KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Alex Smith and the Chiefs first-team offense went into Friday night’s preseason against Tennessee still trying to develop some sort of productive rhythm after two previous lackluster performances.
It was rhythm they found against the Titans, jumping to a 17-0 lead in the first half and they finished up with a 34-10 victory at Arrowhead Stadium.
Smith and the No. 1 group scored on their first three possessions, with touchdown catches by wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Travis Kelce and a field goal from Cairo Santos.
Now 3-0 in the preseason, it’s only the second time the Chiefs have held that mark since the NFL went to four practice games in 1978.
The last time they were 3-0 was the 1980 season, but that team ended up losing their final game to finish with a 3-1 record. The Chiefs have not had an unbeaten preseason since their Super Bowl winning campaign in 1969.
The game was stopped by referee Walt Coleman at 9:43 p.m. with 3 minutes, 50 seconds to play because of heavy rains and lightning around Arrowhead. But the thunder came early from the Chiefs offense that picked up 432 yards and scored on four touchdown passes.
“This was more of what we try to do,” head coach Andy Reid said of the offense. “This was a little bit more of the way we play … one of the things we needed to be better at was getting the offense going.
“In this game we did more of what we wanted to do. The quarterback stayed upright and the running game worked.”
Smith was not sacked in the first half and post-game statistics indicated he was not touched by the Tennessee pass rush. Although there was pressure on the quarterback, the offensive line was able to give Smith enough time to get rid of the ball.
Even when Aaron Murray went into the game in the second quarter, the Titans did not have a sack. The Chiefs running game did not produce big numbers, picking up 115 yards on 17 carries, a nice 6.8-yard average, but it was enough to keep the visiting defense off-balance in anticipating the K.C. offensive plays.
A key element in the unit’s improvement was the preparation for the game. Reid treats the third preseason game like a dress rehearsal, and the practice schedule was set up like a normal regular-season game week. Both sides of the ball had Tennessee specific game plans, the first time that’s happened this August.
“We were able to mock the normal week that we do preparation-wise,” Reid said. “We had seven days to get ourselves. It’s not that we put in a lot of new plays, but we went through the process and they handled it well.”
There’s no question the Chiefs offense felt like they were finally able to get into a rhythm.
“It was good for us,” said Maclin, who scored the game’s first touchdown on a 29-yard catch and run and finished with seven receptions for 65 yards. “It felt like we moved the ball every time we had it … and we were pretty efficient today.”
Meanwhile the Chiefs No. 1 defense stifled rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee offense until late in the first half. The Titans scored all 10 of their points in the final four minutes before intermission, helped by the only big mistake the Chiefs made in the game.
With a dry track in the first half, Smith was red hot, hitting 16 of his 18 passes for 171 passing yards. He targeted Maclin in the first period and then zeroed in on Kelce in the second quarter.
On the opening drive, Smith connected on six of seven passes and distributed the ball to four different receivers. The score came on a third-and-five play from the Tennessee 29-yard line, when Smith hit Maclin on the left side and the receiver walked the tight rope down the sidelines for the score.
Cairo Santos was wide left on the extra-point kick and the Chiefs led 6-0.
On the next possession, Smith continued to target Maclin but also got running back Jamaal Charles into the action. Charles handled the ball on three straight plays, gaining 12 yards on a screen pass to the left, a 3-yard run behind right guard and then a 3-yard catch on a short throw from Smith. When he was tackled on his last touch, Charles came off the field with a hitch in his stride and did not return to the game. It did not appear to be any type of serious injury.
The Chiefs were first-and-goal at the Tennessee nine-yard line, but a holding call on left guard Ben Grubbs sent them backwards and they ended up settling for the 21-yard field goal from Santos for a 9-0 lead. Smith was seven of eight in that possession, hitting three different receivers.
The No. 1 offense’s third opportunity went seven plays for 81 yards before Smith hit Kelce on a first-and-goal play at the Titans eight-yard line. The tight end caught the pass and then bulled his way into the end zone. The Chiefs went for two points and running back Charcandrick West scored on the short run and K.C. was up 17-0. That was it for Smith, but the first offense stayed on the field through the rest of the half, as Murray took over.
A big Murray mistake got the Titans back into the game. After a 34-yard field goal by Ryan Succop moved the scoreboard to 17-3, Murray was flushed out of the pocket and heaved a desperation throw downfield that was intercepted by Titans cornerback Perrish Cox. Mariota led the Tennessee offense on a seven-play, 43-yard drive that wrapped up with a 2-yard scoring run by running back Antonio Andrews.
Succop’s PAT kick pulled the Titans within a touchdown as the first half came to an end.
“We didn’t start the way we wanted to,” said Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt. “A lot of it was because of mistakes we made. There were too many penalties, we fumbled the ball one time, we jumped offside and we missed tackles. Those are things you can’t do, especially on the road.”
In the third quarter, Zach Mettenberger replaced Mariota, then Charlie Whitehurst came in and the Titans finished up with former Chiefs quarterback Alex Tanney. Tennessee did not produce any points and struggled against the Chiefs No. 2 defense, gaining just 86 yards on 22 plays. They never advanced past the Kansas City 47-yard line.
“We let a play or two get away from us,” linebacker Justin Houston said. “We can play better, but it was a good night for us.”
Using the most extensive playing time of his two-year career, Murray overcame the interception and threw a pair of second half touchdown passes, both to wide receiver Fred Williams. Early in the fourth quarter, Murray connected with Williams on a 29-yard touchdown pass and the score was 27-10. That came off a 10-play, 98-yard drive where Murray moved the offense from deep out their own territory.
Linebacker Frank Zombo’s interception set up the Chiefs offense in good field position and Murray and Williams added another score on a 4-yard touchdown play. A Santos field goal and a pair of extra points in the second half set the final score at 34-10.
The Chiefs will finish the preseason schedule next Thursday night in St. Louis against the Rams. In franchise history, the Texans-Chiefs had just three seasons where they won all their preseason games: 1960 (6-0), 1966 (4-0) and 1969 (6-0).