This sure does sound sweet: The first-place Kansas City Chiefs.
After starting out 0-3 and seemingly ticketed for a season spent in the basement, the Chiefs won their fourth straight game, this time in front of a national audience Monday night with a 23-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers. The sloppy win put the Chiefs, Chargers and Oakland Raiders in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC West.
The Chiefs had scary moments on both sides of the ball, but ended up getting the job done when they needed to. If it wasn’t Jackie Battle fighting his way into the end zone (a second time after replay showed he wasn’t in the first time) or Andy Studebaker fighting his way to the bottom of the pile to recover a Philip Rivers fumble as the Chargers were setting up for a game-winning field goal in the final minutes, there was always someone ready to step up.
The theme of the night for the Chiefs should have been fighting as they refused to let the Chargers ever get over the hump and leave Arrowhead with a win.
It now seems like ages ago that local and national media were trying to figure out when (not if) head coach Todd Haley would exit Kansas City. Clearly reports of his firing have been greatly exaggerated as the 4-3 first-place Chiefs now face two very winnable games before they begin one of the toughest stretches of games any team in the league will face this season.
There were plenty of options after that exciting win, but here are the three players most deserving of a game ball on offense, defense and special teams.
Offense: Steve Breaston
Take your pick with the Chiefs offense Monday night. It wasn’t always pretty, but there were stand out performances all around.
There’s Battle, who seemed to get stronger as the game went on and came up with a huge 19-yard touchdown run (that later turned into a one-yarder after he was ruled down at the one) as well as a big first down on the Chiefs game-winning drive.
Rookie Jonathan Baldwin hauled in his first touchdown catch in the NFL with an 38-yard acrobatic grab to put Kansas City up 10-0 late in the first quarter. It was a glimpse of what many expected out of Baldwin before his injured his thumb in a preseason fight with Thomas Jones.
But I’m giving our game ball to Breaston, who caught three passes for 42 yards. Though the most important was a 17-yard catch and run that converted a 3rd and 14 in overtime that kept the Chiefs game-winning drive alive and put them in field goal range.
Those are the type of catches he was brought to Kansas City to make and he made it look easy, even though he caught it 10 yards short of the first down marker. Breaston took the quick pass, escaped the grasp of rookie cornerback Marcus Gilchrist, raced towards the first down, side-stepped safety Steve Gregory and landed three yards past the marker.
First down. Game over.
Defense: Andy Studebaker
Again, there was no shortage of stars on defense.
Derrick Johnson was once again all over the field with a game-high 13 tackles, a sack, interception and pass defensed while leading the Chiefs defense. There was also Tamba Hali who harassed Rivers for two sacks including a strip-sack in overtime that turned a Chargers 2nd and 8 into 3rd and 18.
The biggest game-saver of all, however, came from Studebaker at the bottom of that pile at the end of the fourth quarter. Somehow the linebacker started at the top of the fray, but quickly found a way to reach down and come away with the ball as safety Reshard Langford pulled him away, raising it for the officials to see it and award Kansas City the ball.
Special Teams: Ryan Succop
This was the easiest decision to make with the kicker hitting on all three of his field goal attempts including a 30-yarder in overtime to send Arrowhead into one final frenzy.
Succop was also fantastic on kickoffs, putting all but one in the endzone. The only kick that didn’t reach the endzone was just before half as the Chiefs special teams unit decided to squib and prevent the Chargers from having any chance for a big return.
Talk about a perfect example of what the Chiefs have gone through this season. Succop struggled mightily early before turning things around and is now playing as good of football as we’ve seen from him in his young career.