Mitch Holtus, the Kansas City Chiefs brilliant radio play-by-play announcer, likes to say that while preseason games don’t count, they DO matter and all that matters for Head Coach Andy Reid is that parts of his team found their footing and played better than last week as his Chiefs beat the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks 14-13 Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
Get the box score from NFL.com here.
It was a typical exhibition season game with several stars sitting out for both teams and some occasional sloppy play. However both defenses played exceptionally well against the other team’s running game and consistently pressured whatever quarterback was in the game. The Chiefs can take solace that their defense matched Seattle’s vaunted defense blow for blow and that KC’s offense mounted two long scoring drives in the win.
Alex Smith, playing behind a patched-up and overmatched offensive line, led the first string offense to their first touchdown of the preseason. Despite being under constant pressure from Seattle’s front seven, he directed a balanced 14-play, 83-yard second quarter drive. It ended when he hit wide receiver Jeremy Maclin for a 3-yard touchdown pass, giving the Chiefs a 7-0 lead. It was the first touchdown pass to a wide receiver for Smith in 594 days, which includes the 2014 preseason as well as the embarrassment of the 2014 regular season.
“It was better today than it was last week for the ones,” Reid said of the long scoring drive. “We put together a long drive, and that’s important.”
The Chiefs starting defense, meanwhile, harassed Seattle’s quarterback Russell Wilson and their first-string offensive unit who were playing without their hammer, running back Marshawn Lynch. Still, considering the Chiefs gave up over 200 yards rushing to Seattle in a regular season win last season, it was good to see defenders swarming all over the running game Friday night.
The defense held Seattle’s starters to 108 total yards of offense in the first half with a 2.5 yards-per-carry average and a 43-percent third down conversion rate. All that Seattle could manage was a 39-yard Steven Hauschka field goal with a little less than three minutes left in the first half to cut the Chiefs lead to 7-3.
Two plays after Seattle’s field goal, Smith threw his second touchdown pass of the first half. But unfortunately, instead of someone in a red jersey catching it, this time it was the other side. Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner stepped in front of Chiefs receiver Jason Avant and returned Smith’s errant throw untouched twenty-five yards for a pick-six score. A successful extra point gave the offensively sluggish Seahawks a surprising 10-7 lead.
“I just sat back and read his eyes,” said Wagner, who scored his first touchdown since he was a high school tight end. “I’ve never had a pick-six in my life. It felt amazing.”
Smith said he originally wanted to throw to tight end James O’Shaughnessy on the play, but the Seahawks doubled him so he checked down to Avant.
“I just didn’t see Wagner when I came to throw it off of him in the slot,” Smith said.
It was the second time in two weeks that Smith has thrown a butt-ugly pass in the vicinity of Avant and getting it picked off for an eventual score by the opponent. Cornerback Tyrann Mathieu intercepted Smith deep in Chiefs territory last week in Arizona and the Cardinals turned it into a field goal and a 10-0 first quarter lead.
Considering the hard (but mostly legal) shots that Smith was taking all half from Seattle, it’s a positive sign that he was upright at the end of two quarters. A missed assignment on KC’s first offensive play caused Smith to be nearly decapitated by Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett. As Smith got up off the turf grimacing, Bennett was called for the first of three roughing the passer penalties on the night for Seattle.
“For being a makeshift group, with the exception of the first play, we did OK,” Reid said of his offensive line that was missing starting tackles Eric Fisher and Jeff Allen. “They took a pop on that first one, but then they did better.”
After the game, Smith talked to reporters about his offensive line. “It’s been a lot of moving parts in camp, and that’s kind of the nature of it, especially with where we’re at with right now between trying to find out the five-best (linemen) and some injuries and stuff,” Smith said. “Then, you’re going against a good front — that’s maybe one of the best in football. So it was a good test for us. We’ll look at the film and learn from it.”
One player that unquestionably played better was Donald Stephenson, who was playing at left tackle for Fisher. Stephenson got beaten a time or two, but like Smith said, those were the Seahawks that were lining up across from him and there is a reason they have gone to two consecutive Super Bowls and are a favorite to make it three in a row this year.
Quarterback Chase Daniel played better than Smith for the second week in a row, although he wasn’t quite as good as he was against Arizona. The back-up QB started the second half and led the Chiefs on an 86-yard go-ahead scoring drive, hitting O’Shaughnessy from 1-yard out. Daniel fired a laser through heavy coverage, but the rookie held onto the ball, giving the Chiefs a 14-10 lead.
“He made a heck of a play,” Daniel said of O’Shaughnessy. “He ran the route that was called, and I was able to look off the mike backer just long enough to fit it in there. I mean, I threw it as hard as I could. I tried to put it low and he just bodied it up. I’m sure he’s got a bruise.”
Daniel has become the most popular player on the squad because 1) his play has been exceptional, 2) he’s not Alex Smith, and 3) the back-up quarterback is the most popular player on virtually every football team in the world. However, Daniel wasn’t exactly perfect Friday night and in the fourth quarter, he and the second-unit offense unintentionally put extra pressure on the defense and the third-string offense led by Aaron Murray.
The Chiefs were clinging to their one-point lead when Daniel and the offense got the ball back with 13:41 left on the clock. At a time when the team needed to pick up some first downs and keep the clock running, Daniel threw two incompletions and was sacked for an 8-yard loss having taken only one minute off of the game clock. Seattle took over at their own 28-yard line with 12:39 left in the game and one of the best kickers in the league on the sidelines.
But then perhaps the most surprising – but positive – developments of the game happened for Kansas City. The third-string defense held on a 4th-and-4 at the Kansas City 40-yard line, getting the ball back in the offense’s hands with 8:31 left.
It wasn’t pretty, but the offense rode the legs of running back Charcandrick West and picked up a first down, 22 yards of field position, and ran 3:35 off the clock. Reid decided to go for a first down on a 4th-and-1 at Seattle’s 40-yard line, but West was stopped for no gain.
Seattle looked like it was going to make Reid pay for the decision by picking up 21 yards on their next two plays and had a first down on Kansas City’s 39-yard line. Hauschka was about five yards away from his field goal range with 4:25 on the clock and two timeouts left in their pocket. But a run was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage, a long pass from Seattle quarterback R.J. Archer fell incomplete, and then Kansas City’s Daniel Sorensen sacked Archer for a 5-yard loss, pushing Seattle out of field goal range with three minutes left on the game clock.
A head-slappingly bad gaffe by Chiefs rookie receiver Chris Conley on the punt return backed the Chiefs up to their own 3-yard line, but the offense responded by gaining a crucial 14 yards of field position, eating up all but 28 seconds of the clock. Punter Dustin Colquitt then boomed a nifty 63-yard punt to Seattle’s 22-yard line.
With only 13 seconds left on the clock, Chiefs defensive tackle, Nick Williams, sacked Archer for a 7-yard loss as time ran out. A satisfying win against a very good team, preseason or not, is something that should put a smile on everyone’s face.
The Chiefs will practice at Arrowhead for the rest of the preseason as they have closed up training camp in St. Joseph for the summer. Their next game is next Friday night at Arrowhead against the Tennessee Titans.