From Arrowhead Stadium
The Chiefs took care of their business on Sunday.
Then, the Cincinnati Bengals took care of the rest of the Chiefs’ business three hours later.
The combination of the Chiefs 34-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans, with the Bengals 34-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers and the 2010 Kansas City Chiefs are champions of the AFC West and headed to the conference playoffs for the first time since 2006.
In grabbing their first division title since 2003, the Chiefs moved their record to 10-5 with just one game left to play. After losing in Cincinnati, the Chargers are 8-7 and their four-year run as division champions is over.
“Obviously it’s a big step for us as a team,” said head coach Todd Haley. “We went into this game with the sole purpose of trying to play better than the Tennessee Titans. At home in front of our crowd and we were able to do that. It was far from perfect. I’m really happy for the guys and the energy and enthusiasm in how they played. Their focus was really good.”
The Chiefs did not walk on the field thinking about ending the race for the division championship. The “p” word as Haley had called it â€“ playoffs – was banned from the facility over the last week. They went out with the idea of beating the Titans and then seeing what happened with the Chargers. Even right after the game, Haley said he wasn’t rooting for the Bengals; he was rooting for his team. If it meant playing the Raiders next Sunday for the division crown, they were more than willing to do it.
To make sure they took care of their business, the Chiefs came firing out of the blocks in what was certainly the best first quarter and a half that they’ve played this season. They scored on all of their first four possessions as QB Matt Cassel was hot, and so were RB Jamaal Charles and WR Dwayne Bowe as receivers. SS Eric Berry returned an interception for a touchdown and save for giving up one long pass play that the Titans scored on, the Chiefs won all the battles in the first 30 minutes.
“You never want the opponent to think they had something to play for,” said DL Shaun Smith. “We weren’t going to let that happen.”
The Titans had only the slimmest of chances to make the playoffs, but the key for them was they had to win. Whether the Chiefs were that good at the start, or the Titans didn’t care, their hopes of continuing to play football past January 2 ended very quickly.
“The game got out of reach early,” said Titans head coach Jeff Fisher. “They made plays. We didn’t make plays on both sides of the ball. We just didn’t make the plays when we needed to keep this game close.”
The game was never close. After going down 24-0, the closest the Titans got was after that 53-yard TD pass from QB Kerry Collins to WR Kenny Britt in the second quarter. That pulled them within 17 points and there was nothing that allowed them any momentum after the pick six by Berry.
“That was the play that killed them,” said LB Derrick Johnson. “When we got our defensive TD we knew it was our day. We could just let the dogs loose and get after them from that point.
Whether it killed the Titans is debatable â€“ they appeared already football dead thanks to the play of the Chiefs on offense and defense.
“Offensively we got off to a great start today and I think that set the tone for the day,” said QB Matt Cassel. “The defense played well throughout the day. Special teams stepped up. It a great team victory and puts us one step closer to our team goal.”
Tennessee won the opening coin toss but decided to wait to get the ball to start the second half. Bad move by Fisher. Starting at their 31-yard line, the Chiefs went racing down the field in seven plays that used 3 minutes, 41 seconds of the clock. Cassel was outstanding in the drive, hitting all four of his passes and finding a different receiver for each one.
Ultimately, the score came on a 14-yard pass and run to Charles. It was like a screen pass to the left and with RG Ryan Lilja running out in front of him Charles made a bee-line for the end zone and scored easily. Ryan Succop kicked the PAT and it was 7-0 Chiefs.
On its first possession, the Titans got moving and picked up a pair of first downs, moving the ball into Kansas City territory. But facing a 4th-and-6 play at the Chiefs 38-yard line, the Titans went for the first down but failed when Collins pass was incomplete to WR Justin Gage.
With the ball back and starting at their own 38, the Chiefs offense went racing off down the field again, using 10 plays and covering the 62 yards in just less than five minutes. It was a little bit of run, and a lot of on the mark passes from Cassel. The last one was a five-yard toss to Charles that he caught over his shoulder with LB Gerald McRath on his back. Succop’s PAT made it 14-0.
The Titans went three plays and out and the Chiefs went down and put up a 35-yard field goal from Succop to go up 17-0. That’s three possessions and three scores. On their fourth possession, Cassel hooked up on a 75-yard scoring play with Bowe, who outran the Titans secondary to the end zone in the longest catch of his four-year career. Succop’s PAT gave the Chiefs a 24-0 lead.
“We always want to start fast, but that was really important in this game,” said Charles. “We wanted to go out and set the tone for the game.”
That they did. Add on Berry’s interception and his weaving return of 54 yards for a touchdown and the Chiefs went to the half-time locker room with a 31-7 lead.
The second half featured only two scores: Succop 42-yard field goal and a 22-yard TD pass from Collins to TE Jared Cook that set the final score. Offense was not much of the game over the final 30 minutes, as the teams combined for 228 yards. The Titans had just 97 yards in 28 plays.
The Chiefs defense grabbed another interception when FS Kendrick Lewis picked off a Collins throw, but that play was wiped out by a penalty. Later, CB Brandon Carr grabbed his first interception of the season, ripping a ball out of the arms of Britt.
By the time they were division champions, the Chiefs were scattered all around Kansas City and in some cases beyond as they were given Monday off by the head coach. Celebrations were part of the night, but there wasn’t going to be much time for anything next week.
Even though the final game is no meaningless to the outcome of the AFC West, it’s important to where the Chiefs end up being seeded in the tournament. Right now they are No. 3, behind New England and Pittsburgh. They will end up either being third or fourth. They can lock in third with a victory over the Raiders.
That’s for the next week, when Todd Haley won’t be able to ban the “p” word, because they now have their tickets punched to the post-season.