KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The NFL is forever about the next man up and arguably no team epitomizes that philosophy while winning like the Chiefs.
That approach was once again put to the test Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
Already utilizing Spencer Ware, the third running back on the depth chart, the Chiefs faced a potential disaster when three starting offensive linemen went down.
Left guard Jeff Allen (ankle) and left tackle Eric Fisher (neck) left in the second quarter, and rookie center Mitch Morse suffered a concussion in the third quarter.
Donald Stephenson replaced Fisher, while Zach Fulton replaced Allen before moving to center when Allen returned to the game after halftime.
And the Chiefs offense didn’t skip a beat despite the personnel turnover, totaling 158 yards on the ground behind Ware’s 114 yards rushing and 255 yards through the air en route to a 30-22 win.
“I’m proud of those guys, the offensive line, on how they were able to fill in,” coach Andy Reid said. “Zach comes in and plays center in a bad weather game and I thought did a heck of a job with the ball security. Then Donald Stephenson comes in and I thought played tremendous football, too.”
Quarterback Alex Smith echoed Reid.
“You can’t say enough about our line today,” Smith said. “Those guys, I mean, with three injuries and guys moving around and playing different positions and still getting it done really speaks to their depth.”
Allen, who said after the game he felt fine, believes the chemistry among the group played a key role in Sunday’s performance.
“We’re fighters,” Allen said. “Every single guy in our room has the ability to be a starter in this league, I think. For us to be put in the situation we were today and come back and fight and figure out how to win, that’s big.”
What also helped stabilize the front five surrounded playing experience.
The Chiefs could’ve run into issues with an inexperienced group when considering only seven offensive linemen players dressed with Ben Grubbs out with a neck injury.
But Fulton started three games at right guard earlier in the season, and Stephenson opened the season as the starter at left tackle.
The duo afforded the Chiefs plug-and-play options.
“I think everybody – Zach and Donald, even though they were not playing – they all played throughout the season as a starter because they deserved their spot,” right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif said. “I think when you have seven legit guys that are dressed, everybody can play whatever position and that’s what happened today.”
Fulton agreed with Duvernay-Tardif.
“We’re all competitors and we’re all capable of staring in this league,” Fulton said. “I think we all like to get out there when we get the chance. Everybody has started and we all played with one another. I’ve played next to Jeff, (right tackle) Jah (Reid), Larry (Duvernay-Tardif), whoever it may be, I’ve played with all of them.”
The chemistry along the offensive line helped settle the unit in the face of mounting injuries and the communication.
But more importantly, the unit never lost faith in each other.
“There were some smiles on the o-line, we were like we got this,” Duvernay-Tardif said. “So I think that’s a good feeling. We got each other’s back.”
Extending the winning streak to five games also helped put smiles on faces in the locker room, especially among the tight group of offensive linemen.
“I’m just so proud of everybody, the entire team,” Allen said. “I wouldn’t rather go to battle with any other guys.”