The Kansas City Chiefs who were missing two Pro Bowl linebackers to injury, gave up a whopping 232 yards on the ground to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, but rode two first half touchdown passes from quarterback Alex Smith and a last-second defensive stand against Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel to escape with a 17-13 win Sunday. It was KC’s ninth consecutive win and, coupled with the 20-17 loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Baltimore Ravens, clinches a playoff spot. The Chiefs raised their season record to 10-5 and stand just one-half game out of first place in the AFC West behind Denver.
Smith threw for 125 yards and two touchdowns on a Jekyll-and-Hyde day for the offense that looked like it would blow the Browns out by 30 at one point in the first half, but then completely disappeared in the second half. Jeremy Maclin caught five passes for 49 yards and a touchdown while Travis Kelce added six catches for 43 yards and a 13-yard touchdown catch that put the Chiefs up 17-3 in the second quarter.
Here are the complete game stats from NFL.com.
Defensively, the Chiefs didn’t seem to miss linebackers Justin Houston or Tamba Hali, the two sackmasters that were named to the Pro Bowl earlier in the week. Nor were they missing starting safety Husain Abdullah, who was on the sidelines in street clothes due to concussion protocols. The Browns did virtually nothing on offense for two quarters of the game, but then discovered that the Chiefs defense couldn’t stop their running game, led by Manziel.
Fans that attended the frigid and blustery game at Arrowhead got a first-hand look at the good and bad sides of Manziel, the controversial 2014 first-round pick for the Browns. The upside were Manziel’s quick feet, athleticism, and big play ability to make something out of nothing. “Johnny Football” got off to a slow start on the day, but on the Browns last drive of the first half, something clicked and Manziel drove the Browns from his own 20-yard line to the Chiefs 33 in three plays. Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen made sure nothing came of it by blocking Travis Coons’51-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
But the Browns took the opening kickoff in the second half and methodically ran the ball into scoring position with a drive that ended with an Isaiah Crowell 10-yard run for a touchdown that cut the Chiefs lead to 17-10. The big plays on the drive were a 34-yard run off the left side by Manziel on first-and-10, an eight-yard run by Duke Johnson, Jr. on a third-and-6, and then Crowell’s scoring carry.
After forcing the Chiefs to punt, the Browns then embarked on a drive that was longer than many people’s drive to grandmother’s house this holiday weekend.
With 5:37 left in the third quarter, the Browns ripped off an excruciatingly frustrating 20-play drive that included a successful conversion of a fake punt on fourth-and-8 at the Browns’ 22-yard line … two consecutive third down conversions and then another successful fourth down pick up with almost all of the damage done by Manziel scrambling out of the pocket.
The Browns got as close as the Chiefs 8-yard line from tying the score, but an intentional grounding call on Manziel pushed the ball back out to the 18. Cleveland couldn’t convert the touchdown, but got a 36-yard field goal by Coons to cut the Chiefs lead to 17-13.
With 8:20 left in the fourth quarter and clinging to a lead, this has been the spot during the winning streak where the Chiefs have torn the hearts out of their opponents, outscoring them 50-0 over the last five games. However, the Browns defense, ranked 31st in the NFL against the run, stopped KC running back Charcandrick West on a third-and-one carry for no gain at the Chiefs 23-yard line. Instead of trying to pick up the six inches needed for a first down, Chiefs coach Andy Reid decided to punt the ball back to Cleveland and hope his defense had time enough to recover from the 12-minute drive Cleveland had just punished them with.
Facing a fourth-and-8 on the Chiefs 30-yard line, Browns coach Mike Pettine made the kind of decision that leads to your squad being 3-11 on the season. Passing up a field goal that could have made the score 17-16, Pettine went for it on fourth down but Manziel’s pass wasn’t even in the same ZIP code as his receiver and the Chiefs took possession with 2:55 left on the clock and just needing one first down to ice the game.
Unfortunately, the Chiefs could only pick up six yards and – because the Browns used the rest of their timeouts – take 55 seconds off the clock before punting the ball and setting up the dynamic but erratic Manziel for a potential game-winning touchdown drive.
Manziel sandwiched two completions for 27 yards around an 11-yard scramble to position the Browns at the Chiefs 32-yard line. After spiking the ball to kill the clock, Chiefs fans got to witness the not-so-good part of Manziel’s game – the game management part. With 15 seconds left in the game and no timeouts left, Manziel hit wide receiver Darius Jennings at the 18-yard line, but the throw went into the middle of the field and Jennings was tackled by safety Ron Parker. The clock ran out as Cleveland scrambled to try and spike the ball one more time.
Good Johnny Manziel ended the day with 108 yards rushing on 11 carries, but Bad Johnny only had 136 yards passing on a 13-for-32 day that didn’t seem like he threw the ball even THAT well. Even the passes he did complete seemed to be more accidental than intentional.
The fans, emotionally spent after a long holiday weekend and an unexpected fight from a bad Browns team, headed for the exits. By the time they made it to their cars, the Steelers had dropped their game in Baltimore and the Chiefs were back in the playoffs for the second time in Reid’s three years in KC.
The Chiefs can use the week to shake off the frustration of chasing after Johnny Football all day and prepare for arch-rival Oakland to come into Arrowhead next Sunday afternoon. By beating the Raiders next week, the Chiefs will either lock up the #5 seed in the playoffs, or perhaps get crowned the AFC West champions if the Denver Broncos lose to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football.