Kansas City Chiefs
held on to beat the
, 21-13, Thursday night at Arrowhead Stadium in a game that was as frigid as it was surprising.
The surprising thing about the Chiefs’ win wasn’t that they won, it was how they won: Thanks to a bizarro game from
who did everything he usually doesn’t do.
If you’ve watched Smith over the course of his career, then you know that he’s always safe with the ball and he loves to check down and throw the short pass. Well, Smith threw the check downs out the window in the first half, and didn’t seem to care much for ball safety in the second half in the eight-point win.
In the first half, Smith shocked the Raiders by taking several shots down field. It wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that Smith requested a more vertical game plan after he was called out by Raiders coach Jack Del Rio in October. After the Chiefs’ 26-10 win in Oakland, Del Rio said Smith was a “gimmicky” quarterback.
“If he’s got to rely on throwing the ball, it’s really not his strong suit, but if you allow them to run the ball, do some of their gimmicky things, then he comes to life,” Del Rio said. “That’s what they were able to do today.”
Clearly, Smith wanted to prove he could win without the gimmicks.
The Chiefs quarterback isn’t known for hitting the long ball, but he did it on Thursday as he connected on six passes of over 15 yards in the first half.
That total includes a 36-yard touchdown pass to
in the second quarter, which was one of three passes of over 30 yards that Smith connected on in the game.
With the way Smith played in the first half (11 of 16, 202 yards and a touchdown), the Chiefs looked like a team with a quarterback who could lead them to the Super Bowl — unless he can’t.
In the second half, the wheels fell off the wagon for the usually safe Smith as he turned the ball over on Kansas City’s first two possessions of the half. Those turnovers included an interception to Oakland’s
and a strip-sack by
In both instances, the Raiders got the ball at Kansas City’s 18-yard line. However, thanks to a stellar performance from the Chiefs’ defense and a bobbled field goal snap by the Raiders, Oakland was only able to come away with a total of three points on the two turnovers.
In the second half, Smith was just 6 of 11 for 62 yards, along with an interception, and the Chiefs only rolled up 102 yards of total offense. Although it was an ugly half, it doesn’t matter now because the Chiefs came away with a win. They also came away with something more important: The knowledge that Smith just might be good enough to take this team on a Super Bowl run.
Let’s look at nine other things to know from Thursday’s game
Derek Carr’s pinkie didn’t look good
Although Carr insisted his pinkie was healthy in this game, it’s pretty clear that wasn’t the case. The Raiders quarterback, who dislocated his pinkie in two places on Nov. 27 struggled for almost the entire game and finished an ugly 17 of 41 for 117 yards. Carr wasn’t helped by his receivers, who dropped five passes.
Derek Carr has had the most passes dropped (31) and the most air yards lost due to drops (278) of any QB in the league
— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) December 5, 2016
However, even if you include those five drops as catches, Carr still wasn’t himself. The Raiders quarterback was erratic for most of the night, throwing in front of receivers, behind receivers and over their head. At one point, NBC showed a graphic that proved Carr wasn’t using his pinkie at all to grip the ball.
As you can see below, Smith was using his, but Carr wasn’t.
It’s not ideal to leave your pinkie off the ball, and it’s especially not ideal when the ball is slick due to low temperatures.
More telling is the fact that Carr actually looked to be in some pain when he was throwing the ball. On a third down play in the fourth quarter, Carr had a wide open
, but floated the pass too far down field. Although Cooper stumbled on the play, it would’ve been a tough catch even if had stayed up.
As for Carr, he grimaced as he threw the ball and he seemed to be in pain as he tried to get the ball 35-yards downfield to Cooper.
Carr likely won’t admit it, but his injured pinkie seemed to be a big reason why he struggled. Things were especially bad in the final two quarters, as Carr was just 7 of 23 for 40 yards in the second half.
The Chiefs defense might’ve just won the AFC West
Although Derek Carr’s pinkie played a big part in Oakland’s offensive struggles, that wasn’t the only reason the Raiders were bad on Thursday. The Chiefs defense also deserves a lot of the credit. Despite losing linebacker
in the first half, the Chiefs were still able to shut the Raiders down.
Of Oakland’s seven offensive drives in the first half, the Chiefs’ forced a three-and-out on all five of them.
If you don’t count turnovers, the Raiders only drove into Chiefs’ territory two times in the entire game, and one of those came at the end of the game, where the Chiefs made a huge play on an Oakland third-and-1 with just 2:06 left.
Kansas City also made a big play on fourth-and-6 to seal the game one play later. The return of
continues to be a boon for the defense, while
‘s dominance in the secondary was a big reason why Carr struggled.
As a matter of fact, Carr’s 117 yards in the game was the second-lowest total in NFL history for any quarterback who thew 40 or more passes in a game.
also had a big game for the Chiefs, with a team-high eight tackles.
Raiders botch their late-game play calling
Yes, we just blamed the Raiders’ offensive struggles on Derek Carr’s pinkie and the Chiefs defense, but there was also one more cause: Inexplicable play calling.
The most confounding call of the game came on a third-and-1 with just 2:06 left to play. The Raiders were on Kansas City’s 14-yard line and needed just ONE YARD to keep the drive alive, so what did they do?
They threw a fade to
, who was being covered by 2015’s defensive rookie of the year,
. The pass was the first one Holmes saw in the entire game, and of course, it didn’t work.
The call made no sense for three reasons: The Chiefs didn’t have Johnson, and
was averaging 4.7 yards per carry in the game (22 carries, 103 yards).
After that, the Raiders had one more chance on a fourth-and-6 (they were called for a false start on fourth-and-1). So what did they do? They threw a fade to
It was almost as if coach Jack Del Rio thought the fade was the only play in the Raiders playbook. Trying it once wasn’t smart, trying it twice was horrible, especially with a quarterback who was off target for most of the game.
The Raiders almost deserve to lose the division for those two play calls.
The NFL needs a new rookie of the year award
The NFL gives out an offensive rookie of the year award and a defensive rookie of the year award after every season, but they don’t give out a special teams rookie of the year award, which is too bad for Tyreek Hill because he would probably have that thing wrapped up by now.
Hill turned this game around in the second quarter with two touchdowns: One of those came on a 36-yard reception, and the other one came on a 78-yard punt return that you can see below.
Hill’s return in the second quarter was the final score of the game for Kansas City, and at the time, put the Chiefs up 21-3.
The touchdown was Hill’s second return touchdown in three weeks and puts him in the record book as the only rookie in the Super Bowl-era to score a touchdown on a punt return, kick return, reception and run during his rookie season.
Forget rookies though, Hill is doing things that most veteran returners have never done.
Tyreek Hill is the 3rd player (Devin Hester & Eddie Kennison) since 1970 with 2 games in a single season with 1+ rec TD & 1+ kick return TD
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) December 9, 2016
Besides crushing the Raiders with his return skills, Hill was also solid weapon for Alex Smith in the game. The rookie caught six passes for 66 yards and a touchdown.
The two touchdowns were a redemption of sorts for Hill, who muffed a punt in the first quarter that was recovered by the Raiders.
After the muff, the Raiders took over possession on Kansas City’s 38-yard line and would end up getting a 44-yard field goal from
on the drive.
Raiders punter doesn’t get to ride the pony, but
has made a name for himself this year with his wild celebrations. However, King didn’t get to celebrate anything against the Chiefs. Not only did the Raiders’ punter bobble a field goal snap in the game, but he also watched Hill return one of his punts for a touchdown in the second quarter.
After Hill’s score, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce stole King’s celebration dance and gave the Raiders’ punter a taste of his own medicine.
If anyone was allowed to mock King in this game, it was Kelce. The Chiefs tight end had a huge night, catching five passes for 101 yards. Kelce now has 100 yards in four straight games, joining Tony Gonzalez and
as the other tight ends as the only other tight ends to accomplish that feat since 1970.
Chiefs running back honors Joe McKnight
One of the best moments in the game came in the second quarter after a three-yard touchdown run by Chiefs running back
. Following the score, West went over to the Chiefs’ sideline and celebrated the touchdown by lifting up his jersey.
If you can’t read his shirt, it says, “Long live Joe.”
The shirt was made to honor former NFL running back Joe McKnight, who was shot to death in Louisiana on Dec. 1 after a road rage incident. The man who killed McKnight, Ronald Gasser, has been charged with manslaughter.
This loss is going to hit the Raiders hard because now they go from the No. 1 seed in the AFC to the No. 5 seed. At 10-3, the Raiders are tied with the Chiefs in the AFC West, but Kansas City is technically in first because the Chiefs hold the tiebreaker over the Raiders thanks to their season sweep.
As the first place team in the AFC West, the Chiefs are now the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind New England.
For a complete look at the playoff picture, be sure to check out Jared Dubin’s breakdown of the biggest games as we head into Sunday.
Welcome to the frozen tundra of Arrowhead Stadium
The temperature at kickoff for this game was 21 degrees, which isn’t a temperature that teams from California see that all that often. For the Raiders, it was only the fifth time since 2000 that they’ve played a game where the kickoff temperature was under 25 degrees, and it showed. During the first half, the Raiders looked like they wanted to be anywhere but out on the freezing cold field.
Including Thursday’s game, the Raiders are now 1-4 since 2000 when the kickoff temperature is under 25 degrees.
As for the Chiefs, the cold weather was actually unfamiliar territory for them, too. The 21-degree kickoff temperature made Thursday’s game the coldest one at Arrowhead Stadium since Week 16 in 2010. Including Thursday’s game, the Chiefs are now 5-5 since 2000 when the kickoff temperature is 25 degrees or below at home.
Pretty much every fan in Kansas city came bundled up for the game.
Bonus points to that fan for dressing up like the Chiefs’ mascot.
After the game, it was probably a long walk out of the stadium for most fans because when things ended at 10:38 p.m. CT, the temperature was down to 18 degrees.
Color Rush in Kansas City
If you’ve been watching Thursday night games this year, then you’ve probably noticed that each team is wearing a fancy new uniform combination every week, and that was no different for this game.
For the Color Rush in Kansas City, the Chiefs went with an all-red uniform combination and the Raiders went all-white.
Judging by the reaction on Twitter, the Raiders’ combo was actually pretty popular.
Fair point by that last tweeter.
The big difference between the Raiders’ Color Rush jerseys and their regular jerseys is that the numbers on the Color Rush jerseys are silver, while the numbers on Oakland’s regular white jerseys are black.