KANSAS CITY, Mo. – If the Chiefs have learned anything during an undefeated run, it’s nothing will ever be easy.
After jumping out to 20-10 lead, the Chiefs held on to defeat the Cleveland Browns (3-5) 23-17 to move to 8-0 on the season.
“Like coach (Andy Reid) says, we’re not trying to be the beauty queens,” Chiefs wide receiver Dexter McCluster said. “A win is a win. We know we’re going to have to fight. This is the NFL and teams are going to be good. They’re going to play well. All we worry about is winning and we pulled it out.”
Sunday’s game was definitely a tale of two halves for the Chiefs.
The Chiefs moved the ball at will in the first half, converting 9-of-12 chances on third down (75 percent) and netting 281 total yards to pace a 20-10 halftime lead.
Quarterback Alex Smith completed 18-of-26 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns through the first two quarters, his first touchdown passes in three games.
His first scoring strike went to fullback Anthony Sherman for 12 yards in the first quarter. The second came under the two-minute warning when Smith found McCluster on a 28-yard seam route.
Smith would finish the game 24-of-36 for 225 yards and the two touchdowns, but the drop off of his numbers coincided with the Chiefs second-half struggles.
After a stellar performance converting on third downs in the first half, the Chiefs would go 1-of-7 in the second half to finish 10-of-19 (53 percent).
“I thought in the first half we were better at staying ahead of the chains,” Smith said. “We were better on first and second downs, and our third downs were more manageable. We were converting a lot of that. In the second half we had a lot more third-and-longs. You’re going to make life tough doing that.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid shouldered the blame for the offense’s second-half issues.
“I probably got stale on them,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said about the offensive troubles. “I didn’t dial them up as well as the first half. I have to do a better job there. That’s two weeks in a row we’ve come out a little slow in the second half. We have to start better than that and I’ll make sure I put the guys in position to do that.”
Meanwhile, the Browns sacked Smith five times in the second half, six on the game.
And with the Chiefs offense struggling, Cleveland kept it within a field goal after a 17-yard touchdown pass from Jason Campbell to running back Fozzy Whittaker in the third quarter.
Campbell, who drew the start over Brandon Weeden, completed 22-of-36 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns against the league’s third-ranked pass defense.
His favorite targets were wide receiver Josh Gordon, who finished the game with five catches for 132 yards and a touchdown, and tight end Jordan Cameron, who had four catches for 81 yards.
While he was sacked once by linebacker Justin Houston, Campbell’s mobility also allowed him to avoid pressure from the NFL’s sack-leading team.
“At first glance, he made some great plays for us,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said of Campbell. “I think his leadership was key in us being able to hang in there and fight through the early deficit.”
Still, the Chiefs held back the Browns with a trusted formula that has worked through seven games – the defense.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s unit bent, but didn’t break, limiting the Browns to 3-of-12 conversions (25 percent) on third downs for the game.
“Coach Sutton, he did a great job of switching it up,” safety Kendrick Lewis said. “He did a great job of giving them different looks than we gave them in the first half. On third down they were running a lot of crossing routes and catching us in man coverage. Coach Sutton called a great game plan and mixing it up, so it wouldn’t be easy for them.”
Ultimately, a highlight for this Chiefs team throughout the eight-game winning streak is their ability to pick each other up when other areas are struggling.
In the first half, the offense carried the day. In the second half, it was the defense.
That ability to rely on each other stands out to kicker Ryan Succop, who had three field goals on the game, including one with :17 remaining on the clock for the final margin.
“You saw that today,” Succop said. “Once again, another close game, but nobody panicked. We have total confidence in each other in what we’re doing. We’re able to go out there and get it done.”
NOTES: Chiefs defensive end Mike Catapano suffered a sprained ankle … Chiefs coach Andy Reid said running back Jamaal Charles had a knee contusion … Charles left the game briefly before returning to record his eighth straight 100-plus total yards (74 rushing, 46 receiving) game to start the season … Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson had 12 solo tackles … Johnson now has 935 career tackles to rank third in team history, passing safety Deron Cherry (927) … The Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start 8-0 in the first year with a new head coach and quarterback … The Chiefs also first team to go 8-0 after posting two or less wins in previous seasons and first team in league history to start 8-0 after posting league’s worst record the previous season.