Clock management keys Chiefs comeback win

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs playoff run ended last season amid criticisms about clock management, but Sunday’s historic come-from-behind victory over San Diego shows the team may have found the formula for late-game rallies.

Kansas City's Spencer Ware spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown during the second half of Sunday afternoon's overtime win over the Chargers, 33-27, at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)
Kansas City’s Spencer Ware spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown during the second half of Sunday afternoon’s overtime win over the Chargers, 33-27, at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Quarterback Alex Smith led four scoring drives in the game’s final 21 minutes, none taking longer than three minutes, 40 seconds. The game-tying drive started with just one minute, 49 seconds remaining and required just four plays in 46 seconds.

Coach Andy Reid said he feels Smith always possessed late-game hero potential, but simply didn’t have opportunities to prove it until he arrived to Kansas City.

“This is how I felt when he came out of college,” Reid said. “If he got in the system that we run here, it just kind of fit his style and game and ability, you probably wouldn’t be asking that question right now.”

Smith bounced from one offensive system to another in San Francisco, working with five different offensive coordinators in each of his first five NFL seasons.

“I think if it would have been more consistent for him early, we probably wouldn’t have been lucky enough to get him here,” Reid said.

Reid’s usage of timeouts also proved critical in the Chiefs’ comeback.

The Chiefs used their first timeout of the second half at the 12-minute, 35-second mark of the third quarter. The defense stopped Chargers running back Melvin Gordon on a third-and-1. That setup a fourth-and-short at the Kansas City 43-yard line.

“They kind of did the switch-a-rooney on us,” Reid explained. “They were showing like they were going to go for it. Our punt team was getting out there.”

The Chiefs found themselves unsure what Rivers and the Chargers planned to do, and chaos reigned.

“They got us on that one,” Reid said.

The coach called a timeout to allow the Chiefs defense to regroup, and that prompted the Chargers to punt following a delay of game penalty.

“I thought it was important to shut it down with a timeout,” Reid said. “Normally that does not happen, but that was one of those crazy situations and I wanted to make sure were right and not wrong in who we had out there.”

That sequence both prevented the Chargers from running more time off the lock and a potential scoring opportunity that could have put the game out of reach.

The Chiefs used their second timeout and the two-minute warning to stop the clock twice on the Chargers next-to-last drive while forcing a three-and-out for the Chargers.

The Chiefs had one more timeout to use, which setup the opportunity for a punt return as time expired in an attempt to preempt an overtime.


Running back Spencer Ware entered Sunday’s game with just six catches for five yards in 13 career NFL games.

Ware showed a new side of himself against the Chargers, pulling in seven catches for 129 yards to along with 11 rushes for 70 yards a touchdown.

“He’s a tough runner, physical runner, and he’s got good hands,” Reid said. “That hasn’t been a problem with him.”

Ware picked up the start in absence of All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles. Charles recently returned to practice after suffering an torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee last October. The team listed him as limited in practice last week, and declared him among the inactives for the Chargers game.

“I’ll you the energy he brought was a good thing,” Reid said “He just kept bringing it and bringing it. He really was one of the positives in the first and second half. He had a pretty good all-around game.”

Reid did not know whether Charles would be ready to return next Sunday against the Houston Texans.

“I thought he made a little bit of improvement last week,” Reid said, “and we’ll see how he does this week. He worked with the scout team last week. I’m just going to get eyes on him and see where he’s at.”

Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for and the Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.