Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Keith McGill II (39) nearly intercepts a pass intended for Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper (89) during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016. The pass was incomplete. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Charcandrick West was playing for Joe McKnight. Tyreek Hill was playing for the fans chanting his name. The Chiefs defense was playing for its injured leader.
Everybody on the Kansas City sideline was playing for control of the AFC West.
“This was a big game,” Chiefs cornerback Steven Nelson said, stripping off his uniform after a 21-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night. “It means a lot of things down the road.”
The ramifications begin with the division race, where the Chiefs (10-3) forged a tie with Oakland (10-3) at the top. But they also hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their two head-to-head wins and are positioned for a first-round playoff bye with three regular season games left.
“It's huge,” Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford said. “It probably won't hit until afterward and we are unwinding. We have 10 days to actually enjoy it and celebrate it.”
There were plenty of story lines at cold, wind-swept Arrowhead Stadium.
West scored in the first half as Kansas City raced to a 21-3 lead, and then pulled up his jersey to reveal a white shirt that said “Long Live Joe” — a tribute to McKnight, his fellow Louisiana native and a former Chiefs running back who was shot to death last week.
“He was out there with me tonight,” West said.
Hill scored twice, once on a long touchdown reception and later on a punt return. The dynamic score on special teams came after Hill had fumbled a punt earlier in the game, and as thousands of fans who had bundled up against the cold had a begun to say his name in unison.
“It was crazy, man. I didn't know what to do,” Hill said.
After the Raiders got within 21-13 in the second half, the Chiefs defense kept making a stand, even though Derrick Johnson was no longer there to help them. The veteran linebacker's season came to a sudden and frustrating end when he ruptured his Achilles tendon late in the first half.
“It was one of those next-man-up things,” Nelson said. “Fill your role.”
The Chiefs did that perfectly in beating Oakland for the seventh time in eight meetings. They held Derek Carr to 17 of 41 for 117 yards passing, prevented Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree from having any impact on the game, and held Latavius Murray in check most of the night.
He finished with 103 yards and a touchdown.
“We had no doubt in our mind we were going to get back in the game. But again, we didn't make enough plays to do that,” Murray said. “Like coach said, `What we want in our goals and what we're after, they're still there for us.' We won't let this determine who we are and what we want to accomplish.”
Here are some of the other takeaways from the Chiefs' crucial victory:
CATCHING KELCE: Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce had five catches for 101 yards, his fourth straight game with at least 100 yards. That matches the franchise record set by Tony Gonzalez, and allows him to join a group of tight ends that also includes Jimmy Graham who have accomplished that feat.
OSEMELE OUT: Raiders offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele woke up Thursday sick enough that he went to the hospital for treatment. Coach Jack Del Rio declined to say what was wrong, but did say that Osemele was going to be able to return to Oakland with the team. “Not trying to get into specifics,” Del Rio said, “but it was significant enough we wanted to make sure we got him to the proper care.”
MACK TRUCKING: Khalil Mack had a strip-sack for the third consecutive game, though for the first time he didn't recover his own fumble. The sack also gave him one in eight straight games, matching Lance Johnstone for the longest streak in franchise history since sacks became official in 1982.
TRY SOME STICKUM: The Raiders were plagued by dropped passes, including one by Seth Roberts that would have resulted in a touchdown. Roberts only hauled in two catches on nine targets, while Cooper had five catches on 10 targets and Crabtree had four catches on seven targets. “We just didn't execute how we normally could,” Cooper said. “We just have to find a way to execute and move the ball.”
NO EXCUSES: Even though the wind chill approached single digits by the end of the game, the Raiders were unwilling to use the weather as an excuse. “That's football weather,” offensive tackle Donald Penn said. “Weather didn't have anything to do with it. I've played in the cold. Everybody's played in the cold once. Weather had nothing to do with it.”