KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Alex Smith was held to less than 200 yards passing with an interception, Spencer Ware was plugged up on the ground and the rest of the offense was rendered entirely ineffective.
Kansas City still managed to beat the reigning NFC champions on the road.
In what is quickly becoming a charmed season for the Chiefs, coach Andy Reid and Co. kept right on rolling with a 20-17 victory at Carolina on Sunday. Kansas City leaned on its defense to climb out of 17-point hole and win its fifth straight, second only to Dallas for longest streak in the NFL.
"The guys didn’t panic. That’s the most important thing," Reid said Monday. "You saw at halftime, the things being said in the locker room with our guys — it wasn’t, ‘Oh, you have to do this.’ It was, ‘Hey, we’re this close. We have to keep pushing.’ And they pushed and pushed and pushed."
The victory, secured by Cairo Santos with a game-winning field goal, moved the Chiefs (7-2) into a tie with the Oakland Raiders for first place in the AFC West, a half-game ahead of the Denver Broncos. And the Chiefs hold the tiebreaker over Oakland by virtue of their lopsided road win in Week 6.
Everything points to their momentum continuing, too. They face Tampa Bay this Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, where they have yet to lose this season, before a high-profile showdown in Denver.
That’s not to say the Chiefs are not without their warts.
Smith played arguably his worst game since arriving in Kansas City, one week after being inactive with a head injury. Not only was he held to just 178 yards passing by a weak Carolina secondary, he twice missed open targets in the end zone that could have made things a bit more comfortable.
The Chiefs were also 2 of 12 on third down, continuing a two-week trend in the wrong direction, and came up empty on three trips to the red zone — a recipe that usually results in defeat.
"A couple weeks ago we were right there, doing our thing, doing good on third down, doing good in the red zone," Reid said. "We have to take care of that first. I have to make sure I’m getting guys in the right position to do good things. And we have to cut it down — we’ve had a lot of third and a gazillion.
"Then red zone, likewise, we have to stay aggressive in the red zone," Reid said, "but there’s a time and place to check it down and run it."
It’s easier to reflect on those shortcomings when they come in victory. The Chiefs can thank their defense for that.
The Panthers led 17-3 in the fourth quarter, and still had a 17-6 lead with the ball and about 10 minutes left in the game. But everything turned when safety Eric Berry stepped in front of a pass from Cam Newton, then weaved his way 42 yards to the end zone to help pull Kansas City within 17-14.
Carolina got the ball back and had to punt five plays later, and the Chiefs moved 35 yards to give Santos a chance to kick a tying 33-yard field goal with 4 1/2 minutes to go.
The teams swapped punts and the game appeared to be headed for overtime when Newton hit Kelvin Benjamin with about 30 seconds left in the game. Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, whose penchant for picking off passes has made him one of the league’s bright young stars, this time wrapped his arms around Benjamin and proceeded to rip the ball right from his hands.
Instant replay confirmed the fumble. Santos trotted onto the field a couple plays later and calmly knocked a 37-yard field goal through to give the Chiefs another come-from-behind win.
"Cairo kind of gets left out of the mix there," Reid said. "We’ve never not had confidence in Cairo. He came in and won the starting job when that wasn’t expected to happen, and we haven’t really felt a lack of confidence toward his game. Like everybody, the human element, you’re going to miss some, that happens, but I think we all expect him to get in there and do what he does."
After all, that’s status quo for everybody on the Chiefs these days.