LANDOVER, Md. -- The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t clinch a playoff spot Sunday, but with three more chances to do it, that wasn't the essential item on their weekend to-do list.
Far more important were some simple, less tangible goals. The Chiefs needed to get their game back, the one that carried them to a nine-game winning streak to start the season. They needed to strangle an opponent with their defense, dominate on special teams, be efficient on offense, break their three-game losing streak and establish some favorable momentum.
Their trip to the nation’s capital, despite doses of snow, ice and rain, was an unqualified success.
“In the NFL, there are ebbs and flows to every team’s season," defensive end Mike DeVito said. “But you have to be careful with momentum. We had lost three straight games. There was a sense of urgency. We talked about it all week, put a point of emphasis on that.
“If there was ever a time in the season we needed a game like that, it was now."
It’s not too dramatic to say the Chiefs saved their season. They were going to make the postseason anyway, thanks to the early season winning streak and a lack of qualified wild-card playoff contenders elsewhere in the AFC.
But a playoff berth was starting to sound like a booby prize for the Chiefs, given the way they had played since their last victory on Nov. 3 in Buffalo. The past three weeks there had been an unmistakable stench to their play, and arguing that two of the games were against the Denver Broncos ignored the lemon of a game against the San Diego Chargers wedged in between.
“It’s tough to lose three consecutive games in the National Football League," coach Andy Reid said. “It seems like a year. Those are dog years, each week that you have a loss in the NFL."
The Chiefs needed something to clear the air.
They needed to sack some quarterbacks, pressure opponents into mistakes, score some touchdowns on special teams. So they went out and sacked Washington quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins six times, forced a pair of turnovers and returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns.
The Chiefs jumped all over the Redskins, leading 17-0 after the first quarter and 38-10 at halftime. Feeble though the Redskins might be, the Chiefs were in no position to take those accomplishments for granted.
“It was good to see all three phases function the way they did today," Reid said.
The Chiefs were able to get running back Jamaal Charles out of the game at the end of the third quarter, after he had rushed for a season-high 151 yards and scored two touchdowns. They were able to rest quarterback Alex Smith shortly afterward, after he had completed 14-of-20 throws for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
It was that kind of day for the Chiefs and, as DeVito said, it happened not a moment too soon.
“It’s December," safety Quintin Demps said. “We’ve been through our adversity, which all good teams, all Super Bowl teams, go through. It’s time to get on a roll."
Maybe, just maybe, the Chiefs are on that roll. They failed to clinch a playoff spot, but only because the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens rallied for victories and retained their mathematical possibilities of catching the Chiefs in the wild-card race.
The Chiefs can snuff out those faint hopes by winning next Sunday in Oakland, or on Dec. 22 against the Indianapolis Colts or even in the regular-season finale on Dec. 29 against the Chargers.
So nothing has changed there. The playoffs will happen for the Chiefs. The bigger mystery is whether they are capable of accomplishing something once they get into the postseason.
For the first time in several weeks, they have reason to feel good about that.
“We still have a few games left," Reid said. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of business here."