If the Chiefs make the playoffs, it will be because of their defense

Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith deflects a pass intended for Lions receiver Calvin Johnson on Sunday. Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

LONDON -- The Kansas City Chiefs suddenly look like a playoff contender, strange as that might sound for a 3-5 team. They are no longer that woeful team that lost five straight early in the season and looked like it would spend the final two months seeking a comfortable place to lie down and die.

They have bounced back in an impressive way as they showed again in Sunday’s 45-10 win over the Detroit Lions. They exhibited some previously unseen offensive muscle, with six touchdowns from different players in seven trips inside the Detroit 20. That kind of offensive variety will come in handy in upcoming weeks.

But if the Chiefs are going to get into the playoffs -- and we’ll know more about that after their next game Nov. 15 against the Broncos in Denver -- it’s their defense that will carry them there.

As strong as the Chiefs looked on offense at Wembley Stadium, they were better on defense. When the Chiefs have things rolling, this is the part of their game that gives opponents pause.

The Chiefs’ defense almost carried a limp offense to the playoffs last year, and it has played as well in the last three weeks, including games against the Vikings and Steelers, as at any time in 2014.

This season, the Chiefs are forcing turnovers, something they didn’t do last season. They had two interceptions against the Lions, giving them eight -- two more than they had last year.

They also cranked up the pass rush, sacking Detroit’s Matthew Stafford six times. After being a soft touch defensively early in the season, the Chiefs have found their game. Maybe it’s too late, but the players are having none of that.

“This is the NFL," said cornerback Sean Smith, who had an interception and a strong game in covering Calvin Johnson. “You’re never out of it. You never know how things are going to turn out.

“We’re not dwelling on the past. What happened, happened. We’re taking a 0-0 mentality every week. We’ve started this thing over and we’re getting it going. We have plenty of talent on this defense and this is what it looks like when we play like we can."

The Chiefs in recent weeks haven’t played against any of the NFL’s premier teams, as they did almost weekly early in the season. But, as Smith suggested, the Chiefs don’t need to face a third-string quarterback like Pittsburgh’s Landry Jones or a weak opponent like the Lions to be strong defensively. They just need to play their game.

Finally, they’re playing it and that’s what gives the Chiefs hope for the second half of their season.

“We don’t want to be a yo-yo defense," said linebacker Derrick Johnson, who had a sack. “We’ve actually talked about it, just trying to get the job done down after down.

“There were a couple of games where we just didn’t finish out. We know there’s no room for error. We put ourselves in that spot. We’ve got to be the ones to get us out."