Sixty-three days ago, the Kansas City Chiefs limped out of TCF Bank Stadium with a five-game losing streak, a 1-5 record and 10 more games to play without their heart and soul, Jamaal Charles.
Today, they are the signature victory (16-10) of the Vikings’ 2015 season to this point.
If the Chiefs (8-5) win as a 7 ½-point favorite at Baltimore on Sunday, they will become the first team in NFL history to win eight straight games immediately after losing at least five straight. They’re currently tied with the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals, who won seven straight after losing six in a row.
So what happened in K.C.?
Simple. A ball-secure offense meshed with a top-10 defense to lift the Chiefs from minus-2 in turnover ratio to plus-12, which ranks second in the NFL.
Quarterback Alex Smith has thrown a league-low four interceptions. He went nine games without an interception before his streak of 312 passes without a pick — No. 2 all-time behind Tom Brady’s 358 — ended last week.
Time flies. It doesn’t seem long ago that Chad Greenway was a rookie in his first training camp and Mike Tomlin was alongside him in his first year as an NFL defensive coordinator.
“Crazy,” said Greenway, now 32 and in his 10th season.
Greenway is having a solid, durable season amid an outbreak of defensive injuries. As for Tomlin, well, he just won his 90th regular-season game since taking over as Steelers head coach in 2007.
At 90-51, Tomlin makes the Steelers the only NFL team with three head coaches who have won at least 90 regular-season games. Hall of Famer Chuck Noll won 193 and Bill Cowher won 149.
Greenway’s rookie season ended with a torn ACL in the first preseason game. But he was around Tomlin enough in 2006 to sense something different about the then-34-year-old coordinator.
“I think we were all surprised that he got the job that quick,” Greenway said. “But we knew it was only a matter of when. You could sense that he was the next-level type of coach. He was fun to play for but challenged you every day in many different ways.”
Tomlin is 43. He’s been to two Super Bowls and, at 36, was the youngest head coach to win one.
What’s up with Jay?
Vikings safety Harrison Smith has been ruled out for Sunday’s game, so he won’t have a second chance to intercept Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for a fourth straight season.
Three of Smith’s 11 career interceptions have come against Cutler. But Smith and Vikings coach Mike Zimmer see a different Cutler this season under coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
“He’s taking good care of the ball,” said Zimmer, referring to Cutler, whose interceptions have fallen from a league-high 18 last year to seven this season.
“I think they’re doing a good job with their scheme as far as him knowing where to go with the football. … I see him making a lot of good decisions as opposed to in the past, maybe he didn’t make quite as good of ones.”
“He’s always made plays; he’s always thrown for a bunch of yards,” Smith said. “But I think him this year kind of limiting the turnovers is the biggest thing that jumps out to me.”
Fitz chasing Curtis
Some of us remember the agony of watching Bengals receiver Isaac Curtis catch touchdown after touchdown against the Browns during the 1970s. But some of us didn’t realize until this week that Curtis holds the record for consecutive games with at least one touchdown reception against a single opponent to start a career.
Curtis did it the first eight times he played Cleveland. Tied for second with six straight games are Jerry Rice against Green Bay, Isaac Bruce against New Orleans, Rob Gronkowski against Buffalo and Larry Fitzgerald Jr. against the Eagles.
Fitzgerald can move into second place with a touchdown against Philadelphia on Sunday night. In six games against the Eagles, Fitzgerald has 38 catches for 650 yards and eight touchdowns.