The Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) gave fans at Arrowhead Stadium plenty to cheer about on Sunday as they defeated the Oakland Raiders (2-12) by a score of 31-13 to pick up their first win in their last four games.
"I thought Len Dawson got us started, banging that drum," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the game of Dawson, Sunday's drum honoree. "I thought he was going to throw his shoulder out hitting that son of a gun. He got the crowd rolling and I thought they were phenomenal.
"We sure enjoy bringing people into Arrowhead to play in front of our crowd. They are something."
Before Sunday's game, the Chiefs were already in control of their playoff chances and if Sunday's game was the first test, they passed with flying colors.
After dropping three straight, the Chiefs got back in the win column thanks to big plays on both sides of the ball, plus one electric punt return from rookie De'Anthony Thomas.
Late in the first quarter in a scoreless game, Thomas took the Marquette King punt 81 yards back for the touchdown, which got the Chiefs on the board at 7-0.
It was Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub who had said earlier in the week that he felt they "were going to pop one" on Sunday, and thanks to Thomas' speed and some key blocks from Charcandrick West, Daniel Sorensen, Junior Hemingway and Josh Martin, that's exactly what happened.
It was the Chiefs' first punt return for a touchdown since December 8, 2013 against Washington (Dexter McCluster). It was also the first return for a touchdown against the Raiders at Arrowhead since 2000 (Tamarick Vanover).
Thomas' 156 return yards on eight punts Sunday ranks second best in Chiefs franchise history, trailing only Dexter McCluster's 177-yard performance last year against Washington.
"We knew we had to have a great day on special teams today and I feel like we did," Thomas said after the game. "I feel like we can get a lot better. I feel like we played hard.
"I'm just excited to be back there and have an opportunity to catch punts for this team and just set the tone. I want to go out there, make plays and get our team going."
Offensively, the Chiefs leaned on quarterback Alex Smith for much of the day as they outgained the Raiders 388 to 280 in total yards.
Reid spoke of Smith's performance after the game.
"I thought that was one of the positives offensively," Reid said of Smith and the passing offense. "We were able to drive it down there. It loosens things up a bit. You saw they were playing a lot of single-safety middle and putting that extra guy in the box, obviously concerned about Jamaal and the run game.
"It opened up something down the field for us. I thought Alex (Smith) did a nice job."
Smith finished the game 18 of 30 for 297 yards and two touchdowns.
Smith's 297 yards passing is the second most for him in a Chiefs uniform, only behind his playoff performance against the Indianapolis Colts last season (378).
The Chiefs offense had six plays of at least 20 yards, all of which came on passing plays.
"I thought we did a good job leading some guys with some underneath stuff and then hitting them over the top and then guys making plays downfield," Smith said after the game. "You're certainly not back there trying to force a bunch of deep balls. You've got to let them come. I thought we did a good job of that today.
"We stayed aggressive all day with the play calling and I think the offensive line played great then those guys made plays downfield."
The most important pass of Smith's day may have come in the third quarter when the Chiefs faced a crucial third-and-5 right after the Raiders hit a field goal to make it 10-6.
Sitting in the pocket with good protection, Smith hit Dwayne Bowe down the field for a 20-yard gain, which may have resulted in one of Smith's best throws of the 2014 season.
That drive ended with Knile Davis' 3-yard touchdown run and gave the Chiefs the 17-6 lead, and they never looked back.
Smith spoke after the game about playing with emotion, something Reid spoke with them about all week.
"It was kind of the focus all week of us really cutting it loose," Smith said." Going out there and playing for each other, enjoying the preparation, enjoying today and guys playing for each other.
"[Reid] always talks about that, kind of letting your emotions show and I thought guys did a great job of that all week, and especially today."
The Davis touchdown was also the beginning of a dominant third quarter performance by the Chiefs on both sides of the ball.
After the Chiefs' first drive of the third quarter ended with a Travis Kelce fumble, the next three drives all resulted in touchdowns. The Chiefs gained 168 yards in the third quarter alone, compared to just 26 for the Raiders, who settled for three punts, a fumble and one field goal on their five drives in the third quarter.
The Raiders' lone points in the quarter came after Kelce fumbled the ball and the Raiders returned it to the Chiefs 15-yard line.
Three plays later, the Raiders offense still had the ball at the 15-yard line and had to settle for the field goal.
Overall, the Chiefs defense can hang their hat on Sunday's performance.
They got pressure on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr all game long, and the four sacks were just a small reflection of the kind of pressure Carr was dealing with throughout the game.
"I thought [defensive coordinator] Bob [Sutton] had a phenomenal game plan," Reid said. "You saw Carr versus teams that weren't able to get pressure on him, just gash them. He's got a big arm and he's very poised for a young guy. The design of [Sutton's] defense there, I thought, was point on."
Photos from the Chiefs Week 15 matchup against the Raiders
Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali talked about the team's focus coming into Sunday's game.
"The coaches talked about pride," Hali said. "They watched the games we play when we play against teams that have a winning record, the way we play the game, the entire game, it's just everybody running the ball trying to get something done.
"Games where we felt like we could win, we didn't feel like we had that same energy. So we came out today, just everybody on the same page running the ball and trying to create havoc."
Carr finished the game 27 of 56 for 222 yards and one touchdown, which came in the final minute of the game.
Running back Latavius Murray, who had slashed the Chiefs on the ground in the first meeting between these two teams, had just 12 carries for 59 yards.
The Chiefs defense held the Raiders to just 3.6 yards per play and 5 of 18 (28 percent) on third down.
"I thought the guys played downhill football, aggressive," Reid said of the defense. "I was impressed by the fundamentals of squeezing gaps and then when you see it you attack it and hit it. I didn't think there was any hesitation there. This isn't off watching the tape but that's what I felt coming out of it."
The Chiefs' next playoff-like game is on Sunday in Pittsburgh against the 9-5 Steelers.