From the very first play of the game, the energy oozing from their post-play celebrations was palpable. It seemed different than prior weeks.
The Kansas City Chiefs' defensive players were playing with a purpose on Sunday during their 26-15 win over the Oakland Raiders, and while it's sometimes hard to get a feel for what's going through the minds of players when they're out there on the field, it wasn't hard to figure out on this day.
The Chiefs—losers of four-straight and six of their last seven and who were clinging to their division lead—played with a passion that permeated all throughout Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
"The fans were unbelievable," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the game. "I said before the game that we need them. Our players feed off of that."
Either on the field or in the stands, there was no lack of "juice" on this day.
"We knew what the stakes were when we stepped on the field," veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson explained after the game. "I guess we play better when our backs are against the wall, but we know we aren't done. We have to keep winning. We have to."
The Chiefs' defense set the tone and was the story of the game, particularly during the first three quarters, when the Raiders managed to average just 2.89 yards per play.
"We knew our situation," fellow veteran linebacker Justin Houston added. "We're not trying to go home after the last game of the season. We're trying to go to the playoffs. We believe and we never stop believing, but we know it's a game of inches. You go back and watch the games we lost and we lost off little stuff, and today we came out and we were on it.
"We've just got to keep building and stay on it. We started off great, but we need to finish even better."
The Chiefs held Raiders' quarterback Derek Carr to just 5 of 12 for 31 yards and an interception in the first half, which resulted in a quarterback rating for Carr of just 14.6—the third-lowest mark for any quarterback in the NFL this season.
The Chiefs also shutout the Raiders in the first half for the first time since 2011.
And Houston, who finished with a team-high five tackles and a sack on the day, understands how that kind of success can carry over to the offense as well.
"It gives the offense confidence knowing my defense has got me," Houston explained of how they can create momentum. "Regardless of what we're going to do out here, I know they're going to come out here and stop them boys. So, when your offense feels that way, they can play lights out and carefree because they know their defense got them, and vice versa.
"When you know your offense is moving the ball, you can go out there as a defensive player and play carefree."
Along with Houston, there has got to be a fair share of credit spread across the Chiefs' defensive line, which seemingly won the battle in the trenches against one of the NFL's most dominant offensive lines.
Jarvis Jenkins and Chris Jones each finished Sunday's game with a sack—marking the first time since the Broncos' game five weeks ago (also their last win) that the Chiefs had at least three sacks in a game.
"It's been a tough month for getting back to who we are, and it feels good—I can't lie to you," the ever-fiery Rakeem Nunez-Roches said after the game. "Everybody stepped up. Everybody took it on their shoulders and said, 'I'm going to make the play, I'm going to be the guy.'
"Energy is created and once it's created, it trickles down," Nunez-Roches, whose impact went far beyond the one tackle shown in the box score, added. "It's contagious. All it takes is one person. You see one guy going, and everybody else feeds off of it."
Nunez-Roches has developed himself into one of the players who consistently brings energy to the team, and he's feeling even more comfortable in that role here recently.
"At first, I didn't know what my role was as far as being on the team, but I see just being me and letting my personality show is one of the best things I can contribute to the team, and that's energy," he added.
Coming into the game, perhaps the biggest storyline was how the Chiefs' defense would handle Carr and the Raiders' passing attack without one of their star players in cornerback Marcus Peters.
And that question was answered by a group effort between cornerbacks Steven Nelson, Darrelle Revis and Terrance Mitchell, who got the nod as the starter over at left cornerback, which is where Peters normally plays.
"You can't say enough about that guy and how well he played today," defensive lineman Chris Jones said of Mitchell. "We knew they were going to go after him and he stepped up to the plate and made a name for himself."
Mitchell, who finished with four tackles and three passes defensed, also had a fantastic diving interception early in the game after Jones got a big hit on Carr and a 50-50 ball flew into the air, which landed in Mitchell's outstretched hands and thwarted a key scoring opportunity for the Raiders early in the game.
It was a great example of team defense and how one guys' effort gave an opportunity for another to make a crucial play. Nelson's forced fumble in the second half that was recovered by Frank Zombo is another example of guys rallying to the ball and making plays. It was one of three turnovers forced by the Chiefs' defense on the day.
"Each guy made a pact with themselves and the man next to him," Chiefs' coach Andy Reid explained of the defensive players this week. "I thought they really did some nice things. I thought the guys rallied to the ball well and I thought they challenged. I thought (defensive coordinator) Bob Sutton had a nice game plan and they all played together."