The Alex Smith-led Kansas City Chiefs are here to save the 2017 NFL season. In a season lacking good teams -- the Patriots' defense stinks, the Seahawks' offensive line is a catastrophe, the Packers always need their quarterback to perform like a god, the Falcons have been playing down to their level of competition, etc. -- the Chiefs have been the lone exception. At the quarter mark of the season, they're the best team in football, evidenced by their NFL-best 4-0 record.
They got to 4-0 by beating the Redskins 29-20 on Monday night, which came after wins against the Patriots (in Foxborough), the Eagles (at home) and the Chargers (in Los Angeles). That's not the easiest slate of games to open up a season. It's a schedule that only a well-coached, talented team could've survived unscathed. And that's exactly what the Chiefs did.
At Arrowhead Stadium on Monday night, the Chiefs were hardly perfect. Missing three offensive linemen, they failed to open up holes for Kareem Hunt or provide solid pass protection for Smith, who looked jumpy in the pocket at times. These weren't the primetime Chiefs we saw in Week 1, when they torched the Patriots. These were the Chiefs of previous seasons -- a team that relies on top-notch defensive play and just enough offense to get the job done. But it worked.
Meanwhile, give credit to the Redskins -- now 2-2 -- for going into a hostile environment against the league's best team and almost leaving with a win despite dealing with countless injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Washington is legit. The offense might not be as explosive as it was a year ago -- that's what happens when you part ways with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon in a single offseason-- but its defense should keep them competitive in the NFC East. Credit defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and, of course, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.
Of course, you do.
The beginning of the game belonged to the Redskins. On the opening drive, Kirk Cousins hit Terrelle Pryor for a 44-yard touchdown against Marcus Peters. After forcing a quick punt, the Redskins scored again, this time on a 19-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins. Why the Redskins, whose offensive line was manhandling the Chiefs' front-seven in the early going, didn't try to put the Chiefs in a 14-0 hole from the 1-yard line instead (after they already converted a fourth-and-1 earlier on the drive) is beyond me.
And then the scoring stopped. The teams exchanged punts until the Chiefs' final drive of the first half. That's when the Chiefs finally put all the pieces together, grooving on a seven-play, 73-yard drive that found its way into the end zone courtesy of a 17-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce. The Chiefs even had a chance to tie the game after getting a stop, but rookie kicker Harrison Butker missed a 46-yard field goal just before halftime.
It didn't matter. The Chiefs got their lead early in the second half. After an (avoidable) offsides penalty was called on the Redskins on third-and-goal, which extended the Chiefs' drive, Smith ran in a zone-read to give the Chiefs a 14-10 lead.
The apparently ageless Vernon Davis dug the Redskins out of the hole. The 33-year-old tight end beat the Chiefs deep for a 69-yard reception that set up a short touchdown pass from Cousins to Ryan Grant, giving the Redskins their three-point lead right back. Suddenly, the game opened up. The Chiefs quickly erased the lead, kicking a tying field goal just before the end of the quarter. The game entered the fourth quarter at 17-17.
The Chiefs ended up taking the lead on a Kareem Hunt-dominated drive that was aided by another dumb Redskins penalty -- hands to the face on third down -- when Butker hit his second field goal with 4:51 remaining in the game. Cousins did his best to rally the Redskins on a game-winning drive, but his potential (and perfect) game-winning pass to Josh Doctson fell incomplete when the ball was jarred loose by the ground. Let's check in on Jay Gruden:
Washington settled for a tying field goal. The only problem? They left too much time for the surgical Smith, who used the remaining 47 seconds to get the Chiefs into field goal range, where Butker drilled the game-winning field goal with four seconds left. The Chiefs added a meaningless fumble-recovery touchdown on the game's final play to stretch the final margin to nine points.
Read on for nine takeaways from the game.
1. Alex Smith: Actually good
Entering Week 4, Smith ranked first in completion percentage (77.4), fourth in yards per attempt (9.21), tied for second in passing touchdowns (7), tied for first in interceptions (0) and first in passer rating (132.7). On Monday night, it never really felt like he was playing stellar. But take a look at his stat line. It was good!
He went 27 of 37 for 293 yards, one touchdown, zero picks and a 104.9 passer rating. He added 56 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
And he overcame the Chiefs' makeshift offensive line, which struggled in pass protection.
Most impressively, he led a game-winning drive with less than a minute remaining in the game. With the score tied, his 37 yard completion on the run to Albert Wilson proved to be the difference in the game. Alex Smith isn't just good in 2017. He's also apparently clutch. Somehow, he has suddenly morphed into Tom Brady.
OK, so that last part might be an exaggeration. But the thing is, Smith might not even need to be one of the best quarterbacks in football for this Chiefs team to go deep in the postseason. In their past playoff failures, they've often failed to get past better foes because Smith hasn't been good enough to elevate them above superior competition. This year, though, as previously noted, there aren't any great teams -- at least so far. The Chiefs, with Hunt being their big offseason addition, might be the best team in football outside of the quarterback position. And if that's the case, then Smith's style of play could work in January.
If he can keep playing like he has through the first four weeks, well, look out. The Chiefs could be special.
2. Travis Kelce: More than good enough
When the Chiefs decided to cut Jeremy Maclin in the summer, the move was met with shock, namely because the Chiefs didn't have another capable receiver. Were the Chiefs really betting on Tyreek Hill transitioning from special playmaker to reliable pass catcher? What was their plan?
Travis Kelce was their plan. The tight end is the Chiefs' best receiver. On Monday night, he caught seven passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.
Kelce's celebration? Elite, per usual.
Kelce also picked up a first down on a direct snap that involved a play fake because Andy Reid's playbook is awesome.
3. Don't blame Kirk Cousins
The loss isn't on Kirk Cousins, who played well enough to win. Cousins completed 14 of his 24 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns, no picks and a 116.7 passer rating. The Chiefs kept putting the Redskins into deficits in the second half and Cousins kept responding.
He did that by finding Davis for a huge gain:
And he did it by using his legs on the Redskins' game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. That drive would've been a game-winning drive if Doctson had been able to hold onto this perfectly placed pass in the final minute.
Cousins deserved better.
4. Where is Chris Thompson?
Jay Gruden made a couple of questionable decisions during the game -- like his refusal to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line and calling timeout on their final series, which gave the Chiefs more time for their game-winning drive. One decision that shouldn't be forgotten? His refusal to give Chris Thompson, the Redskins' best back, the ball.
Thompson was coming off back-to-back games of at least 100 yards from scrimmage. Yet he only totaled six carries and one reception on Monday night. The Redskins need to realize that Thompson -- not Samaje Perine or Rob Kelley -- is their best running back. They need to realize it soon.
5. Kareem Hunt comes alive in the fourth quarter
For much of the game, the Redskins bottled up Hunt -- by his standards, at least. Finally, though, Hunt broke free in the fourth quarter.
He finished with 101 yards on 21 carries and 20 receiving yards on four receptions. And so, his historic start to his career continued.
Kareem Hunt is 4th player in SB era to start career w/ 4 straight games with 100+ scrimmage yds (A. Peterson, L. Tomlinson & B. Sims)— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 3, 2017
6. Josh Norman goes down
The Chiefs finally got on the board with a touchdown pass to Kelce. It was a nice pass from Smith and a nice contested grab by Kelce. What you might've missed is the fact that Josh Norman wasn't on the field. Norman likely would've been covering Kelce on that specific play, but he was on the sideline getting his ribs checked. And the Chiefs capitalized on his absence.
Norman didn't return. At halftime, Jay Gruden told ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters that Norman could miss a few weeks. That's a huge loss for a defense that's humming. All of the Chiefs' points came without Norman on the field.
7. Terrelle Pryor finally does something
It has been a rough start to Pryor's stop in Washington. In the first three games of the season, the ex-Browns receiver totaled 10 receptions, 116 yards, and zero touchdowns. But on the Redskins' opening drive on Monday night, he busted his touchdown drought.
Impressively, he did it by beating Marcus Peters deep downfield for a 44-yard touchdown, which is the longest touchdown catch of his career, according to NFL Research.
Yeah, that push off probably should've been flagged, but if the officials don't call it, it doesn't really matter. Just ask Golden Tate.
Anyway, Pryor compiled easily the best game of his Redskins career, hauling in three passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.
8. A bad night for Marcus Peters
Peters didn't just give up a touchdown to Pryor. He was also burned by Ryan Grant for a touchdown.
According to Pro Football Focus' Nathan Jahnke, Monday night was the first time Peters gave up two touchdowns in a game since his debut.
Marcus Peters allowed 2 touchdowns in his first NFL game. Prior to tonight, he had gone 36 straight games without allowing 2 TDs in a game— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) October 3, 2017
Even the league's best players get beat sometimes.
9. What's next?
The Chiefs will travel to Houston to take on the 2-2 Texans, who are suddenly explosive with Deshaun Watson under center, on "Sunday Night Football." After that, they'll face the Steelers at home, the Raiders (who might be without Derek Carr) in Oakland, the Broncos at home, and Cowboys in Dallas before their Week 10 bye. So, it won't be an easy road to an unbeaten season.
Meanwhile, the Redskins get an early bye next week. After, they'll host the 49ers before their schedule takes a tough turn. Looming on the schedule are dates with the Eagles, Cowboys, and Seahawks.