NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Just as the postgame celebration was in full swing in the Kansas City Chiefs’ locker room, it hit a momentary lull. Guard Jeff Allen punctuated the brief silence by saying, to no one in particular, "We own the fourth quarter."
Nobody can dispute it. The Chiefs have built their 5-0 record by dominating in the fourth quarter, and that was certainly true in Sunday’s 26-17 win over the Tennessee Titans, in which Kansas City scored the game’s final 13 points.
In the first four games, the fourth quarter was about protecting a lead. This time, it was about overcoming a deficit. The Chiefs had no reason to believe they would, not after the offense sputtered to just two field goals in the first three periods, and certainly not after quarterback Alex Smith threw a horrible interception in the third quarter that the Titans converted into their go-ahead touchdown.
The Chiefs had owned the fourth quarter before, but this one looked like it would belong to their opponent. Mainly through force of will, perhaps forged through those other successful fourth quarters, the Chiefs dug themselves from the muck.
Smith led the Chiefs on a touchdown drive to put the team back on top, and then the defense intercepted a pair of passes to snuff Tennessee’s comeback hopes.
It started with the gritty touchdown drive. Smith, fresh off his interception, completed his final five passes on the possession. The Titans helped with a pair of penalties, including a questionable late hit on Smith that allowed the Chiefs to continue the drive.
Asked how he could have, at that point, believed in his offense, Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “The eyes I’m looking into are positive eyes. Alex, he wants the ball back. He knows it’s just a matter of time before it kicks in. The offensive line was that way. Dwayne Bowe was constant energy throughout the game.
"That was my picture. That’s what I was looking at."
It can be easy to forget now, with the Chiefs being one of just three remaining unbeaten teams, but their offense achieved little the past two seasons, and while Reid has set a positive tone, Smith is the only significant new playing piece.
So much of this newfound will comes from their quarterback. This was the first time since joining the Chiefs that he had the outcome of a game resting with him, and everyone was more than a little curious to see how he would handle the situation.
"The players are all looking at him," Reid said. “They’re looking at him every snap. That’s their leader out there, and so if you’re wavering at all or you don’t have the right look in your eye, these guys can sense that. They can tell. So how you present yourself is huge.
"He’s a tenacious competitor, that kid. I love that. I love that part of him."
Smith is hardly a rookie. He’d been in such situations when he was the starter for the San Francisco 49ers. He had a history of leading his team from behind in the fourth quarter, having done it six times in 2011.
"You get in those situations enough as a quarterback," Smith said. “I feel like I have played in a lot of tight games over the years, and with eight minutes or 10 minutes left in the fourth, you don’t press. You just kind of focus in that much more, and you bring the guys in that much more and you know you’re only one play away."
This was the first time he had tried it with the Chiefs. In front of a large and loud Tennessee crowd, they made it work. That will count for a lot the next time the Chiefs are confronted with a similar situation.
"No question it helps," Smith said. "This was a first for us this year: being down in the fourth quarter and having to have a game-winning drive, and we were able to put it together. These are great experiences to have, especially being together for the first time. Great experiences to build on."
The Chiefs appear headed for many new experiences. With five wins, they’ve already topped their total in four of the previous six seasons. Their 5-0 start is second best in club history, behind a 9-0 start in 2003.
More importantly, by rallying Sunday, they set themselves up to continue their run. They will play their next three games at Arrowhead Stadium, against the Raiders, Texans and Browns before they head to Buffalo to face the Bills.
It’s not unreasonable to think they could be 9-0 in mid-November when they travel to Denver for their first of two meetings with the Broncos.
If they get to that point, it would undoubtedly be due to their ability to close games with a flourish.
"That’s the time of the game where the team that’s mentally tough wins the game," Allen said. "Everybody’s tired, but you’ve got to push through. We’ve got guys on this team who do a great job of finishing games. Usually, it’s the team that finishes that wins."