Once the sun had set in Kansas City, the Chiefs became AFC West Champions for the first time since 2003. Kansas City's closest competition for the playoff berth, the San Diego Chargers, fell victim to the Cincinnati Bengals in a 34-20 shocker hundreds of miles away in Ohio.
The Chiefs' tenth victory on the season matches the franchise's combined total of wins from the previous three years. It's also the best single-season turn-around in Chiefs history. The six-game improvement surpasses the about-face seasons of 1962 and 2003—both of which ended with five more victories than their respective previous seasons.
To state it simply, the Chiefs started the game with guns a-blazing. The first play from scrimmage was a 21-yard pass from Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel to Bowe, and in the blink of an eye, Cassel tossed a 14-yard touchdown to running back Jamaal Charles. It was just the beginning for arguably Cassel's most impressive game on the season and the game which just about silences Cassel's detractors.
I, for one, have been enormously impressed by Cassel in the past month, especially since his return from emergency surgery. Cassel has demonstrated that not only has he grown more comfortable on the field, but also has tremendous passion; that fire can be seen when he's barking at opponents or spiking the ball in jubilation.
On Sunday, Cassel let his emotions show when he was momentarily pulled from the game late in the third quarter so that backup quarterback Brodie Croyle could see some playing time. Chiefs head coach Todd Haley later called it a "strategic" move to let Croyle take some snaps, but the incident can be just as easily interpreted as Haley sending a message to Cassel. After all, Haley is a coach known for sending his players to "the dog house" at the drop of a hat. Cassel and the Chiefs' offense hit a slight road bump in the second half, but were still up big over the Titans.
An interception from Croyle on just his second play from scrimmage prompted Haley to send Cassel back in. What stood out most to me from this whole incident was that Cassel was on the receiving end of applause from the Arrowhead faithful, and he would later go on to finish the game at quarterback. We may never know the honest reasoning as to why Haley made the substitution, but it didn't turn into a disaster on the field or in the locker room.
KC QB Matt Cassel threw another trio of touchdowns on Sunday against the Titans.
Perhaps the best thing that Chiefs fans have gotten out of Cassel is his absence. One game without him as starting quarterback proved to be a disaster, and just two plays on offense without him gave us that same bitter taste and tendency to cringe. Cassel finished with 314 yards and three touchdowns, making his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 27:5 the best in Chiefs history. It's hard to wonder why a guy like that would involuntarily miss action at quarterback.
While we discovered something new out of Cassel by game's end, we knew very well just how much this game meant before it even started. In their penultimate game of the season, the Chiefs had no more room for error. While the Titans (6-8) didn't necessarily enter the game as a considerable threat, the Chiefs still stood on unstable ground. The Titans have plenty of talent and enough potential to derail the Chiefs' playoff aspirations.
The most talented player on the Titans' roster – and biggest threat to the Chiefs' defense – was running back Chris Johnson. Johnson entered the game with eight games of over 100 yards rushing to his name so far this season, not mention that he finished last season with over 2,000 rushing yards.
The Chiefs' defense focused solely on stopping Johnson, doing so in spectacular fashion. Johnson gained only 48 yards on 14 attempts, and this forced the Titans to become one-dimensional, which they traditionally aren't on offense. When the Titans had nowhere to run, they had little success in the passing game as well. Their quarterback Kerry Collins completed only 14 of his 37 attempts.
Chiefs defenders coughed up two turnovers from Collins, but also gave up two big touchdowns; a 53-yard score by Titans receiver Kenny Britt was the most embarrassing mistake allowed by the Chiefs' secondary, and the other was a 22-yard pass to tight end Jared Cook. Cook dragged Chiefs defensive backs Brandon Flowers and Kendrick Lewis into the end zone.
There were plenty of other big plays on the day—the biggest ones coming from Dwayne Bowe and Eric Berry—but there were just as many calls for personal fouls. The frigid weather didn't stop the Chiefs and Titans from getting heated with each other.
KC Defensive End Shaun Smith was flagged multiple times for being too aggressive on Sunday.
To say the least, the Chiefs and Titans held shared no holiday cheer. Seven calls for unnecessary roughness showcased just how chippy the teams were from start to finish.
Kansas City and Tennessee had 16 combined penalties for 158 yards and numerous physical altercations to match. Around the 11:30 mark of the second quarter, Titans offensive lineman Jake Scott was flagged for unnecessary roughness, and moments later Chiefs safety Jon McGraw returned the favor for his own penalty.
For the most part, it was hard for the whole team to keep their composure at times, but the Chiefs' defense didn't have much trouble wrapping up and taking down their opponent. In recent weeks, the defense has had trouble tackling, and it resulted in a few late scares in games, most notably against the St. Louis Rams and the Denver Broncos. I'll spare you and not go into details about the disastrous 31-0 loss to San Diego; the score alone from that contest sums it up.
No matter how impressive Kansas City's defense was, Tennessee's defense wasn't as solid. They had trouble holding onto the Chiefs' offensive weapons, especially Charles and Bowe. Charles racked up 117 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns while Bowe finished with 153 receiving yards and a touchdown. Bowe's touchdown was a 75-yard pass from Cassel which came on 3rd-and-19. It was Bowe's longest career score and his 15th touchdown on the season—still good for the NFL lead
Bowe is putting the finishing touches on his most impressive season, especially considering that Sunday's effort was the fifth game where he finished with over 100 receiving yards. Prior to this season, Bowe had only five other games with over 100 yards from 2007 to 2009.
On a side note, Charles and his rushing counterpart Thomas Jones surpassed former Chiefs players Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson as the franchise's most prolific rushing attack in a season. Charles and Jones' 2,259 combined rushing yards thus far in 2010 put them past Holmes and Johnson's 2005 season effort of 2,201 combined rushing yards.
Giving the perfect compliment to their offensive firepower, the Chiefs' defense had another day at the office. In fact, the Chiefs' defenders stood out best when they roughed up Titans quarterback Kerry Collins. They sacked Collins three times—one each coming at the hands of Glenn Dorsey, Tamba Hali, and Andy Studebaker, respectively. Funny enough, when the Chiefs' defense caused possibly the least amount of bodily harm to Collins—Shaun Smith's slap to Collins' face—became just one of the many puzzling calls from officials on the day. It showcased the league's newfound interest in protecting quarterbacks at all costs, even it were just a tap in the head.
The Chiefs' secondary also had its fair share of picking apart Kerry Collins. Kendrick Lewis had his hands on a couple interceptions but they both didn't count in the stat books; his interception in the middle of the third quarter was nullified after a personal foul was called on teammate Jovan Belcher, and Lewis had a grasp on another pass minutes later but he dropped it.
Safety Kendrick Lewis continues to mature in KC's new aggressive defensive schemes.
However, the interceptions that counted were worthy of the highlight reels.
Eric Berry recorded the first touchdown of his career after intercepting Collins and returning it 54 yards for the score. Berry's self-described "offensive instincts" kicked in and allowed him to dance around the opposition and leap into the end zone. Brandon Carr used his own athleticism to intercept Collins, and interestingly enough, it was the first interception on the season for Carr, and only his fourth since entering the league in 2008.
Carr entered the game tied for second in passes defended or made incomplete by a defensive back (20), and only two behind the league leader, Brent Grimes of the Atlanta Falcons. I found it surprising that it was the first interception on the year for Carr being that he sticks for the more conservative way of stopping opponents (swatting the ball away) rather than grabbing it for himself. Carr has struggled in a few games this season in holding onto sure-fire interceptions, but finally tallied one today.
In front of an announced crowd of 65,606 spectators, the Chiefs moved to 7-0 at home on the season. I'd say that number is quite modest considering that the team was facing a blackout just days ago, and the "Sea of Red" is looking more like a dried-up pond.
In those seven games at Arrowhead the defense has allowed an average of only 12 points to their opponents. Compare that to the 26-point average they allow on the road, and you find an obvious reason why the team is only 3-5 away from Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City is the only team in 2010 to hold opponents on their home turf to 20 points or less.
Now that the fork was stabbed in the San Diego Chargers, it's a great prospect for this Chiefs team to host a game in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Hopefully their undefeated streak at Arrowhead will carry past the first week of January, but with a defense like this, Chiefs fans should feel quite optimistic.
One thing is for certain though: the Chiefs need more fan support. I fully understand the holiday travel season and unreasonable ticket and parking prices, but Chiefs Nation needs to savor its first home playoff game since 2003. Kansas City has been praying for a winning team since the end of the Trent Green era in January 2007. They've been waiting even longer for the team to proudly host a game at Arrowhead.
In January 2011, the Chiefs are hoping to turn things around and win their first playoff game in 17 years. While the team stands tall on the gridiron, they want their fans standing taller in attendance, pounding on their seats and screaming at the top of their lungs.
In 2010, we saw the magic return to Arrowhead. In two weeks, once the games that really matter roll around, that magic needs to keep on going.
Happy New Year from Warpaint Illustrated!
WARPAINT ILLUSTRATED MESSAGE BOARDS:
What do you think of your AFC West Champions?