BALTIMORE – Two months ago, the Kansas City Chiefs had a five-game losing streak, and weren’t in anyone’s playoff conversation.
With two weeks to go in the season, the Chiefs have reeled off eight wins in succession, and fighting the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC’s two wild card berths.
The last quarter of the Ravens’ lost season gives them an opportunity to spoil the playoff plans of four teams, but for the second straight week, it was the Ravens who were spoiled.
A week ago, the streaking Seattle Seahawks beat the Ravens 35-6, and on Sunday, it was the Chiefs’ turn, 34-14.
Next Sunday, the Steelers, who are going to need the game, get their turn, and on Jan. 3, it’s the Cincinnati Bengals’. The Bengals may not need the game to secure a playoff berth, but may need a win to ensure a bye or even home field advantage.
The Chiefs’ ultra-efficient quarterback Alex Smith, completed 21 of his 25 passes for 171 yards, and in the second half was 9 for 10.
Most impressive was the nearly nine-minute drive that began the fourth quarter. Kansas City churned out five first downs and ended the drive with a 32-yard field goal by Cairo Santos.
“I thought it was just a good mix of things that were going on,” coach Andy Reid said.
Smith completed his longest pass of the game during that drive, a 29-yarder to Travis Kelce.
While not everything went the Chiefs’ way, most everything did. Two plays after the officials fail to acknowledge Reid’s red challenge flag after Chris Givens made a questionable catch on the sideline in front of Reid, Marcus Peters picked off Jimmy Clausen and went 90 yards for a touchdown.
““I did throw it, I’m a little slow daggone,” Reid said. “I think I would have been right on it.”
Kansas City had two big plays on defense and one on special teams. In the first quarter, safety Tyvon Branch scooped up Buck Allen’s fumble and ran 73 yards for a score. In the fourth, there was Peters’ play.
Late in the first quarter, deep in his own territory, Ravens punter Sam Koch tried an ill-advised fake punt, and Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen sniffed it out.
“We were on the lookout for some strange things today, but I was really surprised that they tried a fake punt in that situation,” Sorensen said.
“I saw the punter take an extra step, and I turned around and met him to make the tackle. I was just about ready to run downfield, but that extra step made me stop.”
That led to Smith’s 13-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin and an unassailable 21-7 lead.
Peters had two interceptions, and punctuated his first one with a touchdown dance.
“I did know I was going to do that,” Peters said. “It’s one of those respect things for me. It’s big to come play in Ray Lewis’ house, he was here for a long I time, and he did a very good job, so that’s an honor and a salute to Ray Lewis. I knew if I got a pick I was going to do it regardless. It just helps that it was a pick-six,” Peters said.
Branch was flagged after his fumble recovery. After he scored, he ran up the tunnel leading to the visitors locker room and was penalized for a choreographed celebration.
“It’s my eighth year in the league, and I have a little bit of savvy-ness in me,” Branch said. “They stuffed the run, and I don’t know who got it out, but thank you.”
Smith didn’t see the fumble, which occurred on the opposite sideline.
“On the sideline you’re going nuts with that stuff. It’s a ton of fun. You’re like everybody else. You’re checking the replay,” Smith said.
Kansas City (9-5) ends its season with two games at home against Cleveland and Oakland. If the Chiefs win both, they’ll have a team record 10-game winning streak.
“We dug ourselves such a hole it really doesn’t matter. We’re just really crossing .500 here by a couple of games,” Reid said.
Kansas City has six defensive touchdowns.
“The defense, you see them kind of salivate,” Smith said.
Reid didn’t panic when his team lost five in a row, and he wasn’t ebullient after the eighth straight win.
“We’re not near where we need to be,” Reid said. “We were playing a lot of young guys. At one time we were playing the most young guys in the league. It’s been fun watching their maturation process.”
Reid’s team is methodical, and he knows it.
“It’s a unique team that way,” Reid said. “They feel opportunity. They do it. We can talk about it all you want, but they do it.”