If the Chiefs’ offense were compared to a closer in baseball, its season so far would be much closer to say, Mariano Rivera’s in 1999, than Brad Lidge’s in 2009.
While the Chiefs’ defense has garnered the majority of the headlines during the team’s 4-0 start, the offense has mimicked Rivera, effectively protecting second-half leads of 10 points or fewer in each of their last three games with crucial, time-killing scoring drives.
That includes the Chiefs’ 31-7 win over the New York Giants on Sunday, despite the misleading final score. The Chiefs led 17-7 early in the fourth quarter and effectively put the game away with a 14-play, 90-yard scoring drive that chewed nine minutes and 17 seconds off the clock.
“That score was a little crazy; that really doesn’t tell you the full story,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “All the way to that fourth quarter, that was a battle. The guys maintained their presence and played at a high level.”
In particular, the Chiefs’ running game ― which has run a bit hot and cold this season ― stepped up against the Giants, as Jamaal Charles gained 49 of his 65 rushing yards on that key drive, which ended with a 2-yard touchdown catch by Charles from quarterback Alex Smith.
“We’re executing better I think, and we’re running the ball better in the fourth quarter,” Smith said. “That’s been consistent the last three weeks, moving the line … I think it really opens up some stuff outside.”
The Giants game, however, isn’t the only time the Chiefs’ offense has closed out an opponent. Consider the following:
Against the Eagles on Sept. 19, the Chiefs padded a four-point halftime lead with two Ryan Succop field goals and an eight-play, 62-yard drive that was capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Charles during the second half of a 26-16 victory.
Against Dallas, the Chiefs got the ball back holding a tenuous 17-16 lead with 3:50 seconds left and mounted an eight play, 38-yard drive in which they gained four first downs and only left the Cowboys 16 seconds on the clock when they got the ball back.
In all, the Chiefs’ offense has committed only one turnover and outscored opponents 34-16 in the second halves of their four victories this season, which isn’t bad for a team that only won two games last season.
“I don’t even remember last year,” said Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe, who has scored two of the offense’s four second-half touchdowns this season. “We’re doing so good right now. This team is totally in ― the coaches, the players. It’s all family right now.”
Reid said his team began laying the foundation for strong finishes in the offseason, when it employed a training regiment that has allowed his players to stay sharp in the fourth quarter, almost like a vintage Rivera cutter.
“That’s a tribute to the players and Barry Rubin and Travis (Crittenden) for the job in the weight room getting these guys conditioned so that they can push through,” Reid said. “Brent Salazar, too. (They’re) training these guys and getting them right so that they can push through situations like this, so that they’re able to do this. (Trainer) Rick (Burkholder) was busy, too, making sure that everybody was hydrated and ready to roll.”
Reid essentially said the key is giving players all the tools they need to let their competitive side take over when it matters most.
“It’s the players and their want to do those things and to listen to those guys and train themselves right,” Reid said. “Then they maintain that focus and that confidence … into the fourth quarter so you know you have some juice left, especially in a hard-fought game.”
Smith said what Reid described was certainly the case against the Giants.
“The energy level was really high there, and it has been the last three weeks in the fourth quarter,” Smith said. “I get pretty jacked up, especially as we’re moving the ball … when we’re in the huddle you can feel it, a lot of energy.”
Much of that energy is positive, too, unlike last year. Perhaps that’s why Bowe and the rest of his teammates are so eager to let the past be the past.
“We try not to even think about last year,” Bowe said. “Every day we go day-by-day. Right now we’re 4-0 and the target is on our back … we have to keep pushing.”