Coming out of the two-minute warning, the Chiefs had made up their mind. They were going to go for it. It was go time.
Just three feet separated the Chiefs from victory on a cloudy September day in Cleveland. The play called for a powerful run up the middle. There were no surprises, play-fakes or punts. It was just man vs. man and helmet vs. helmet.
That handoff to Jones was a defining moment of sorts for the 2010 Chiefs.
With the game on the line, Todd Haley gave his team an opportunity to show that they were mentally tougher, more aggressive and physically stronger than an opponent on a single, game-deciding play. It was only the Chiefs second 4th down attempt of the season and the try gave the team a chance to be exactly what they had aimed for throughout Haley’s first 19 months on the job.
The Chiefs walked away from Cleveland with an “ugly” two-point victory over the Browns. The victory would push Kansas City to a perfect 2-0 mark and it kept them sitting solo atop the AFC West. Some 10 weeks later the Chiefs still pace the division, but they’ve been unable to re-produce a victory like the one in Cleveland.
With the most important stretch of the season approaching, Kansas City has rebuilt its once unrivaled aura over Arrowhead. The Chiefs have thrown a perfect game at home, sporting a 5-0 record and holding opponents under 14 points per game. The Chiefs are also scoring an average of nearly 28 points per game at home as well.
The home field edge that the Chiefs and their fan base have built will be a critical factor in deciding the AFC West. Kansas City controls its own destiny, and the keys to a division championship just might be stored at Arrowhead.
But as mighty as the Chiefs have been at home, they’ve struggled nearly as equally on the road.
Three feet separated Jones from victory on that game-winning 4th down attempt in Cleveland. The other side of the story is that three feet is all that separates the Chiefs from potentially being winless away from Arrowhead.
On the road, the Chiefs have been a different team than they’ve been at home. Holding opponents to 13.4 points per game at Arrowhead jumps more than two touchdowns to 28.0 points when the team heads on the road. Kansas City’s point total also drops on the road by more than a touchdown per game, while the rushing attack produces an average of 75.0 less yards per game.
Arrowhead is the place that the Chiefs have been able to snap two separate two-game losing streaks that came off the cusp of two-game road swings. Leading the division race once again, the Chiefs head back on the road this week to face a team whose home environment is similar to that of Arrowhead.
“This is the biggest game of the year – we’re going on the road to a very difficult place to play, in my experience, a difficult place to operate because it’s a great, great atmosphere out there in Seattle where we’re going and (they’re) a team that’s trying to define itself,” Haley said. “So this will be a great, great opportunity for our team to make progress.”
By my count, this is the fourth time that Haley has attached the “biggest game” label to a game this season. It’s not that Haley uses the term loosely; it’s merely an honest assessment of the Chiefs season.
There have been a number of defining moments this year, beginning with a win on Monday Night Football over San Diego and extending to Jones’ game-clinching 4th down conversion in Cleveland. It’s all part of winning.
This is the first time we’ve seen meaningful football played after the Thanksgiving holiday since 2006. That season, the Chiefs won only two of five games post-Turkey Day and backed into the playoffs on the season’s final day through a miraculous turn of events.
The top teams in this league historically play their best football during the six weeks that follow Thanksgiving. By now, identities have formed and division races have taken shape. Seattle’s first place setting in the NFC West and Kansas City’s struggles on the road will put the 2010 Chiefs on the hot spot just three days after the holiday.
“This is a tough stretch,” Haley said. “Like I said (Sunday), this is a marathon and this is the true grind-it-out period of the season where I think teams are going to start to define themselves as good teams, in between teams and not-so-good teams.”
Winning out at home and losing out on the road would put the Chiefs final tally at 9-7. Is that enough to fend off both Oakland and San Diego for a division title? Possibly, but it’s not a route that the Chiefs are planning to explore.
Playing top-notch football after Thanksgiving is the challenge across the league and it’s no different in Kansas City.
“The main thing is for us is just concentrate on our business, on what we’re doing and that is trying to get better and make progress in the areas that we have to and continue doing some of those things we’ve done well for the most part, even a little better and then things will work out the way we want them to,” Haley said. “If you’re distracted or worrying about some of the other things going on around you that’ll be a problem.”
To win the division, the Chiefs are going to have to take Arrowhead’s show on the road.