It took the Kansas City Chiefs four games and a bye week ruminating over an embarrassing loss to Pittsburgh before they finally were able to execute their blueprint for victory.
The Oakland Raiders wound up on the receiving end of it.
In a crucial AFC West matchup on Sunday, the Chiefs were able to dictate the tempo of the game with their robust ground game.
They were able to put quarterback Alex Smith into smart passing situations that kept the defense honest. And their defense made life miserable for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
The result was a 26-10 win that moved them into a tie in the loss column for the division lead, and sets up a five-game stretch against teams with losing records in which they could seize control.
“It was getting back to us,” Smith said. “Balance within the run game, seeing misdirection, inside-outside, in the passing game, quick screens, throwing the ball downfield, stretching the field — that’s what we hang our hat on, to be able to be multiple and do a lot of different stuff.”
The Chiefs hardly had a chance to showcase that the first four weeks of the season.
They dug a massive hole against San Diego that forced them to abandon the run and air it out for the biggest comeback in franchise history.
They played lousy in offense in a loss in Houston, then relied on eight turnovers — including a pick-six — in their victory over the Jets.
Against the Steelers, the Chiefs again dug such a bottomless hole in the opening few minutes that they almost seemed to give up. The result was a humiliating 43-14 loss on national television.
Smith even acknowledged how much the frustration had been mounting.
“Any teammate that cares,” the veteran quarterback said, “yeah, you know they wear it.”
So, about that blueprint for success — exactly how well did the Chiefs fare in following it?
Well, they ran for 183 yards while throwing for 223 yards, precisely the kind of split that they find ideal.
Taking the pressure off Smith allowed him to complete 19 of 23 passes, and the fact that he was only sacked once was a big reason he averaged more than 10 yards per attempt.
It was easily his best day of the season, even if he didn’t throw a touchdown pass.
“We have full belief in that guy,” Chiefs wide receiver Albert Wilson said. “To have a person like that to be able to control so much talent in the wide receivers group to be able to get everybody the ball and to just take charge of that, it’s a great job by him.”
Not surprisingly, Smith deflected much of the praise directed at him to his running backs .
Spencer Ware carried 24 times for 131 yards and a touchdown, while Jamaal Charles ran for another 33 yards and a score as he continued to get more work in his second game back from ACL surgery.
As a team, the Chiefs averaged 4.6 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns on the ground.
“I’ve mentioned this before that we’ve been kind of shooting ourselves in the foot,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “If we ever get those things straightened out we have a better chance of doing OK.”
The Chiefs didn’t have a turnover despite sloppy conditions. They were penalized just twice for 10 yards. And they dominated time of possession, holding the ball for 36 minutes, 45 seconds.
All of those contributed to a strong performance by the defense, too.
The Raiders only managed 286 yards of total offense , converted just four third downs and failed to convert either of their fourth-down attempts. Carr was sacked twice, threw an interception and then lost a fumble in the fourth quarter, when the Raiders were trying to rally.
“It’s big, but we can’t get too high,” Chief safety Eric Berry said. “As soon as we watch film, we are going to be onto New Orleans. Correct mistakes that show up, and whatever we need to fix, we’re going to do that, but right now we’re just focusing on stacking wins like this.
“It was just one step on the ladder,” Berry added, “so we keep moving.”