Donâ€™t confuse smart football with lucky football when it comes to 9-0 Chiefs
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — We’ve been hearing for numerous weeks now about how lucky the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs are.
We know the Chiefs have benefited from a relatively soft schedule. We know the Chiefs are on a nice run of playing against backup quarterbacks. We know they’ve been in tight, fourth-quarter battles that could have gone either way for five straight weeks.
And yes, we know the Chiefs have been getting some breaks on the field, like Buffalo’s 89-yard punt-return touchdown that was called back because of a penalty in the first quarter Sunday.
But what we probably don’t hear enough about is how smart these Chiefs tend to play, and how smart teams tend to take advantage of their opportunities.
Playing smart has pretty much defined the 2013 Chiefs. In most games, they have let the other team screw up when it matters most, a philosophy championed by former coach Marty Schottenheimer who always believed (especially against the Raiders) that if you just keep your head and wait long enough, the other team will screw up.
This is who the Chiefs are. They are a patient, intelligent bunch that takes care of the football and snatches it away from opponents, as evidenced by their NFL-best plus-15 in the giveaway/takeaway department.
That is how you get to 9-0.
On Sunday, quarterback Alex Smith threw for just 124 yards. But he didn’t throw a pass that even came remotely close to being intercepted.
And when Smith was hit from behind and fumbled in the second quarter, rookie offensive tackle Eric Fisher alertly pounced on the ball, saving a turnover that would have given the Bills the ball near midfield.
It was perhaps Fisher’s best moment of the season, a smart and hustling play that largely went overlooked.
Tamba Hali also gets credit for his smart and alert fumble recovery when he broke off his pass rush and pursued a Buffalo receiver who had just caught a pass off a crossing pattern. When Marcus Cooper poked the ball out of the receiver’s hands, Hali was there to scoop it up and take it in for a touchdown.
That’s not luck, friends. That’s smart football.
Of course, the biggest play of the game came when defensive back Sean Smith seemingly blew a coverage but wound up in the right place to pick off a Jeff Tuel pass at the goal line and go 100 yards the other way for a score.
Smith probably was supposed to stay on his man — Buffalo receiver Stevie Johnson — but even though Smith whiffed on jamming Johnson, he still was alert enough to focus immediately on a pass coming right toward him.
“It always helps to be in the right place at the right time,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Monday. “(Smith) put a quick jam on the guy and kind of missed. There was a low snap and the quarterback had Hali right in his face … right in his vision, and the quarterback had to get rid of the ball fast.
“That’s the way the game works. Everything is faster in the red zone. Everything with speed gets multiplied. It’s tighter, faster. The quarterback had to make a quick decision, and Sean was right there. And he caught the ball. Let’s not forget that. It’s a tough thing to do. The thing was coming out kind of hard and (Smith) was close to him, too. But he caught it.”
Smith intercepted a ball other defenders might have dropped. That’s not luck.
In Reid’s mind, his troops are more confident than they are lucky. And it’s because, he said, they believe in each other.
“They continually fight and battle and get to that fourth quarter and take over and dominate,” he said. “That’s nice to see.
“People ask me all the time what I’m surprised about most and it’s how close this group is. It doesn’t matter what happens, we get ahead or get down, they just keep encouraging each other. What you see in the locker room every day, it is really what takes place on the sideline during a game.
“It’s a special quality and we need to keep building on that. We’ve banked on that and we’ve won some close games in the fourth quarter. That’s the thing I’m most impressed about.”
That confident approach simply and often leads to good things happening, Reid said.
“It’s a mindset of the players,” he said. “They felt confident they will get it done. It’s a trust factor. There’s no one out there pointing fingers and naming names — they’re all just looking for ways to do something positive.”
Playing smart, playing alert and playing with confidence sometimes gets confused with good fortune.
“You see that with (good) teams,” Reid said. “They seem to encourage each other. Look, everything wasn’t beautiful (against Buffalo). But you work through it and then you take advantage of your opportunities.”
And that’s what these 9-0 Chiefs do.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.