KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If this is really the season when the Kansas City Chiefs find their way back to their first Super Bowl appearance in 48 years, then Monday night will be a moment that will be remembered as a critical juncture in that journey. Their 29-20 win over the Washington Redskins didn't involve scintillating highlights or the double-digit leads Kansas City has enjoyed in recent weeks. This victory instead was about a team revealing what it can do when it's playing outside its comfort zone. It was the kind of win that ultimately defines a true championship pedigree.
The Chiefs knew that beating the Redskins wouldn't be an easy task. That much was apparent by the way Washington dominated the Oakland Raiders a week earlier, when it held a potent offense to just 128 total yards and no third-down conversions. The Redskins brought that same aggressiveness to Arrowhead Stadium on Monday night and, in the process, gave the Chiefs everything they could handle. The difference on this evening was that Kansas City had far more fight in them than the Raiders ever displayed in their defeat.
This easily could've been the game when the luster came off the Chiefs' fast start. Yes, they beat the defending champion New England Patriots in Week 1 while also clawing out tough wins against the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers after that. Those victories were enough to convince many people that the Chiefs had become the best team in the league. Monday night started out with the Kansas City players acting as if they thoroughly believed their fanfare.
The Redskins were the more aggressive team, which made the possibility of an upset all the more likely early in the contest. Washington scored on its first possession -- when quarterback Kirk Cousins hit Terrelle Pryor for a 44-yard touchdown pass -- and held a 10-0 lead until late in the second quarter. The Chiefs looked like a team that wasn't ready to match the Redskins' energy in the first half. Kansas City also resembled a squad that was dealing with an assortment of injuries, especially after right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardifsustained a knee injury in the first quarter that sidelined him for the remainder of the contest.
The health problems plaguing the Chiefs' offensive line -- center Mitch Morse and left guard Parker Ehinger were already sidelined -- played a huge role in Washington's ability to harass quarterback Alex Smith, who was sacked four times. What those issues didn't do was prevent the Chiefs from battling back and eventually winning this game. This victory will be remembered for the efforts from less-acclaimed players on the roster, people like wide receivers Chris Conley and Albert Wilson and kicker Harrison Butker, who just joined the team this week. Butker's 43-yard field goal with four seconds left won the game but that was merely the final contribution from a team that needed to dig deep on this night.
To understand the way this game was played, all you have to know is the way Chiefs head coach Andy Reid summarized his team's efforts through an image he had of star outside linebacker Justin Houston late in the game. Reid recalled seeing Houston worn down by fatigue and constant double-teams by the Redskins' brutish offensive line. However, Houston -- who scored the game's final points on a 13-yard fumble return of a botched lateral play by the Redskins -- kept battling his way through the contest. It was the type of effort Reid saw in his entire squad.
"[Houston] fought to get himself back out there," said Reid after his team improved to 4-0 to remain the last undefeated team in the NFL this season. "He took it to that next level and reached down just a little bit deeper. That's one of your team leaders and that's contagious. With the parity in the league, you're going to have a few games like this. You're going to have to dig down there where you don't necessarily want to go, but you find a way to do it."
The mindset that Reid saw in Houston is showing up all over the Chiefs. Smith continues to enjoy what could be the best season of his career, as his decision-making continually put Kansas City in advantageous situations on Monday. He made plays with his arm (completing 27 of 37 passes for 293 yards and a touchdown) and his legs (rushing for 56 yards on seven attempts) and he was at his best when the Chiefs took possession of the ball with 47 seconds and the game tied at 20. The biggest play of the drive culminating in Butker's winning kick was a Smith scramble that ended with him finding Wilson for a 37-yard gain.
The Chiefs benefited from the significant contributions of other stars -- Hunt ran for 101 yards on 21 carries and tight end Travis Kelce had seven receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown -- but that just tells you how much credit there was to go around in this win. The Chiefs ultimately changed the momentum of the entire game in the third quarter, when they held the ball for more than 13 minutes. The Redskins did score a touchdown during that period -- Cousins hit Ryan Grant for a 3-yard touchdown -- but the Chiefs seemed to find their comfort zone after that.
"They had good methodical drives with a lot of plays and it chewed up a lot of clock," Cousins said. "I think that's why they're an undefeated football team, because they do some really good things on offense and kept the ball out of our hands. We scored so quickly in the third quarter that it also put our defense right back on the field."
That defense became too winded in the second half to keep pace with a Chiefs team that is now averaging 30.5 points per game. The Redskins also felt the absence of cornerback Josh Norman, who was lost to a fractured rib during the game. After the contest, the Redskins talked like a team that blew a great opportunity to upset a strong competitor on the road. They knew they had plenty of good opportunities to leave Kansas City with a win.
That ultimately didn't happen because the Chiefs found answers for their own problems. They were battered and bruised and maybe even a little too full of themselves. The best of teams can fall when too many of those factors align against them. The ones that really have legitimate championship potential, as these Chiefs are proving every week, eventually find a way to get the job done.