The Kansas City Chiefs used three fourth-quarter interceptions against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday to ignite the engine that drove them to their sixth consecutive win and move them to 7-5 on the season.
Josh Mauga got things started on the turnover front, serendipitously being in the right place at the absolute right time for a Chiefs defense that had their backs against the wall.
The Raiders had taken a 20-14 lead into the fourth quarter of Sunday's game and were driving into Chiefs territory to add to that lead when a second-and-10 play changed everything.
Coming into the game, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had thrown an interception on only one of every 63 passing attempts he had on the season.
His 24-6 touchdown to interception ratio also ranked among the best in the NFL.
After completing 19 of his first 28 passes for 176 yards and 2 touchdowns, Carr threw an interception on 3 of his next 19 passing attempts to finish out the game thanks to a relentless Chiefs defense.The first interception went to Mauga, who was simply in the right place at the right time as Tamba Hali and Dee Ford were able to get pressure on Carr. Carr tried to buy some time by moving around the pocket.
"Our D-line did a great job getting some pressure," Mauga explained of that play. "I just saw [Derek Carr] popping out and was thinking maybe I can go and get a sack, too. Then I see the ball in the air and it just falls into my hands.
"From there, I don't know what happened. I was just trying to rush down to the goal line and ran out of gas about 20 yards out."
Mauga returned the interception 66 yards to the 2-yard line of the Raiders, narrowly missing a pick-six as he was chased down from behind.
"I told him he probably hadn't run that far since high school," Chiefs coach Andy Reid laughed after the game. "Those legs got heavy there about the last 5 yards, but he did well."
Mauga's only mindset was to hang on to the football.
"I was thinking ball security and just praying I could at least make it to the goal line, and maybe I could carry it in and just fall in the end zone," he explained. "It didn't work out that way, but it put our offense in a great position to score."
It took the Chiefs just two plays to get into the end zone as Jeremy Maclin would catch the first of his two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
That tied the game 20-20 with 11:19 remaining in the game.
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The defense had stood tall a few times earlier in the game as the Raiders were given the ball at midfield on two consecutive drives, but were forced to punt after consecutive three-and-outs.
"There's a lot of fight and a lot of heart on this defense with [Eric Berry] and [Derrick Johnson] out there rallying the troops, trying to get guys to just continue to play," Mauga said. "We were one guy down with Justin [Houston] back at home, but with these guys as our leaders here, they did a great job of keeping guys on their toes, keeping them playing and we made great plays."
The next interception would come on the Raiders next drive and after just six more passing attempts from Carr.
This one fell into the hands of rookie first-round pick Marcus Peters, who had a hard time explaining what that play and this game meant to him in his return to his hometown of Oakland, California.
After Peters' interception and 58-yard return to the 13-yard line of the Raiders, Smith found Maclin for his second touchdown in less than four minutes, which gave the Chiefs their first lead of the game at 26-20 with 8:03 remaining in the game.
2 interceptions led to 2 touchdowns, and just like that, the Chiefs were in control.
But the play that ultimately sealed the win for the Chiefs came from another player making a return to Oakland, and it happened on their next drive.
Veteran safety Tyvon Branch had spent the first seven years of his career with the Raiders but was cut over the offseason before signing with the Chiefs.
On third-and-9 with a little more than 3 minutes remaining in the game, Branch dove and caught a deflected pass from Carr across the middle of the field. Untouched, Branch jumped up and raced towards the end zone.
"It just happened to stick to my hands," Branch said of the play. "Marcus [Peters] was telling me to go down, but I was like, 'No, I have to live out my dreams.'"
Despite not making any kind of a deal out of it during the week, Branch's teammates knew what Sunday's game meant to him.
"It was crazy because he didn't say much about it all week," cornerback Sean Smith said, "but we knew deep down inside this was a game he definitely wanted to win. So we wanted to come out here and make sure we all balled out for him.
"To see him get that pick and seal the deal for us, that's big man." Reid was happy for Branch as well.
"It was great," he said. "You're happy for that kid (Branch). He's overcome a lot of injuries. He's been a Pro Bowl player here (in Oakland). He got banged up for a couple years in a row and didn't play a lot of football.
"He's eased his way back into now being a heck of a football player again now that he's healthy."
Postgame facts and stats from the Chiefs win over the Raiders in Week 13
The Chiefs, winners of six straight, have now found multiple ways to win games over the past two weeks when it hasn't exactly been pretty, but Reid said that's what this team is about.
"The character of that locker room—there was no flinch," Reid noted. "We knew we had kind of shot ourselves in the foot the first half, but if we just hung together, kept playing hard, good, tough, angry football, we were going to be okay and I thought the guys did that."
Led by three fourth-quarter interceptions, the Chiefs swept the AFC West division on the road for the first time since 1995 and control their playoff destiny at 7-5 with four games remaining, three of which come at Arrowhead Stadium starting next Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.