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3 things we learned about the Chiefs

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In his two NFL seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, running back Charcandrick West followed teammate and Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles around like a puppy. West was a sponge, soaking up whatever knowledge Charles was willing to provide. One of those tidbits the veteran gave him was to take a few moments the day before the game to visualize his performance and write down his goals.

Charles’ season is over due to a knee injury, but his influence was felt on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium as West ran for 110 yards and scored the first touchdown of his NFL career in the Chiefs 23-13 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Following Charles’ advice, West wrote down his goals for the game: He wanted to run for 100-plus yards and he wanted to score a touchdown. He achieved both and was a big part of ending the Chiefs’ five-game losing streak. They are now 2-5 on the season.

“It’s still surreal for me, to even be in this position to score a touchdown,” said West, an undrafted free agent who signed with Kansas City last year out of Abilene Christian University. “I went to sleep last night telling myself, ‘You’ve got to see it before you can do it.’ I wanted my first touchdown and I wanted my first 100-yard game. I felt it.”

Along with the contribution of West and the Chiefs offense, the Kansas City defense turned in its best performance in over a month. Pittsburgh was without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (knee) and backup Michael Vick (hamstring). No. 3 quarterback Landry Jones was making his first NFL start, but the now 4-3 Steelers still had weapons, such as running back Le’Veon Bell (17 carries, 121 yards) and wide receiver Antonio Brown (six catches for 124 yards.)

But Jones threw a pair of interceptions and also lost a fumble when he was sacked, and Pittsburgh found the end zone just once.

“I don’t think I played very well; I’ve got to make more plays out there,” said Jones. “I can’t turn the ball over, and there were so many opportunities to go out there and win that game. You can’t win when you play like that.”

The Chiefs had limited offensive weapons as they were without Charles, who underwent surgery on the torn ACL in his right knee last week, and top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who did not play after suffering a concussion in last Sunday’s game. That’s where West and rookie wide receiver Chris Conley got their opportunities. Conley had his first NFL touchdown reception, a 6-yard pass from quarterback Alex Smith late in the fourth quarter, and finished with six catches for 63 yards.

The busiest players in the first half were the kickers, as the halftime score of 9-3 was established with field goals. Kansas City’s Cairo Santos hit from 22, 27 and 30 yards, but missed a 54-yard attempt. Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell made a 24-yarder.

The successful field goals all came because neither offense was productive inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The Steelers had a first-and-10 at the Chiefs 14-yard line and couldn’t get near the end zone. Kansas City’s offense had possessions on first down at Pittsburgh’s 13-, 19- and 9-yard lines and settled for three pointers on all three opportunities.

“That was frustrating because we had the opportunities,” said Smith. “We did what we had to do there and kept pushing it, and then at the end we were able to get the two touchdowns.”

What we learned about the Chiefs:

1. Andy Reid will make personnel changes in the starting lineup if there are performance problems. The Chiefs offensive line has struggled all season, but is the healthiest it’s been all season. So Reid scrambled the mix for the Pittsburgh game. Eric Fisher was moved from right tackle to left tackle. Jeff Allen came off the bench for his first offensive snaps of the season, starting at right tackle. Laurence Duvernay-Tardif moved back into the starting lineup at right guard. Those moves sent Donald Stephenson and Zach Fulton to the sidelines. Facing a defense that shows a lot of different rushes and blitzes, the Chiefs allowed only two sacks in 34 passing plays, and kept the pressure off quarterback Alex Smith. “They got us a couple times but I think for the most part we handled it very well,” said head coach Andy Reid. “There’s a certain attitude they brought to the game.” That group will start the next game, in London against Detroit.

2. Deja vu showed up, but the Chiefs didn’t let it happen. With less than two minutes to play in the third quarter, the Chiefs led the Pittsburgh Steelers by 13 points. There were 17 minutes left in the game. All looked good for the Chiefs to end their five-game losing streak. But they had been in similar positions in two other home games in the 2015 season; holding leads late in games against Denver and Chicago. They lost both times, as the Broncos and Bears came back to win. This time, the Chiefs banished deja vu, made big plays when they had to be made and beat the Steelers 23-13 to end their losing streak. “It was not much different than the other two games,” said quarterback Alex Smith. “It was us making the plays down the stretch. I think that was the bottom line, us staying aggressive in all facets of the game. There were plays made there at the end of the fourth quarter that won us the game.”

3. There’s still some gas in Tamba Hali’s tank. The 10-year linebacker has been battling knee problems for the last three seasons. In the week of preparation for Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh, Hali practiced only on Thursday, missing Wednesday and Friday workouts. But he stepped forward against the Steelers and produced five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. It was his first multi-sack game since December 2013. “It’s just good seeing him make plays and helping the team out like we know he can,” said safety Eric Berry. “It’s just good to see him out there ballin’.”

Etc.:

–RB Charcandrick West visualized a performance in the Chiefs game on Sunday against Pittsburgh where he ran for more than 100 yards and scored his first NFL touchdown. That’s what we down in the 23-13 victory over the Steelers as he ran for 110 yards and scored on a 1-yard touchdown dive in the third quarter. “It’s still surreal for me, to even be in this position to score a touchdown,” said West, an undrafted rookie free agent who signed with Kansas City last year out of Abilene Christian University. “I went to sleep last night telling myself you’ve got to see it before you can do it. I wanted my first touchdown and I wanted my first 100-yard game. I felt it.”

–WR Chris Conley grabbed his first NFL touchdown catch on a 6-yard pass from quarterback Alex Smith in the fourth quarter of the Chiefs victory over Pittsburgh. Conley caught six passes for 63 yards, and it was quite a different performance than last week against Minnesota. The rookie draft choice out of the University of Georgia dropped two passes and struggled to fill the shoes of Jeremy Maclin, who left that game with a concussion. “It feels great after a shaky week last week for me,” Conley said. “For the team to come out and for Alex to still believe in me and give me those opportunities speaks volumes of his trust.”

–OLB Tamba Hali posted his first multi-sack game since December 2013 when he dropped Pittsburgh quarterback Landry Jones twice in the victory over the Steelers. Over his 10-season career, Hali now has 82.5 sacks, third all-time with the Chiefs behind Derrick Thomas (126.5) and Neil Smith (86.5). He also forced a fumble, the 32nd of his career. Only Thomas with 45 has knocked the ball out more often.


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