Sculpting A Season

Posted Jan 21, 2011

Plays that defined a division championship season

When it was all said and done, the Chiefs took part in 2,497 snaps during the 2010 regular season. That number includes everything from extra point attempts to fourth down conversions. Over the course of a 16-game season, and nearly 2,500 snaps, there were plenty of highs and lows worth tracking.

In a season that began with the unveiling of The New Arrowhead on Monday Night Football and ended with the first home playoff game since 2003, memorable moments flourished. Last season, the good memories far outweighed the bad.

Surprising almost everyone but themselves, the Chiefs led the AFC West from start to finish. These are the plays that sculpted an AFC West title. In chronological order:

Dexter’s Record-Setting Debut

The rain-soaked Monday Night Football win served as a springboard for the Chiefs 2010 season and signaled the end of the Chargers’ four-season reign as AFC West champion. An emotionally charged opener ignited further when rookie Dexter McCluster put the Chiefs on top 21-7 with a franchise record 94-yard punt return touchdown.

MaCluster caught the ball at the Kansas City six-yard line and emerged from a pack of players on what originally looked to be a broken play. A key block by Andy Studebaker was the final piece in sending McCluster into the Chiefs record book.

 “In that type of situation you would’ve liked for the returner to let the ball roll in the end zone but I kind of forgot where I was on the field and caught the ball and made one guy miss and those guys blocked and blocked and I made it to the end zone,” McCluster said.

McCluster’s return was the first of many big plays turned in by the Chiefs 2010 Draft Class throughout the year.

Second Time Around

Battling a swirling Arrowhead wind, Ryan Succop found redemption from an earlier miss to send the Chiefs to a 13-10 win over Buffalo in the final seconds of overtime. Succop had to start his 35-yard attempt several feet outside of the right upright and trust the strong wind to carry the football back between the posts.

“I didn’t think that the ball could move that much on the first one,” Succop said. “We were only 39 yards out on the attempt, but after I saw what happened on the first one, on the second one I took it outside the post and just had to trust the wind.”

Despite rushing for a season-high 274 yards, Kansas City struggled to finish off drives against the then-winless Bills. Still, Kansas City emerged victorious in the end – style points excluded. The Chiefs found an answer for adversity in Week 7. This was a game that Chiefs teams of the past three seasons probably wouldn’t have won.

“We’ve used the word “Will” around here all year – ‘Chiefs Will’ – to see guys walking out the tunnel and touching the wall, and believing and understanding it…it’s not magic, it’s a mindset,” Todd Haley said. “I think you saw some of that mindset today.”

The Introduction of “Deep Freeze”

It’s a team game, right? Then why not let everyone get involved during a 42-24 victory in Seattle?

The Chiefs rolled up more than 500 yards of total offense in one of the team’s most impressive road performances of the past decade. Matt Cassel threw for 4 TDs and 0 INTs. Dwayne Bowe surpassed Chris Buford for the highest single-season TD reception total in team history (Bowe had three TDs on the day). Jamaal Charles also got into the mix with 173 rushing yards to become the third back in Chiefs history to register back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

But why stop there?

On a third and goal from the one, defensive lineman Shaun Smith bullied his way into the end zone as a short-yardage fullback to give the Chiefs an early 14-7 lead. “Deep Freeze” would quickly become a household name in Kansas City.

“My last touchdown was in 1999 against Wichita East in a mud game,” Smith recalled. “Actually, I think that I had about two or three touchdowns that game. It was my last game as a tailback in my senior year of high school. We won and I probably had over 100 yards rushing that day too.”

Who would have thought?

Down Go the Donkeys

Downed in Denver just three weeks prior, the Chiefs opened their December slate at Arrowhead with a rematch against their long-time rivals. Revenge was on Kansas City’s mind as they took the home turf in a pivotal game down the stretch.

Despite a 3-8 record, and a head coach on his way out, the Broncos came into Arrowhead ready to play and were close to sweeping the 2010 series against the Chiefs. Trailing 10-6 in the fourth quarter, Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno sprung free on a third and five for a 24-yard gain into Kansas City territory. Two plays later, Tamba Hali would put an end to Denver’s rally.

Hali sacked, striped and recovered a Kyle Orton fumble to give the Chiefs possession at their own 37-yard line. Denver wouldn’t cross midfield again and the Chiefs owned a three-game winning streak.

Hali would go on to lead the AFC with 14.5 sacks.

Who Needs An Appendix?

When Matt Cassel underwent an emergency appendectomy procedure at the beginning of Week 14, the Chiefs suffer a 31-0 blanking in a rematch with the Chargers. San Diego’s whitewashing of Kansas City brought the Bolts within one game of the Chiefs in the division race, with just three games to play.

Heading into a must-win game in St. Louis, Cassel’s return was questionable right up until the final minutes. He would end up playing.

Upon his return, Cassel wasn’t superman. His final numbers were actually quite pedestrian, throwing for less than 200 yards with an INT and a TD, while his 68.8 quarterback rating ranked as his lowest since mid-September. But what Cassel did do was inspire.

Leading 7-6 in the second quarter and driving into Rams territory, Cassel churned out a run that would ultimately define his season. As he dropped back to pass, Cassel was flushed out of the pocket and scrambled like a man hardly concerned about the aftermath of a recently removed organ.

He could have thrown the ball away. It was only first down. There was also a check-down available to Jamaal Charles. Instead, Cassel took off.

Thirteen yards later, Cassel took a hit and popped up with a first down tomahawk chop. The celebration was symbolic of Cassel’s day and the meaning that his return had on his teammates.

“When he got that first down and got up and did the tomahawk, I was ready to get back on the field,” said Wallace Gilberry. “We definitely feed off each other and he’s our emotional leader and he leads by example.”

Cassel was named to his first-career Pro Bowl earlier this week.

Bringing Back a Championship

The Chiefs used an explosive 31-point first half to take a commanding lead on the Titans in Week 16. It was a blowout win that pushed Arrowhead’s record to a perfect 7-0. Aside from bringing back the Arrowhead Advantage, the victory also returned the AFC West crown to Kansas City.

Players, fans and coaches didn’t know it at the time, but Kansas City’s 34-14 victory was a division clincher. The win eliminated Oakland from playoff contention and San Diego would bow out of the AFC West race later that evening in a surprising road loss in Cincinnati.

The Chiefs were once again the AFC West Champion.

In a day of celebration, Kansas City’s final touchdown provided icing on the cake. Rookie Eric Berry notched his team-leading fourth interception and ripped his way through tacklers for a 54-yard TD return. From start to finish, the Chiefs received big-time production out of their rookies in 2010.

“I just read the quarterback,” Berry said. “He threw it and I ran and caught it. After that, my offensive instincts clicked in and I went to the house. It was setup by great pressure by the defensive line. They just turned and blocked. They turned into the greatest blockers I’ve ever seen. I just followed them; they always tell me to follow them when I get an interception, so that’s what I did. … I dove into the end zone. I got up and I couldn’t really do anything because my teammates were so happy, so I just celebrated with them.”

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