By Matt Derrick
DETROIT — In the midst of chaos on the field, the words of Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo rang clear inside the head of cornerback Bashaud Breeland – scoop up the ball and run.
“Coach Spags preach that every day,” Breeland said. “Pick the ball up, whether it’s live or dead, we never know. We always pick it up and let the chips fall where they may.”
That’s exactly what Breeland did in the middle a wild third quarter Sunday, fueling the Chiefs to a 34-30 win over the Detroit Lions.
A face mask penalty on defensive tackle Xavier Williams gave the Lions a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line, and running back Kerryon Johnson appeared heading into the end zone for a touchdown that would give his team the lead. But in the midst of pileup at the goal line, Williams managed to knock the ball from Johnson’s hand. Williams landed on the ball, but couldn’t corral it. That’s when Breeland jumped into action.
“I saw it down, I didn’t hear no whistle,” Breeland said. “I saw my teammate picked it up and he kind of put it back down. I stared at him, so I just picked it up and ran with it. Just hoped that it wasn’t down.”
It wasn’t, and Breeland streaked 100 yards for a touchdown that put the Chiefs in front 20-13. No one on the field seemed to know exactly what happened, including safety Tyrann Mathieu.
“I actually initially made the tackle, so I was at the bottom of the pile,” Mathieu said. “I didn’t know what was going on, I just saw white jerseys running and I got up and tried to meet them in the end zone.”
After a conference on the field, the officials ruled the play a fumble and a touchdown for the Chiefs. A replay review allowed the call to stand. NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron said after the game the officials didn’t blow a whistle because they did not see the ball carrier down.
“They did not see a body part other than the hand or foot down,” Riveron told pool reporter Paula Pasche. “The ball comes loose and then the ball was picked up by Kansas City, No. 21. He was not touched after he possessed the football. There was no whistle on the play, and he runs it back for a touchdown.”
That was but one of a series of wacky and wild plays in a 53-minute long third quarter. The two teams exchanged fumbles on the first four drives of the period and five lost fumbles in total in the quarter. The Lions started three of their four third-quarter drives on the Kansas City side of the 50, but mustered only one touchdown and a field goal.
That’s a difficult situation for a defense forced to constantly defend its own end zone, Mathieu said.
“It’s hard to play defense like that,” Mathieu said. I think they scored one time, but we held up pretty well.”
Yet in a game filled with turnovers and defensive stands, it as an offensive drive that put the game away.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes didn’t deliver his A-plus stuff on Sunday. He finished the game 24-of-42 passing for 315 yards and no touchdowns. His 81.0 passer rating ranks as the third-lowest in his young career. Yet the Chiefs started their final drive with 2:26 on the clock at their own 21-yard line, trailing 30-27, with all the confidence in the world. Mathieu said the Chiefs had all the faith in the world Mahomes would put them in the end zone.
“His demeanor doesn’t change whether we’re up by 30 or down by 10 points,” Mathieu said. “It feels good to have a quarterback like that, and it goes throughout the locker room, it goes through the team, we always feel like we got a shot.”
Tight end Travis Kelce agreed.
“No matter how long it takes us to get it there, whether it’s one play or 16 plays, 20 plays, it doesn’t matter,” Kelce said. “We’re going north, and we’re getting that ball in that end zone, and I think Pat does an unbelievable job of rallying the troops when when we need it most.”
It took 13 plays in 2:06, but Mahomes got the Chiefs into the end zone. A 15-yard scramble on fourth-and-8 from the Chiefs’ 34-yard line extended the drive. Mahomes completed 6-of-9 passing for 55 yards on the game-winning drive.
Mahomes said he had a simple message to his offensive squad on the final drive – “Be who you are.”
“It’s not about someone having to do something spectacular, it’s not about someone having to do and be more than themselves,” Mahomes said. “It’s about believing in each other and just being who we are and then letting everything fall in line whenever you follow those footsteps.”
That message made an impact, Kelce said. Mahomes found five different receivers on the final drive, and second-year back Darrel Williams provided the muscle in the ground game.
“We have faith in every single one of the guys in that locker room, Kelce said. “It doesn’t matter who it is or what they’re doing. We have Patrick Mahomes back there slinging that rock.”
Williams finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Replays showed he may scored on a first down, but officials ruled him down short of the goal line. He finished the job on second down, with a helpful shove from center Austin Reiter.
“Being on the 1-yard line as a running back, you shouldn’t be denied,” Williams said. “I was trying not to get denied and I know for sure I had to put the team on my back and get in there, and do whatever it takes to get in there.”
The final score, like the game itself, wasn’t a work of art. Yet the Chiefs sit 4-0, joining the Patriots as the only undefeated teams in the AFC.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we got it done,” Breeland said.
Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and a contributor for Sports Radio 810 WHB. Follow him on Twitter @mattderrick.