After an hour and a half of misery, the Chiefs were finally having fun.
This was Sunday, early in the third quarter of the Chiefs’ road test against the Dallas Cowboys, and for the first time all game, the Chiefs had the lead, courtesy of a short touchdown catch by tight end Travis Kelce.
Kelce proceeded to gather in the end zone with receivers Tyreek Hill and Demarcus Robinson, and the trio –– dead serious –– feigned participating in a potato sack race, with Hill and Robinson falling, and Kelce the jubilant winner surrounded by his adoring teammates.
The Chiefs were celebrating like their lives depended on it, all in the name of fun. Good thing, too, because that score –– which put the Chiefs ahead by three –– would be last time any of them would have a chance to ham it up on this day.
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Dallas responded in a big way, as they tightened the screws on defense and put the game in the hands of quarterback Dak Prescott –– not running back Ezekiel Elliott –– and allowed him to carry the Cowboys to a 28-17 victory over the surprisingly juiceless Chiefs in front of a crowd of 93,273 at AT&T Stadium.
“I felt that was the only drive that we actually had energy on,” said Kelce, who led the Chiefs in receiving with seven catches and 73 yards. “I don’t know what that accumulates to, or what the reasoning is for that. But in the huddle, I felt that was the only time I felt we had energy.”
Even Chiefs coach Andy Reid agreed.
“We didn’t have a lot of energy,” Reid admitted.
Maybe it was the fact the bye week loomed, or the fact they were playing on five days rest instead of the customary six. But if you add that to the way Prescott –– who finished 21 of 33 for 249 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 27 yards and another score –– was playing, and it’s no wonder the Chiefs fell to 6-3 and lost for the third time in four weeks despite largely bottling up Elliott, who rushed 27 times for 93 yards and a touchdown against the league’s 28th-ranked run defense.
“I don’t know what comes first –– it’s hard to have great energy with two three-and-outs right off the bat,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “Guys are not going to be jacked and pumped and flying around the sideline.”
Prescott demonstrated mastery over the Chiefs right from the start, too. Late in the first quarter, the second-year pro completed five straight passes on a seven-play, 61-yard scoring march that was capped by a short touchdown catch by slot receiver Cole Beasley, who beat cornerback Steven Nelson over the middle for the score that put Dallas ahead 7-0.
The Chiefs answered with a field goal early in the second quarter, and the score remained 7-3 until late in the half, when Prescott directed another scoring march, this time capping the seven-play, 82-yard drive with a 10-yard scramble of his own to put the Cowboys ahead 14-3.
With 21 seconds left in the half, it appeared that would be the score going into the break. But a combination of the Cowboys’ charitable spirit, in addition to Tyreek Hill’s freaky athletic ability, led to a jaw-dropping score that gave the Chiefs a short-term momentum boost.
First, Cowboys safety Byron Jones was whistled for unnecessary roughness on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Chiefs the ball at their 37 instead of the 22.
Then –– after running back Charcandrick West made a smart move by ducking out of bounds with two seconds left on the tail end of a 12-yard catch –– the Cowboys thought it would be wise to dial up a prevent defense that stacked their own goal line, but conceded the middle of the field.
Problem is, the Chiefs have, arguably, the fastest man in football in Hill, who proceeded to catch a short pass in the vacant area of the field, and duck, dodge and weave his way between several Cowboys for a jaw-dropping 56-yard score that cut the Chiefs’ halftime deficit to 14-10.
“I just used my speed,” Hill said. “It turned out amazing.”
The Chiefs weren’t through riding the wave of that score yet, either.
After getting the ball first to start the third quarter, Smith –– who was forced to carry the offense as the Chiefs’ suddenly-dormant running game sputtered to another subpar effort, this time for 68 yards in 19 carries –– guided a nine-play, 62-yard scoring drive that was capped by his 2-yard touchdown throw to Kelce that put the Chiefs ahead 17-14, their first lead of the game, and seemed to give them some energy.
Even Smith, the Chiefs’ often-cool quarterback, got involved in the celebration.
“Everything in my body was telling me don’t do this,” said Smith, who felt some good-natured pressure from teammates to join in. “For some reason, I decided to do it. They call me chicken, so I did it. It’s even worse when you lose.”
Indeed, especially on a day in which the Cowboys racked up 375 total yards and went 7 for 12 on third downs. What’s more, the Cowboys’ receivers ran wild, and it wasn’t just Dez Bryant, who caught six passes for 73 yards. The Chiefs also proved incapable of covering Dallas’ No. 2 receiver Terrance Williams (nine catches, 141 yards), while Beasley –– their No. 3 receiver –– was in the midst of a two-touchdown day.
With all those weapons, it’s little wonder the Cowboys managed to respond on their very next drive, when Prescott completed 6 of 7 passes on a 13-play, 87-yard scoring march capped by a 2-yard plunge by Elliott that gave Dallas a 21-17 lead.
The Chiefs never led again. With the running game in the tank –– the Cowboys dominated up front –– the offense was effectively bottled up, never advancing past the Cowboys’ 45 the rest of the way.
“I think our guys did a good job controlling the line of scrimmage,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “They didn’t make a lot of big plays in this game. We forced them to drive it, we forced them to convert third downs and we slowed them do a little bit. It was a really big part of the game.”
Smith, who completed 25 of 34 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns, even threw his first interception of the season, ending his interception-less streak at 297 consecutive passes, the second-longest streak in franchise history.
Smith’s counterpart, Prescott, would have no such issues. His final touchdown pass of the day –– a short 7-yard throw to Beasley with a little over six minutes left –– put the Chiefs in an 11-point hole they would not dig out of as Dallas improved to 5-3 on the season.
“We knew going into the game that they are a very physical offense,” inside linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “I think at times we held up, but we were not good enough. Just an average game for us defensively, and when you play average, you usually get beat.”
The Chiefs will now have two weeks to stew on this loss as they head into the bye week. They do not play again until a road game Nov. 19 against the struggling New York Giants, who dropped to 1-7 Sunday with a 51-17 loss to the Rams.
“We’re going to take a step back here, regain our thoughts and evaluate ourselves and go forward,” Reid said. “I’m not making excuses for anybody here, we’ve all got to get better. We’re a team and we’ll do that.”
Surely, playing with more enthusiasm –– potato-sack race celebration be darned –– will be a point of emphasis, along with more precision.
“It’s easy to say the energy was down,” Smith said. “But we weren’t executing.”