KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For one of the few times all night, Arrowhead Stadium was quiet.
With only 47 seconds left in their prime-time showdown against Washington, the Chiefs had the ball at their own 25-yard line, with the score knotted at 20. If the Chiefs were going to extend their reign as the NFL’s lone undefeated team, it was time for someone — anyone –– to be a hero.
The Chiefs, however, have consistently had a number of players step up in crunch time under coach Andy Reid, and true to form, that would prove to be the case in a 29-20 victory over Washington on Monday night before an announced crowd of 74,587 at Arrowhead Stadium.
Quarterback Alex Smith and receiver Albert Wilson were the first heroes. A few moments before the game ended, Smith scrambled away from pressure and fired a beautiful ball downfield to Wilson, who sprinted for a 37-yard gain that gave the offense –– and the nervous crowd –– hope and life.
The third hero was receiver Chris Conley, who caught a clutch 10-yard pass over the middle to set up the fourth hero, rookie kicker Harrison Butker.
Butker, who was signed this week to replace injured kicker Cairo Santos, had missed his first field goal attempt of the game hours earlier. Butker, however, had bounced back to connect on his last three attempts, including the decisive 43-yarder to put the Chiefs ahead 23-20.
With only four seconds left, Washington was essentially done at that point. A miracle was needed, and the Chiefs’ defense snuffed out a razzle-dazzle attempt at just that, as outside linebacker Justin Houston scooped up a fumble for a 13-yard touchdown that cemented the win.
It was an outcome that, perhaps, could not have been foreseen early in the game, when Washington, 2-2, came out swinging.
In fact, Washington struck on only the sixth play from scrimmage, courtesy of a 44-yard touchdown throw from quarterback Kirk Cousins to receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr., who caught the ball over Marcus Peters –– who gave up about six inches in that matchup ––in the end zone for the touchdown.
The Chiefs did not respond well. Their first offensive play ended with a sack by Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan (who was essentially unblocked). Their second next play ended with starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif injuring his knee and leaving the game. The third play ended with a clean drop by Tyreek Hill.
The Chiefs appeared to force a potentially momentum-changing fumble on Washington’s next drive, but the runner’s knee was ruled down, and the call was overturned.
The Chiefs’ defense, however, stiffened up in the red zone, as Washington went o-fer on three cracks at the end zone from inside the 7-yard line and was forced to kick a field goal that only extended its lead to 10-0.
The 10-point deficit was the largest of the season for a Chiefs team that entered the game undefeated, and the Chiefs finally put a dent in it midway through the second quarter, when Smith guided a seven-play, 73-yard drive that culminated in a 17-yard touchdown throw to tight end Travis Kelce.
And although Butker missed a potentially game-tying field goal in the waning seconds of the half, the Chiefs –– who only trailed 10-7 at the break –– had effectively seized the momentum once again, which showed on the opening drive of the third quarter.
That’s when the Chiefs –– aided by three Washington penalties on Washington’s aggressive, downhill defense –– marched 79 yards in 10 plays, as Smith scored on a 1-yard run to give the Chiefs a 14-10 lead, their first of the day.
It would be short-lived, however, as Cousins guided an impressive 75-yard scoring drive of his own only three plays. After tight end Vernon Davis danced around defenders for a 69-yard gain, Cousins beat Peters again, this time on a slant to receiver Ryan Grant that put Washington ahead 17-14.
Butker would redeem himself with a 26-yard field goal that tied the game late in the third quarter, and again with a 32-yarder that gave the Chiefs a 20-17 lead with four minutes, 51 seconds left in the game.
At that point, it was up to the defense –– one that has been largely opportunistic all season long –– to finish the job. Cousins was resilient, however, weaving his way through the defense on a number of scrambles that help set up a game-tying 40-yard field goal that knotted the score at 20-20 with 47 seconds left.
Unfortunately for Washington, that was simply too much time left on the clock to give a Chiefs team with no shortage of resiliency –– or heroes –– on this night.