Cleveland Moments before the game’s climactic play, Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel looked around the huddle and saw only confidence in the eyes of his excited teammates.
These Chiefs believe.
Two victories in one week has changed them.
Brandon Flowers returned an interception for a touchdown, Ryan Succop kicked three field goals, and Kansas City running back Thomas Jones vaulted for a late first down on a fourth-down gamble by coach Todd Haley, giving the Chiefs a 16-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
A feeble four-win squad last season, the Chiefs, who also knocked off AFC West champion San Diego on Monday night, are 2-0 for the first time since 2005.
“Two-and-0 in the NFL is hard to do,” said Jones, who catapulted over the line to pick up the game-clinching first down with two minutes left. “But we can’t rest.”
Despite a short work week to prepare for the Browns (0-2), the Chiefs were able to make just enough big plays to squeak by. Last season, Kansas City didn’t get its second win until Nov. 15.
“This win says a lot,” Haley said. “These guys are understanding what it is all about, and that’s becoming a team. I’m not saying we’re there yet, but we stuck together and won. This was a huge win to come in to a hostile environment against a team that was fighting. We started the process last year and are continuing it.”
Kansas City also learned its lessons from a 41-34 loss to Cleveland last December, when Browns running back Jerome Harrison ran wild for 286 yards — third most in NFL history — and Browns return specialist Joshua Cribbs returned two kickoffs for TDs.
Harrison was held to 33 yards on 16 carries, and the Chiefs angled kicks away from Cribbs, who did burn them for a 65-yard TD reception from Seneca Wallace.
Wallace started in place of Jake Delhomme, who injured his right ankle last week in his debut for the Browns (0-2), a 17-14 loss at Tampa Bay. Wallace finished 16-of-31 for 229 yards, but one of his attempts in the second quarter was run back for a TD by Flowers.
“It was a bad, bad decision by me,” Wallace said. “I’ll take responsibility for that.”
Clinging to their 2-point lead, the Chiefs were faced with a 4th-and-inches at the Cleveland 36 with two minutes left. During the two-minute warning, Haley decided that instead of punting and perhaps pinning the Browns deep, he would go for it.
And when the call came in from Kansas City’s sideline, Cassel and his teammates were thrilled.
“I was absolutely all for that play,” said Cassel, who finished 16 of 28 for 176 yards and two interceptions. “It showed a lot of respect for the guys up front and the guys who run the ball. It was a great move. You should have seen the huddle. The linemen were lighting up, the running backs were lighting up.
“It was a statement that we’ve got confidence to go for the win.”
Jones took the handoff from Cassel and leaped over a pile of humanity. Following a measurement that showed he picked up the first down by the nose of the ball, the Chiefs then had to endure a lengthy review by the replay officials upstairs.
When referee Carl Cheffers announced the play stood, Kansas City’s sideline erupted in celebration.
“I wish it didn’t go to review,” Haley said. “We were trying to put it away and did. That’s a good feeling. Two weeks in a row that you end the game in that kneel-down situation, I’m all for that.”
The Browns weren’t convinced Jones got the necessary yardage.
“The refs gave him the spot,” end Robaire Smith. “We’ve got to do a better job and not put ourselves in that situation.”
Cleveland’s 0-2 start is not what coach Eric Mangini or president Mike Holmgren had in mind.
The Browns were hoping to build off the momentum of a four-game winning streak — that saved Mangini’s job — to end last season, but two close losses in two weeks and too many penalties — the Browns had nine — have Cleveland already in trouble with a tough schedule ahead.
Browns kicker Phil Dawson also missed a 42-yard field-goal attempt.
“It’s not good football,” Mangini said. “It’s not smart football. It’s not winning football. We can’t play that way.”
The loss also tainted Cleveland’s unveiling of their ring of honor. For now, the Browns’ best memories remain of the past.
“There’s no, ’Here we go again,”’ said Cribbs. “Not at all. There’s no give up. It’s going to work. It’s going to click sooner or later. We have a lot of games left. We’re just struggling for wins.”
NOTES: One week after setting a franchise record with 160 yards on punt returns, the Chiefs were held to 6 on 4 returns. ... The Browns dropped to 1-11 in home openers since 1999. ... Browns TE Evan Moore sustained a head injury in the second half and did not return. ... The Chiefs got their first September road win since 2007. ... Browns DB Sheldon Brown made his 20th career interception, and first with Cleveland.