Chiefs pull away from Giants, improve to 4-0

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Nothing is easy on the path to perfection, but the Chiefs stayed the course after defeating the New York Giants, 31-7, at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

The Chiefs were in a close, physical dogfight before blowing the game open late in the third quarter when wide receiver Dexter McCluster returned a punt 89 yards for a score.

Sep 29, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dexter McCluster (22) runs a punt back for a touchdown during the second half of the game against the New York Giants at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 31-7. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 29, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dexter McCluster (22) runs a punt back for a touchdown during the second half of the game against the New York Giants at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 31-7. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City eventually put the game away on a time-consuming 14-play, 80-yard drive capped off by quarterback Alex Smith finding running back Jamaal Charles for a 2-yard touchdown pass. The drive, which actually started the fourth quarter, chewed up an amazing 9:17 off the clock.

Charles, who has emerged as the team’s closer, entered the fourth quarter with just 23 yards rushing on 10 carries. He finished the game with 65 yards on 18 carries while adding five catches for 62 yards and a touchdown.

Led by Charles, a clock-killing drive has been a theme the last three games when the Chiefs were able to put away a game.

“We’re executing better I think, and we’re running the ball better in the fourth quarter,” Smith said. “That’s been consistent the last three weeks, moving the line. We really ran the ball well in the fourth quarter and I think it really opens up some stuff outside.”

Smith finished the contest completing 24-of-41 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns along with his first two interceptions of the season.

The Chiefs entered the game with no turnovers in the first three games, but finished with three on Sunday. Center Rodney Hudson was charged with a lost fumble during a center-quarterback exchange.

Still, the Chiefs did what they couldn’t do last season when mistakes occurred on the field.

This team overcame them.

It was a total effort on Sunday that contributed to the Chiefs becoming just the second team in NFL history to start 4-0 following a season with 14 or more losses. It’s also the Chiefs’ first 4-0 start since 2003.

“I was proud of the effort that the guys gave,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I thought they came out and did a nice job. We overcame three turnovers with three takeaways of our own, and then the defense I thought played well after the turnovers.”

The Chiefs got on the board first in the second quarter after putting together an 11-play, 98-yard drive capped off when Smith hit tight end Sean McGrath for a 5-yard score.

Smith did a lot of damage on the ground during the drive, gaining 20 yards on quarterback scrambles. McGrath, who finished the game with five catches for 64 yards and the score, also pulled in a 12-yard reception during the drive.

New York quickly answered on the next possession when Giants quarterback Eli Manning hit wide receiver Victor Cruz for 69 yards. Cruz was covered by veteran cornerback Dunta Robinson, who drew the start in place of the inactive Brandon Flowers (knee).

The Chiefs took a 10-7 lead into halftime after kicker Ryan Succop nailed a 51-yard field goal.

Both teams appeared sluggish after the half, exchanging punts and interceptions before McCluster took over.

Giants punter Sean Weatherford boomed a 59-yard that McCluster fielded it at the Chiefs’ 11. He avoiding tacklers and took it up the middle of the field after a spin move en route to pay dirt for the 17-7 lead.

McCluster’s return doesn’t happen if Reid didn’t challenge the spot on what was initially ruled a Giants’ first down after Manning hit Cruz for an apparent 25-yard gain. The spot was overturned on replay, the Giants punted and the rest is history.

“That was a big swing right there and that was obviously the difference in the game,” Manning said during his postgame presser. “We fell a little short and they took the momentum from there.”

Meanwhile, McCluster’s return energized the stadium and his teammates.

“We were actually on the sideline moving with him as he was juking and making defenders miss,” Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe said of McCluster’s return. “He’s a heck of a player. He did his thing out there today. We needed that.”

Any hope the Giants had of a comeback were dashed during the clock-killing drive in the fourth quarter with Charles’ touchdown, and then Smith found Bowe late in the final period for a 34-yard score to round out the scoring.

While the Chiefs are undefeated, there’s work still to be done.

“We’ve got a long ways to go,” Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. “We can’t waiver. As a team, we have to keep the pressure on, keep the level of intensity on, and I think we’ll be all right as long as we keep fighting.”

Notes: Starting right tackle Eric Fisher suffered a concussion and did not play in the second half … “He seemed to be pretty good here after the game, which is a positive,” coach Andy Reid said of Fisher during his postgame presser … Starting cornerback Brandon Flowers (knee), guard Jeff Allen (groin) and tight end Anthony Fasano (ankle, knee) were declared inactive … Also inactive were quarterback Tyler Bray, guard Rishaw Johnson and defensive tackle Jaye Howard … … Punter Dustin Colquitt suffered a knee injury in the first half, but fought through it to finish the contest.