OAKLAND – The Chiefs found themselves in a dogfight against the Oakland Raiders.
Down 20-14 early in the four quarter, the Raiders were driving at the Chiefs’ 33-yard line when Raider quarterback Derek Carr tried to hit running back Roy Helu on a short pass.
But the ball popped in the air after Chiefs defensive end Jaye Howard and outside linebacker Dee Ford hit Carr, forcing the errant pass into the waiting arms of inside linebacker Josh Mauga, who made the play that arguably turned the game in the Chiefs’ favor.
With nothing but green in front of him, Mauga secured the ball and took off for the end zone in a dead sprint with Raiders players in hot pursuit.
There was a problem, however.
“I was trying to score,” Mauga said. “Maybe about 10, 15 yards into it, I could feel I was running out of gas.”
Mauga easily outran the offensive linemen, but Helu came streaking down the left side of the field to tackle Mauga, who had slowed down considerably, just 2 yards shy of the goal line.
“Oh my, his back got so tight around the 15-yard line,” cornerback Sean Smith said with a chuckle. “I don’t even think he saw that other guy coming. But that was definitely a big play. He gave it all he got, his gasoline ran out.”
“I was just praying, if I could just get to the goal line maybe I could fall in,” he said. “It didn’t work out that way, but it set up our offense real nice.”
The Chiefs scored two plays later when Alex Smith hit Jeremy Maclin on a 1-yard touchdown pass, which tied the game at 20-20.
Kansas City then went on to score twice more to defeat the Raiders, 34-20, and extend the winning streak to six games while improving to 7-5 on the season.
And the Chiefs can thank Mauga, who admits the 66 yards on the interception was the longest he has ever run in his professional career, for energizing the win.
“It was a great play,” running back Charcandrick West said. “It saved the game.”
But while Mauga was responsible for helping turn around Sunday’s matchup, he couldn’t escape the teasing that was sure to come after the play.
“They gave me a few minutes to myself and congratulated me,” Mauga said, “but they definitely rubbed it in.”
Defensive tackle Dontari Poe initially believed Mauga would get in the end zone and watched in disbelief when Helu caught Mauga from behind.
“You got to score, man,” Poe said with a chuckle. “You can’t miss that one, that’s too close. He ran too many yards, he got too far to miss by 1 (yard).”
West agreed, adding he was going to offer tips on how to finish a long run.
“We get on the bus, I’m going to talk to him,” the Chiefs running back said. “You get that close, you got to score.”
Linebacker Dee Ford said he felt bad Mauga couldn’t finish the long run, but he said it was understandable given the nature of the game.
“Man, look, I feel for him,” Ford said. “We played a lot of plays today on defense, a lot of plays. By that time, it actually made sense that he didn’t make it in the end zone.”
Still, some of Mauga’s teammates believed they would’ve found pay dirt if they were the one running with the ball.
“I definitely would’ve scored,” cornerback Sean Smith said. “I would’ve scored, dunked it in and jumped in the Black Hole.”
Ford is another player who felt the same the way.
“I would’ve made it,” Ford said with confidence. “I would’ve found a way, crawled or something.”
Mauga took the playful jabs from his teammates in stride after the game, but offered a rebuttal when told Ford felt he could have scored a touchdown on the play.
“If only he would have blocked his guy,” Mauga said with a laugh, “maybe I would have scored, too.”