Whoever nicknamed the National Football League the “No Fun League” forgot to tell the Chiefs and Falcons.
Following Kansas City’s epic overtime victory Sunday night over the rival Broncos, sealed on Cairo Santos’ 37-yard game-winning field goal that ricocheted off the left upright prior to landing safely behind the crossbar, Santos took to Twitter.
“Called the bank shot. Just forgot to tell Colquitt,” Santos tweeted, referring to holder Dustin Colquitt, who’s captured in a photo, kneeling with helmet dejectedly in hand, as Santos is commencing his celebration.
At least Santos had fun at his teammate’s expense, unlike the Falcons, whose Twitter barb while they were still dispatching the Cardinals at home Sunday was directed at professional sports’ easiest target, the Browns.
After former Browns wideout Taylor Gabriel’s second explosive touchdown of the afternoon and fifth in the past four games, Atlanta tweeted a screen grab of Gabriel’s Wikipedia page. It reads, “On September 3, 2016, he was released by the Browns.” The Falcons added, “Thanks! @Browns”
Indeed, winning is fun, and the Chiefs, 8-3 and on the heels of the AFC West-leading Raiders, and 7-4 Falcons, who are pacing the NFC South, are enjoying themselves thoroughly.
Perhaps the underlying theme for both of these surging teams is resourcefulness.
The rocket-like ascent of Gabriel, the 5-8, 165-pound former Browns blur, coincided with a hamstring injury to Tevin Coleman last month. Coleman is both blitz beater and scoreboard heater with his electrifying combination of speed, suddenness and savvy as a receiver. Just as Coleman went down, Gabriel emerged, giving offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan a hemi-powered Swiss army knife.
Defensively, Dan Quinn’s squad has converted college end Vic Beasley to ‘Sam’ ‘backer, where he leads the club with 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. He’ll look to again spearhead Atlanta’s improved pass rush, likely without injured Adrian Clayborn, against a suddenly vulnerable Chiefs front wall that let Denver punish Alex Smith with six sacks and eight QB hits.
Sophomore cornerback Jalen Collins has gone from suspended to begin the season to key cog in Week 12, when he replaced injured top CB Desmond Trufant in the starting lineup and shared the team tackle lead with heat-seeking missile and rookie safety Keanu Neal. Collins added three pass breakups, the last foiling a two-point conversion that buried Arizona for 2016.
The Chiefs’ incredible ability to adapt dates back at least to last season, when their 10-game win streak to clinch a postseason spot coincided with serious knee injuries to their top two players, Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston.
Charles is on injured reserve, again. That’s sad because he’s the franchise’s all-time leading rusher and might be done in Kansas City. But his balky knee serendipitously opened the door for Spencer Ware, who’s a crafty and courageous runner capable of picking up yards in bunches like Charles.
Tyreek Hill sensed an opening when Jeremy Maclin went down three weeks ago with a groin injury. All he’s done since is join Hall of Famer Gale Sayers as the first NFL rookie since 1965 to bat for the triple crown in a single game: Hill scored as a runner, receiver and kick returner – all three of the Chiefs’ touchdowns – in the knock-down, drag-out road win in Denver. Hill also leads the NFL in punt return yardage.
Then there’s Houston. Before he returned two weeks ago and dominated whichever helpless Broncos right tackle was supposed to block him Sunday night with three sacks, four tackles for loss and a forced fumble, Dee Ford was demolishing the league for 10 sacks in his breakout third campaign.
Ford was inactive Sunday with a hamstring injury, making the timing of Houston’s reintroduction both fortuitous and vital. When they’re both on the field together along with Tamba Hali, perhaps Sunday, Atlanta’s excellent OT pairing of Jake Matthews (left) and Ryan Schraeder (right) will have as tough an assignment keeping Matt Ryan clean as they’ve seen since their own road win over the Broncos in October.
That takes us to Ryan, the orchestrator of coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s big-play production and arguably the frontrunner for NFL MVP, opposing Smith, who’s essentially the antithesis while safely guiding Andy Reid’s – we’ll just call it conservative – offense (5.2 yards per play compared to Atlanta’s 6.6).
Smith led three 10-play drives late for Kansas City after getting nothing done against the Broncos ‘D’ for the better part of three quarters. The next time Ryan doesn’t eclipse 200 passing yards in a game will be the first since Week 10 of the 2013 season, an NFL record spanning 50 games.
Two different styles, perhaps, but similarly resourceful and undeniably fun – and successful.