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Dee Ford plays game of his career in Chiefs' win over Chargers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Dee Ford could finally rest, so he took advantage of a quick break. The Kansas City Chiefs linebacker, a first-round draft pick in 2014, had just played the game of his young career, and his team needed every bit of his effort to hold off the San Diego Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium.

Ford, after breaking up a pass intended for running back Danny Woodhead in the end zone on the final play to preserve a 10-3 victory on Sunday, remained on the ground as he was mobbed by his joyous teammates.

"I was tired," Ford said. "I fell out for, like, three seconds."

Ford had earned the time off. Playing for the injured Justin Houston, Ford had three sacks and the game’s biggest play when he prevented Woodhead from catching what could have been the tying or winning touchdown.

"It was one of those plays where you know what you’re getting," veteran inside linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "You have to play him to the flat and you’re going to have to play him on the wheel route. Woodhead is a great player. He’s a mismatch for linebackers.

"On that play, he wasn’t a mismatch for Dee Ford."

That’s the thing that most surprised the Chiefs about Ford’s game. They had confidence in him as a pass-rusher. That’s the reason they drafted him last year despite having Pro Bowlers in Houston and Tamba Hali at his position.

The rest of his game, including pass coverage, was the concern. Woodhead, who has 58 catches this season, was a concern for any of the Chiefs’ defenders, much less Ford.

It wasn’t the matchup the Chiefs wanted, not with the game on the line. But they rushed only three players, and Ford wasn’t one of them. His job, as it turned out, was to cover one of San Diego’s most accomplished receivers with two seconds left from the Kansas City 11.

The pass from Philip Rivers to Woodhead in the end zone hit the receiver in the hands. But he was separated from the ball by Ford’s hit.

"Anybody’s number could have been called at that time," Ford said. "You can’t just be a one-trick pony."

Until last week’s game against the Raiders, Ford’s game had been mostly a study in patience. He played little as a rookie and not much more this season until the Oakland game, with Houston out with a hyper-extended knee.

Ford had no choice but to try to be ready when opportunity called.

"Whatever your role is, you have to fill it out," he said. "Be man enough to humble yourself and learn from two of the greatest linebackers in this league."

Ford accomplished little last week until his fourth-quarter hit on Oakland quarterback Derek Carr forced an errant throw that was intercepted by linebacker Josh Mauga.

But he brought down Rivers three times Sunday and tried to honor his mentors. He did Houston’s celebration after one sack and Hali’s after another.

He genuinely honored them by mimicking the way Houston and Hali play.

"You have to go off of that feel," Ford said. "Once … you get your first sack, then comes the second one and then comes the third one. You have to really be aware of that [situation] and really take advantage of it."

That’s usually Houston’s game. For one day, at least, it was Ford’s.

"He’s a tough-minded guy," Johnson said. "He puts a lot of pressure on himself because he knows he has ability to rush the passer. He knows he’s really good at it and very explosive.

"He’s a heck of a player. We didn’t expect anything less from Dee Ford."