Winning games in the NFL is never easy. But in the last 19 regular season games, the Kansas City Chiefs have emerged victorious 17 times.
The .894-win percentage is best in the NFL in that span, and Kansas City enters week 10 in a first place tie with Oakland in the AFC West and a first place tie in the AFC with New England.
The Chiefs don’t have a future hall of fame quarterback, they don’t have a superstar at receiver or running back, they’ve played all year without one of the league’s best pass rushers and given up the 12th most yards on defense in the NFL.
Yet, somehow, week after week, the Chiefs find a way to win games that some say they have no business winning.
While players come in and out of the Andy Reid, Bob Sutton system, one trend has stayed true over this long stretch of winning.
When the Chiefs force turnovers, they win the game.
Since 2013, KC is 26-4 in games where they win the turnover battle. They are 12-2 when scoring a defensive touchdown and have seven pick-sixes since 2015, the most in the NFL.
Sunday’s 20-17 victory over Carolina showed once again how important turnovers are to KC’s success.
Safety Eric Berry’s interception returned back for a touchdown brought Kansas City within a score, then Marcus Peters’ forced fumble in the final minute set up the game winning field goal.
Without these turnovers, Kansas City stood no chance. The offense only totaled 165 passing yards, failed to score a touchdown all game and couldn’t stay on the field going a lousy 2-12 on third down.
Even with the lackluster offensive performance, Kansas City won a game without ever leading until the closing seconds. This marks the 14th time in their last 28 regular season games where the outcome has been decided within one score.
The Chiefs lead the league in turnovers at 22, four more than any other team, and hold the best turnover differential at plus 14. Sutton’s unit tends to have a knack for forcing these turnovers in the second half.
KC entered Sunday’s game allowing just 54 points in the second half of games this year and packed on to that with a second half shutout in Carolina. These late game adjustments keep the Chiefs in almost all their games, no matter the deficit.
Taking a page out of the Kansas City Royals comeback book, the Chiefs have as many wins this season when trailing by 17 or more, two, as the rest of the NFL combined.
The never say die approach makes the Chiefs so dangerous, as just like in Carolina, things can unravel very quickly.
A 17-3 lead into the fourth quarter looked to be almost a sure fire win for the Panthers, since the Chiefs offense struggled to extend drives or push the ball downfield all game. Still, the fire was lit for the Chief front seven as Dee Ford and Chris Jones combined for critical back to back sacks late in the third quarter.
The pair of sacks stalled a 10 minute, 20 play drive and knocked the Panthers out of field goal range, which would have extended their lead to three scores. It was the NFL’s longest play drive since 1998 that ended with a punt.
This didn’t lead to an offensive touchdown, but it sparked the defense with confidence as they finally brought consistent pressure the quarterback’s way. That proved to be key in the fourth when Cam Newton heaved a pressured pass Eric Berry’s direction, which ended with Berry in the end zone after an impressive 42-yard return.
While Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith played one of his most inaccurate games as a Chief, KC fans saw the pros and cons of having a risky quarterback on Sunday. Newton made a number of great throws that Smith likely doesn’t, but his interception that brought the Chiefs back is a throw Smith likely never attempts.
The majority of teams in the NFL need quarterbacks who can push the ball downfield quickly, go through multiple reads and fire passes through a tight window, but the demands for the Chiefs quarterback might be different.
As long as the Chiefs are forcing turnovers at a league best rate, and Smith continues to avoid the back-breaking turnover late in games, then the Chiefs might have a winning formula.
They aren’t the 1985 Bears on defense, but the ability to consistently force turnovers when the team needs them the most is a quality few can replicate. Peters was burned a couple times in the game as Newton did test him often, but just as he does almost every week, he made up for it with a big turnover.
The full Marcus Peters experience is always on the table, as in back to back weeks the Pro Bowl corner has punted the ball in the stands in celebration.
Peters now has two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, two defensive touchdowns and 13 interceptions in his 25 career games. He is establishing himself as one of the game’s biggest playmakers and the Chiefs can live with a few missed routes or celebratory antics if he and the team continue to produce at a high level.
The Chiefs will look to keep the momentum rolling back into Arrowhead next week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with kickoff is set for noon.
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