Kansas City, Mo. A couple of wins over division doormats. A shutout of a Raiders team playing without its starting quarterback. An inexplicable fumble that eventually led to an overtime victory.
The Kansas City Chiefs realize everything has been going their way during a four-game winning streak, one that has taken them from NFL laughingstock to a tie atop the AFC West. That’s why coach Todd Haley warned everyone after a 23-20 overtime win over San Diego on Monday night to keep an even keel.
Hard as that might be right now.
“We’ve got some fighters,” Haley said. “They don’t care much what anybody says, they just believe in what they’re doing, and what they’re going to be, and what they’re going to accomplish.”
What they’re going to accomplish is anyone’s guess.
How could anyone have any clue after the dramatic turnaround they’ve already experienced?
Left for dead after losing their first two games by a combined 89-10, the Chiefs (4-3) showed some resolve during a road loss to San Diego. They came back home and squeaked out a win over Minnesota, rallied from a big deficit to beat Indianapolis, and then beat the Jason Campbell-less Raiders last weekend to give them tons of momentum heading into a showdown with San Diego.
Under the bright lights on Monday night, with a frenzied Halloween crowd on hand at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs led the whole way against the division-leading Chargers.
Still, San Diego had a chance to win the game in regulation with the ball at the 15-yard line and 48 seconds on the clock. Philip Rivers dropped under center, called for the snap — and never got the ball. It squirted under a pile, a fumble at the most inopportune time, and the Chiefs’ Andy Studebaker came away with it to keep San Diego from kicking a potential winning field goal.
That allowed the game to reach overtime, and Ryan Succop ended it with a 30-yard field goal.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Succop, who had three field goals in the game. “Everybody on our team fought as hard as they could. We put everything into it, and to come out on top is great.”
The Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to lose their first three games and then move into at least a tie for a division lead after the next four. The overtime win forged a three-way tie with San Diego and Oakland.
Sure, the Chiefs have had breaks go their way. The Colts are a different team without Peyton Manning, the Vikings are trying to find someone who can play quarterback. Rivers couldn’t remember the last time he fumbled a snap in a game situation.
But the Chiefs have also taken advantage of every break that’s gone their way, realizing that only by being opportunistic can a team missing three of its brightest stars to season-ending injuries — All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles, Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki — realistically expect to compete for back-to-back division championships.
“Our guys have a common belief that we’re going to come out on top,” said Haley, who has gone from the hot seat after the first two weeks to just plain hot.
“Our guys have handled some adversity, and I think it’s had a positive effect for these guys, and they believed they were going to win that game, and that made it go their way despite not looking promising there at the end,” he said. “I’m really proud of the guys, and I really care for them. They’re fun to be around and fun to coach.”
Everything is more fun when you’re winning.
The Chiefs should have a pretty good chance to keep it up, too. They host the Dolphins on Sunday, one of two winless teams left in the NFL. Then they welcome the struggling Broncos, whose quarterback situation is just as unsettled as the rest of the teams the Chiefs have played lately.
“The great part about this team is that we continue to keep our heads and continue to work,” quarterback Matt Cassel said. “Our mentality is you just try to get one win and then two wins and three wins. Now we are on a four-game win streak. Everybody is excited about that, but we know there is a lot of season left to be played. We’re happy about where we are at right now.”
It sure beats where they were a month ago.