San Francisco made a bold move for a quarterback, acquiring Jimmy Garoppolo from New England for a second-round draft pick.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Justin Houston’s once-perfect team had lost consecutive games after a pair of uncharacteristic showings. The Kansas City Chiefs defense couldn’t stop anybody, and the offense suddenly lost its effectiveness in the rushing department, which had served as a calling card during the team’s 5-0 start.
Houston, a seventh-year veteran and one of the longest-tenured Chiefs, looked around the locker room, diagnosed the problem and decided he had to speak up.
“I’m from a big family, so I understand there are times to follow, and there are times to lead. There are times to speak up,” Houston told USA TODAY Sports after Monday night’s 29-19 defeat of the Denver Broncos. “We just weren’t having fun.
“We put so much pressure on us because we know how good we could be. … But I had to tell them that while we’re holding ourselves to the high standards we have to be real, but we have to have fun.”
So, Houston and his teammates were determined to have a different mindset and different in-game approach in order to produce a different result.
Kansas City had given up nearly 1,000 combined yards in those successive defeats but permitted just 364 Monday while forcing four takeaways (a fumble recovery and three interceptions). The offense had it’s second-lowest yardage output of the season (276), but did enough to remain in control. The special teams also forced a turnover, kicker Harrison Butker added five field goals.
And, most importantly to Houston and his teammates, the Chiefs had fun in the process.
“You feel the room. You feel the excitement,” defensive lineman Chris Jones said to a group of reporters crowded in front of his locker. “Nobody’s mad at nobody. It’s all about getting on the winning side of the ball, creating turnovers on defense. We can amp the offense up and help them by scoring.”
Indeed, the defense provided the game’s first points when cornerback Marcus Peters stripped former teammate and current Denver running back Jamaal Charles and returned the ball 45 yards for a touchdown.
The scoring continued three minutes later when quarterback Alex Smith tossed a 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce. Peters recorded the first of three Trevor Siemian interceptions. And although Kansas City never reached the end zone again, the game really never was that close a contest despite two late Denver TDs.
“I felt like we played alright,” said Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill, who threw an interception while running a gimmick play deep in Broncos territory — a play which prompted teammates to joke they hope coaches never give Hill a chance to run it again.
“There are some things we can get better at, and that is what we are going to do,” Hill continued. “Tomorrow we are going to go in and watch the film, and we are just going to fix the mistakes.”
With the victory, the Chiefs improved to 6-2 and now have twice as victories as any of their AFC West counterparts.
But Hill cautioned, “We can’t hang our hats on that. We have to continue to work.”
The Chiefs indeed do still have issues to correct. Their rushing attack remained largely ineffective, producing 79 yards and no touchdowns on 26 attempts. Some of that had to do with the fact that Denver owns one of the league’s stingiest run defenses. Still, in those recent losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs produced 28 and 94 yards, respectively, after averaging 156.2 during the 5-0 start.
Rookie running back Kareem Hunt said he’s noticed defenses devoting more attention to stopping him.
“Everybody’s got their eye on me. They’re going to have the target on my back, but I’m ready for it, and I’m excited. Just don’t let it get to me, and I know the plays are going to come,” said Hunt, who managed just 46 yards on 22 attempts Monday night.
The Chiefs offense obviously want to get back to its early season form, but those players were encouraged that the defense and special teams provided the heroics Monday.
“This is what we’ve got to do,” Houston said. “It’s big. We’re going to need to win in multiple ways, because teams will attack you in different ways, so we have to answer back in more than one way.”
Follow Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones
PHOTOS: Week 8 NFL action
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