The score was 24-6 and the Kansas City Chiefs’ season was slipping away; the once-trendy pick to win the AFC West was just over 20 minutes of football away from 0-3. The defense wasn’t consistently stopping New Orleans, and the offense wasn’t getting into the end zone against a toothless Saints defense.
It’s like a light bulb turned on late in the third quarter and the Chiefs decided to play like the team everyone believed they were headed into 2012. The offense, defense and special teams contributed, and the team made big play after big play. The Chiefs would score 21 unanswered points to win the game in overtime, 27-24.
Just how did the Chiefs come back from 18 points down to save their season? Much as many of Kansas City’s wins came in 2010, it started with Jamaal Charles in the running game. The production from Charles would trickle down through the defense and eventually even infect quarterback Matt Cassel.
1. Charles' 91-Yard Touchdown Makes It 24-13
Charles was hitting holes and finding wiggle room for most of the afternoon, and it only seemed like a matter of time before he popped a long run. The Chiefs were still running the ball because they were backed up against their own goal line, and they were trying to keep Cassel from turning the ball over down three scores.
A healthy Charles took a handoff to the left and used his speed to change tackling angles. Keyed by good blocking, Charles would take it the distance—91 yards for the touchdown—to pull the Chiefs within 11. Although the play didn’t bring the Chiefs all the way back on the scoreboard, it may have brought them all the way back from the dead.
Here’s how the blocking set up for the Chiefs.
The tight end is going to kick out the safety and the fullback is going to try to get the final block on the play-side linebacker while the offensive line either blocks the man in front of them or tries to get a block on one of the linebackers. The defensive end and safety on one side will not be blocked (red arrows).
The fullback Nate Eachus got stuck in traffic trying to get the block on the linebacker. That linebacker has a chance to stop the play if he shoots the gap and takes down Charles. The safety gets blocked by the tight end.
Charles uses his speed to change tackling angles and the linebacker whiffs on the tackle. The safety disengages from his blocker, but he can’t find the speedy Charles either. From here it’s a footrace between Charles and safety Darren Sharper. Easy win for Charles.
2. Stanford Routt Intercepts Drew Brees
It’s 2nd-and-7 from the 29-yard line, and the Saints are in field-goal range. A field goal would have put the Saints up by two touchdowns, a seemingly insurmountable lead for Kansas City to overcome in one quarter of play.
Drew Brees gets good protection and has plenty of time to read the field. Routt is covering Devery Henderson one-on-one with no help.
Brees just throws a terrible interception and Routt does good to make the play. Henderson had a half step on Routt, and Brees needed to get the ball over the top of Routt and toward the sideline where only Henderson could have made a play. Instead, the Chiefs get the ball back.
3. Charles’ 40-Yard Run Makes It 24-16
Wide receiver Terrance Cooper is going to crack back block the safety, and the right guard is going to try to get the block on the outside linebacker. If successful, Charles will find daylight and a defensive back will have to make the tackle.
The interior blocking is a success, and that leaves the fullback out in front to block the first defensive back that comes up in run support.
Charles is off to the races again, and the defensive back has to take a very steep angle to keep Charles from taking it the distance. Ryan Succop hits another field goal to put the Chiefs within a score.
4. Saints Go Three-and-Out
The Saints again have the opportunity to put the game away but can’t get the job done. After a two-yard run and two incomplete passes, the Chiefs get the ball back. Kansas City’s press coverage on the outside and bracket coverage on tight end Jimmy Graham didn’t give Brees any open options.
5. Defensive Pass Interference Makes (24-19)
On 3rd-and-9, the Saints commit pass interference, giving the Chiefs 26 free yards. The penalty puts the Chiefs in field-goal range and Succop converts.
Dwayne Bowe was clearly contacted when the ball was in the air, but the veteran receiver also gave it a good sell to make sure the replacement refs threw the flag. The replacement refs have been allowing a surprising amount of contact down the field, and Bowe is such a big and physical receiver that he could have run the defender trying to pin his right arm down.
A little extra flail of the arms and exaggerated stumble got the ref's attention, just in case there was any doubt in his mind.
6. Saints Go Three-and-Out Again, Brees Sacked on Third Down
Brees had nowhere to go with the football on the drive. The Chiefs continued to use press coverage and bracket Graham, and the Saints had no solution for the strategy. The Saints actually lost eight yards on the drive thanks to a sack by Justin Houston on third down.
7. Dustin Colquitt Pins the Saints Deep
The Chiefs go three-and-out, but the special teams unit pins the Saints on the 9-yard line. Colquitt’s punt lands at the five and takes a Kansas City bounce.
8. Brees Sacked in End Zone for a Safety, Makes It 24-21
Justin Houston gets another sack on 2nd-and-12 from the 7-yard line. Houston used his speed rush to get around the right tackle, and Brees had nowhere to go because Tamba Hali was applying pressure on the other side.
Not only is it two points, but the Chiefs get the ball back with the opportunity to tie the game.
9. 3rd-and-10 Conversion from Own 40-yard Line
The Chiefs had to have this third-down conversion to keep the drive alive, and Cassel’s play caps the team effort that allowed them to come back from 18 points down to tie the game.
Cassel is pressured so he rolls to his right and then circles back around to his left before delivering a pass to a wide open Jon Baldwin standing just beyond the first-down marker along the left sideline.
The Chiefs convert a 4th-and-5 play three plays later and Succop makes another field goal to make it 24-24 and send the game into overtime.
10. Overtime: Dustin Colquitt and Jalil Brown Pin Saints at the 3-yard Line
The Chiefs win the toss but can’t get the ball into Succop’s field-goal range. Had the Chiefs been able to make a field goal, the Saints would have had one possession to try to win it or tie it with a field goal.
Colquitt’s punt bounces at the 4-yard line and takes a Saints bounce toward the end zone. Jalil Brown has to leave his feet at the 1-yard line and knock the ball back into play. The Saints would have to their only drive of overtime start from their own 3-yard line.
11. The Saints go Three-and-Out for the Third Time
After two dropped passes, the Chiefs bring the house on 3rd-and-10. Brees takes a hit as he throws and the ball sails over the head of Henderson deep down the right sideline. The game becomes sudden-death overtime since both teams have had a possession.
What were the most important plays in the Chiefs' comeback?
The Chiefs start near midfield and need to get just 16 yards to be in Ryan Succop’s range for a game-winning field goal.
12. Chiefs Convert on 3rd-and-12
The Chiefs lose two yards and need a long conversion to keep the game alive. Cassel finds Shaun Draughn out of the backfield for 11 yards.
13. Chiefs Convert on 4th-and-1
Needing just one yard for a first down, the Chiefs go for it on 4th-and-1. Charles runs for three yards to pick up the first down. Had the Chiefs failed to convert, they would have given the Saints the ball with good field position and likely lost the game after doing so much to tie it.
14. Chiefs Convert on 3rd-and-5
The Chiefs were within Succop’s range, but it would have been a 53-yard attempt. Picking up another first down and grinding out a few more yards would mean a higher-percentage field-goal attempt to win the game. Dwanye Bowe gets away with a little bit of a push off and Cassel hits him on the 7-yard line for the first down.
The Chiefs get 14 more yards on the ground on four running plays, and Succop hits the easy 31-yard field goal to cap an incredible comeback.