Quarterback Alex Smith washed away a preseason full of shaky plays by leading three scoring drives in three chances as the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Tennessee Titans 34-10 in a rain-shortened game on a stormy Friday night at Arrowhead Stadium. Lightning and thunderstorms that rolled through the area caused the game to be suspended, and then subsequently cancelled, with 3:50 left in the fourth quarter.
After less-than-stellar performances the first two weeks of the preseason, apparently all the first-string offense needed to look good was an actual game plan for the opponent they were facing and a scheme predicated on short throws to look in championship mode. Well … that and to not play a Super Bowl-class defense like Seattle has, or the Arizona Cardinals on the road helps too. Complete box score from NFL.com here.
Smith looked in mid-season form, much to the relief of nervous Chiefs fans everywhere. He completed 16 of 18 passes for 171 yards, throwing a 29-yard touchdown strike to Jeremy Maclin on the opening drive, and an 8-yard scoring pass to tight end Travis Kelce early in the second quarter. In between those two touchdown throws, Smith commanded the offense crisply and efficiently for a 21-yard Cairo Santos field goal and an early 9-0 lead. Santos missed an extra point on the first touchdown from the new league-mandated distance of 33-yards, ending his perfect preseason for kicking. A Charcandrick West run for a two-point conversion after Kelce’s touchdown made up for the missed extra point and increased the Chiefs lead to 17-0.
With injuries keeping starting offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Jeff Allen out of the game, the patchwork offensive line played much better against the Titans than they had during the first two exhibition games. They were overmatched on the road against Arizona in Week One and downright manhandled against Seattle last week. As a result, Smith was rushed on virtually every throw. Add in the fact that the Chiefs were trying to work on throwing the ball longer downfield, meant Smith had to hold the ball longer so it was no surprise he took a beating in both games.
However, with Friday being the third exhibition game and the dress rehearsal for the regular season, the coaching staff put in an actual game plan for the offense and it showed. Taking advantage of the Titans aggressive style of play on defense, it was obvious the coaches wanted Smith to make quick reads and get the ball out of his hands quickly with the short passing game. It also helped having the franchise’s all-time leading rusher get his first extensive play of the preseason. Jamaal Charles carried the ball three times for 26 yards and caught two passes for 15 more in the first two offensive series before the coaching staff saw all they needed to see from their superstar running back.
“We were throwing so many things at them [the Titans], especially as far as our offensive line goes. We found our rhythm tonight” Smith said in the post-game interview about the balance the offense showed in the first quarter.
Maclin once again showed why his signing this offseason was met with celebration in a town that hasn’t seen very good wide receiver play lately. Smith went to Maclin early on the first drive and on his third catch, Smith laid the ball in to Maclin perfectly down the left sideline. Titans cornerback Parrish Cox stumbled in coverage and Maclin gathered it in and tip-toed along the sideline untouched into the end zone for a 29-yard score. Maclin finished his half of work with seven catches for 65 yards and the one touchdown.
Tight end Travis Kelce contributed a controversial 34-yard catch that replay seemed to show him stepping out of bounds at the Tennessee 40-yard line at least twice. The Titans challenged the call but the referee did not see enough evidence to overturn the ruling on the field, so Kelce and the Chiefs had a first down 17 yards further downfield on the Tennessee 23-yard line. Two plays later, with 11 minutes left in the second quarter, Smith fired a laser between two Tennessee defenders into Kelce’s chest at the 3-yard line and the big tight end lunged into the end zone with an eight-yard touchdown catch.
At that point, the Chiefs first-string offense under Smith looked as good as it had looked since the first half of the playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts two seasons ago and Smith went to the bench with the cheers of the Arrowhead faithful ringing in his ears. However, the loudest cheers of the night, as always at Arrowhead, belonged to the defense.
With the exception of a lone Tennessee touchdown drive aided by a Chiefs turnover, the Chiefs defense made it hard for the Titans to score. The Chiefs led 17-0 in the second quarter with the Titans facing a third-and-one at the Chiefs three-yard line. Linebacker Justin Houston chased down mobile Tennessee rookie, Marcus Mariota, for a quarterback sack and an 8-yard loss. The defense once again held an opponent out of the end zone, forcing Tennessee to settle for a 34-yard field goal.
Head coach Andy Reid then pulled a bit of a surprise by putting third-string quarterback Aaron Murray into the game instead of Chase Daniel, who most people expected to play. Reid wanted to see how Murray worked with the first-string offense and, in his first series, it did not go well.
After Tennessee’s field goal, Murray’s first series consisted of one incomplete and one complete pass to former collegiate teammate, wide receiver Chris Conley, who played his most snaps of the preseason due to a shoulder injury that forced starting wide receiver, Albert Wilson, out of the game. Murry’s third pass supposedly was intended for Maclin, but Maclin wasn’t within eight yards of the pass that sailed high over almost everyone’s head. Unfortunately, Parrish Cox made up for the coverage on Maclin’s touchdown catch by intercepting Murray’s pass just before it hit the turf, returning it to the Kansas City 43-yard line.
Seven plays and two minutes later, Titans running back Antonio Andrews waltzed untouched into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown run. Suddenly, the score was 17-10 going into halftime and thoughts of a Chiefs blowout quickly faded from the fan’s minds. However, the second half belonged to Murray, wide receiver Fred Williams, running back Charcandrick West, the Chiefs backup defense, and some threatening rain clouds.
After going 1-3 for his first three pass attempts, Murray flashed the skills that made him the all-time leading passer in SEC history. He completed 14-of-17 passes in the second half for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He even ran once, converting a third-and-one with a 12-yard gain that brought ear-to-ear smiles from Smith and Daniel watching from the sideline. The 14-play drive ended with a 22-yard field goal by Santos and a 20-10 Chiefs lead.
Tennessee put together a little bit of a drive with backup quarterback Zack Mettenberger, but the defense held and forced a punt. A holding call against the Chiefs negated a nice 18-yard return by Conley and Murray began his next drive backed up to his own two-yard line. To the delight of the crowd and coaches alike, Murray led a textbook 10-play, 98-yard drive that ended with the hero of the Arizona game, wide receiver Fred Williams, catching a 29-yard touchdown pass. On the pass, Murray rolled out to his right and hit the receiver in stride in the end zone for Williams’ third touchdown catch of the preseason. 27-10 Chiefs.
At this point, Charlie Whitehurst came in to play quarterback for Tennessee and, as a light rain started to sprinkle down on the field, Chiefs linebacker Frank Zombo intercepted Whitehurst at the Tennessee 16-yard line and returned it eight yards to the Tennessee 8-yard line. Murray wasted no time finding Williams in the end zone again for another touchdown and, after a successful Santos extra point, a 34-10 lead.
Fittingly, the skies above Arrowhead opened up and a deluge of rain fell on the stadium. The game went on under driving winds and sheets of rain as all but the heartiest of fans headed for cover. At the 3:50 mark of the fourth quarter, lightning flashed across the sky and the referee suspended the game as all the players and fans were evacuated to cover for safety.
Had it been a regular season game, officials would have waited out the storm until the lightning passed and then played the last four minutes. However, with it being a preseason game and with both coaches undoubtedly not wanting to lose any players to injury in such terrible weather conditions, the game was officially cancelled about twenty minutes later. The Chiefs dried off in their locker room with a win and a perfect preseason record of 3-0.
The Chiefs can take a great measure of satisfaction from the game as both the offense and defense played exceptionally well for the most part. Tennessee is not as talented as most of the teams on their 2015 schedule, but Kansas City did enough things right that they shouldn’t be worried about opening the season September 13 in Houston against the Texans.
Before that, however, there is the last game of the preseason to be played next Thursday in St. Louis against the Rams. Normally, the Rams at home would be a fierce test for the offense as St. Louis is expected to have a top-5 defensive unit. But as it will be the fourth and final preseason game, it is doubtful any starters will play much, if at all, for either team.