The 56-season history of the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders is filled with games that were played at the highest levels of performance. There have been just as many games between these teams that played out with some of the oddest scripts.
A rainy Sunday at the O.co Coliseum in Oakland would qualify as one of the stranger chapters in Chiefs-Raiders lore. In the end, Andy Reid and his team came away with their sixth consecutive victory, winning 34-20 and finishing a road sweep of their AFC West opponents.
“This was a good one; you knew it was going to be a battle for the fourth quarter,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told reporters after the game. “I give a lot of credit to the locker room and the veteran leadership in there. They’re playing phenomenal football right now.”
The game did not go by the pattern the Chiefs established in building their winning streak.
The first half was a horror show for K.C., an effort filled with penalties, poor production and two lost fumbles, the first turnovers for the Chiefs since the middle of October. They were down by a touchdown at halftime and quarterback Alex Smith was getting pounded by the Raiders defense. The offense couldn’t stay on the field, and the defense could not get off.
It was the Chiefs worst performance in two months, but they still found a way to win the game. Reid sensed no fear in his halftime locker room.
“There was no flinch; we knew we kind of shot ourselves in the foot in the first half,” said Reid. “If we just hung together and continued to play hard, tough, angry football, you are going to be OK and I thought the guys did that.”
In the second half it was the Chiefs defense that stepped forward and turned the direction of the game. They picked off Oakland quarterback Derek Carr three times, and those interceptions produced touchdowns. Linebacker Josh Mauga, cornerback Marcus Peters and safety Tyvon Branch all grabbed Carr passes and added long returns. Branch took his interception back 38 yards for the game’s final touchdown.
The Chiefs are 7-5 and leading all contenders for a wildcard spot in the AFC playoffs. It’s the first time since the 1995 season they’ve won all their road games in the AFC West. The loss dropped the Raiders to 5-7 on the season.
“We are just creeping over .500,” Reid said. “We have a few games left and we have to keep pressing.”
They’ll continue to be successful as long as they have one aspect of the team capable of carrying the other. It was the defense that saved this day. The Raiders dented them for 361 yards and had nearly a 10-minute advantage in time of possession. But coordinator Bob Sutton’s group grabbed the three interceptions and ended up sacking Carr four times in the game. The young quarterback came into the game having thrown just six interceptions.
“We can never just win easily,” cornerback Sean Smith told reporters after the game. “There’s always going to be something happening in the third quarter or a turnover here, or things of that nature. But the thing about us is that we fight and we learn how to finish.”
Oakland led 14-7 at the start of the second half, but the Chiefs came out of the locker room and the offense went on a 9-play, 80-yard drive that wrapped up with a 10-yard scoring scamper by running back Spencer Ware. Cairo Santos hit the PAT kick and the score was 14-14.
The Raiders immediately returned the volley, with Carr moving them 83 yards on 13 plays before connecting with tight end Lee Smith on a 5-yard touchdown pass. That’s when matters got interesting, as Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski hit the left upright on the PAT and the Raiders led by just six points. It would not be the game’s last unsuccessful extra-point kick.
In the fourth quarter the Chiefs ripped off 20 unanswered points with the interception hat trick:
(Interception #1) On a 2nd-and-10 play at the Chiefs 33-yard line, the defense squeezed the pocket on Carr and after he couldn’t find an open receiver deep, he was preparing to dump the ball off to running back Roy Helu. But outside linebacker Dee Ford, who started for the injured Justin Houston, hit the quarterback as he released the pass and it landed in Mauga’s hands. The linebacker tried as best he could, but fell two yards short of the end zone on a 66-yard return.
“Maybe about 10-15 yards into it, I could feel I was running out of gas,” Mauga said. “I was just praying if I could just get to the goal line, maybe I could fall in. It didn’t work out that way but it set up our offense nicely.”
Two players later, Smith connected with Maclin on a 1-yard scoring pass that may eventually be changed by the league’s statisticians to a lateral and a running touchdown. The PAT was botched and the score was 20-20.
(Interception #2) On a 2nd-and-10 at the Chiefs 49-yard line, Carr threw towards wide receiver Michael Crabtree who fell down and the ball landed in the hands of Peters, making a return to his hometown. The Chiefs first-round draft choice ran the interception back 58 yards to the Raiders 13-yard line.
“It was a whole lot more (emotional) than I expected,” Peters told reporter on his homecoming. “It was hard to stay focused. My nerves were jumping early in the game. Coach and the other leaders on the team brought me back. I made some silly mistakes, but they reeled me in.”
Two plays after the interception, Smith and Maclin connecting again, this time for 13 yards and a touchdown.
Santos missed the PAT kick wide right and the Chiefs led 26-20.
(Interception #3) At his 16-yard line, Carr faced 3rd-and-9 with less than four minutes to play. His pass over the middle was intended for Cooper, who got a hand on the ball, tipping it in the air and it landed in the hands of Branch. The veteran safety was also making a homecoming trip to Oakland, where he spent his first seven years in the NFL. Branch returned the interception 38 yards for a touchdown with 3 minutes, 14 seconds left on the game clock.
“You hope stuff like that happens; today I was blessed that it happened for me,” said Branch. “We were relentless and we kept playing hard and we came out on the right side of it.”
After Branch scored, the Chiefs went for two points and Smith connected with Kelce to set the final score at 34-20.
Both teams scored on their first possessions in the game. The Raiders went first with running back Latavius Murray scoring on a 2-yard run. The Chiefs answered with a 9-play, 56-yard drive with Smith scoring on a 3-yard run.
After playing the previous five games without a giveaway, the Chiefs lost two fumbles by receivers Maclin and then Kelce. Four plays after Kelce coughed up the ball, Carr connected with Crabtree on a 25-yard touchdown pass, threading his throw between Smith and safety Eric Berry. That allowed Oakland to take a 14-7 lead to the halftime locker room.
The Chiefs turned the momentum after intermission and deposited victory No .7 in the bank. With three of their last four games at Arrowhead Stadium, they control their chances of making the playoffs.
“We knew we dug ourselves in a hole in the beginning of the year,” said Mauga. “But we’ve been battling back every week, just working hard and believing in each other and coming out with victories.”
Bob Gretz is the senior editor for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @BobGretzcom.