In any sport, there comes a time when you’re watching your team’s lacklustre performance and you know in your heart, that all hope is lost. You then start to contemplate what you could be doing with your time instead of witnessing the cruel mauling of a team you love so much. You have a decision to make, “do I stay loyal to my team and watch to the very end?” or “do I go and paint the ceiling in the bathroom?”
That is exactly the predicament I found myself in during week 1 of the 2016 season. The San Diego Chargers were singlehandedly destroying the Kansas City Chiefs with clinical precision. The Chargers offensive line was tearing holes into the Chiefs defensive line like it was cheap toilet paper, and the free flowing movements of Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead in and around the Chiefs defense were something to be admired. Philip Rivers was pulling all the strings and there was a sinking feeling in and around Arrowhead Stadium (and my sofa) that he was not going to take his knife out of the Chiefs fans hearts, until he had twisted it just that little bit more.
This was not supposed to happen, NFL experts far and wide predicted that the Chiefs were stronger today than they had been for a very long time, and would be pushing for a place in Super Bowl 51 with ease! But what was unfolding before our very eyes was a team that looked ill prepared and out of ideas.
At the half time interval, I was looking for a glimmer of hope, a spark, something that would ignite the Chiefs game plan and give me confidence that they could at least claw back some points to make the score line of 21-3 to the Chargers a little more respectable. The only positives that I could find from such a dismal half was the never say die attitude of Spencer Ware (RB) and the shut down coverage of Philip Gaines (CB). Sadly the same couldn’t be said on the opposite Corner where the normally stellar Marcus Peters was being overstretched by the Chargers offense on almost every play.
What was clear during the first half was that the Chargers defense did not let Alex Smith settle in the pocket, he was hunted down and stifled on almost every occasion, even when he was attempting his now notorious rushing attack from the pocket, which was so effective last season. The Chiefs needed to inject something into their game early in the 3rd quarter if they were to stand any chance of getting back into this game.
At the restart, the Chiefs came out with more vigour and more spring in their steps, but were still being held back by the Chargers defensive unit. Although the start of the 3rd quarter had much of the same, at least Smith was now finding room and feeling comfortable enough to spray the passes around a bit after the Chiefs offensive line found a steady ground. Travis Kelce was being utilised more and was causing problems for the Chargers defense with his tireless route running and strength. Not only that, but Smith was finding Chris Conley and the veteran wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin with some very brave passes indeed. As the 3rd quarter was coming to a close, what happened from this point forward was nothing short of amazing.
With less than 3 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, Tyreek Hill in his rookie year grabbed his first Touchdown for the Chiefs, it was a moment that would wake up the crowd and give the Chiefs that glimmer of hope.
The tireless running from Spencer Ware, combined his role as Running Back and slot receiver with ease, he all but dragged the Chiefs kicking and screaming throughout the entire game. The Chiefs offense responded to this show of defiance by engineering brave plays for themselves, none more so than Jeremy Maclin who ended up leaving the field of play briefly due to concussion protocols after making the catch of the game, going up against three of the Chargers secondary and taking some hard hits to the helmet, front and back!
During the 4th quarter the Chiefs looked like the Chiefs of 2015, the defense started to look compact and managed to fill the gaping holes of the defensive line by plugging it with as many linemen as possible. The secondary looked to have left their deep positioning and pushed up to the scrimmage line as close as they dared, which contributed towards halting the Chargers running game.
Philip Rivers now faced a defense that limited his options, he would have to throw deep for the remainder of the game to compensate for the compact wall that was now closing up in front of him.
The Chiefs managed to tie the game and take it into overtime where they made a dominant drive for a game winning Touchdown via a trademark Alex Smith run for the end zone.
What we had witnessed was a team that had learnt from the magical 2015 season, to keep going and never let times of adversity get the better of them. The Chiefs never gave up and never dropped their heads against the Chargers, they knew they could play better, much better, and they knew that they could rely on their coordinators on the side lines to make the right decisions and create the right plays at the right time.
Sometimes it’s how adaptable you are as a team that can win you games. The Chiefs have the depth in personnel this year that can change the outcome of games in an instant, and we have witnessed this diverse group win when it mattered most. Although it was winning ugly, it was the type of winning that was necessary.