwanat
Earlier in the year I spoke of how helpful it would be to ‘sharpen the knives' against sub-par opponents—especially NFC West teams—that way they can make up for other losses.
We didn't necessarily have to wait until next week's game against the Tennessee Titans for the Chiefs to play in front of their faithful. With a majorly-Missourian crowd on hand, the stadium was buzzing with noise for a full three hours, whether it was the Rams marching down the field in the first quarter or the Chiefs storming back to 20 unanswered points. After all, it's been quite a while since both fan bases had teams within reach of the postseason, or even in contention.
At the Edward Jones Dome, the Chiefs fed off the energy from what could easily be deemed a bonus home game. As expected, plenty of Chiefs fans were in attendance to support the team and by the time the final minutes rolled around, they let their presence be heard. A booming rendition of the Tomahawk Chop chant just about punctuated the fans' claim that St. Louis—just like Kansas City—is the home of the Chiefs.
Now with the team heading back home to the place where they play best, Chiefs fans can only hope that the team can close out the season with two more rousing victories. Regardless of the outcome for this season, the Chiefs have clinched that elusive ninth victory on a season.
It's been a long, frustrating four years Chiefs fans, but now you undoubtedly have a winning team once again.
WARPAINT ILLUSTRATED MESSAGE BOARDS:
What did the Chiefs show you after their Rams victory?