Two minutes remained in Sunday’s game, and the Chiefs were on their way to victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. But something was missing: A big play.
A 30-yard touchdown strike from Alex Smith to Tyreek Hill in the first quarter served as the biggest gain of the day for the Chiefs. Their streak of eight consecutive regular-season games with at least one scoring play of 50 yards or more, dating back to last season, appeared to be in jeopardy.
Eight games was an NFL record, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. The mark had been held by the Chicago Bears spanning the 1964 and 1965 seasons, with Gale Sayers scoring three of those long touchdowns.
Then, it happened.
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Kareem Hunt took a handoff, burst to his left and rumbled to the end zone for a 69-yard touchdown that extended the streak to nine straight games.
“I saw it and thought it was a pretty cool stat,” Smith said. “We have big play guys that can go, when given the opportunity to take it the distance.”
It’s been a remarkable run, starting in the 12th week of 2016, a prime-time game at Denver. That night, Tyreek Hill returned a free kick 86 yards for a touchdown.
Hill played the lead role in the Chiefs’ long scoring plays of 2016. This year, he shares top billing with Hunt, the rookie sensation who has already scored six touchdowns, including runs of 53 and 69 yards and a 78-yard reception. He’s had the longest scoring play in each of the Chiefs’ three victories. He also had a 58-yard run against the Patriots in which he didn’t score.
“He’s the guy that you have circled going into the game,” said Washington coach Jay Gruden. The Chiefs meet Washington on Monday night at Arrowhead Stadium.
Hill had the longest scoring play in four of the Chiefs’ six games during the 2016 portion of the streak, with Travis Kelce and Albert Wilson also pitching in a distant score.
The Chiefs are 8-1 in those last nine games. Not included is last year’s home playoff loss to the Steelers, when a 24-yard non-scoring pass was the Chiefs’ longest play of that game.
Hunt and Hill are big-play leaders, but a multitude of factors go into creating a home run-type play.
“Everybody gets credit for it,” Reid said. “Whether it’s (offensive coordinator) Matt Nagy with the plays, whether it’s the offensive line blocking, whichever receiver it is, everybody’s got a piece and makes something work.”
The quick-strike ability has added a new dimension for the Chiefs this season: late-game dramatics.
In the opener at New England, Hunt’s 78-yard reception on the second play of the fourth quarter gave the Chiefs a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in a 42-27 victory. And Hunt’s long score against the Chargers clinched a 24-10 triumph.
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In three games this season, the Chiefs have produced a total of 12 plays of 20 yards or longer. Seven of them have occurred in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs are averaging an NFL-best 14 points in the fourth quarter. Reid said that’s tied to the preseason.
“I don’t want to slight the guys on how hard they worked during training camp,” Andy Reid said. “I think it’s a mind-set you have, work hard, practice hard. You do those things and it becomes a mind-set.”
The Chiefs will be facing a Washington team that has dialed up its own share of big plays. In last weekend’s victory over the Raiders, speedster Chris Thompson turned a screen pass from Kirk Cousins into a 74-yard reception.
A week earlier, Thompson had a 61-yard touchdown run against the Rams. Of his 27 touches this season, seven have been for at least 15 yards, and Monday’s game at Arrowhead may turn on quick-strike ability.
The long runs
The Chiefs have scored on plays of 50 yards or longer in nine consecutive games, an NFL record, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
at LA Chargers
Kareem Hunt 69 run
Kareem Hunt 53 run
at New England
Kareem Hunt 78 pass from Alex Smith
at San Diego
Tyreek Hill 95 punt return
Travis Kelce 80 pass from Alex Smith
Tyreek Hill 68 run
Tyreek Hill 78 punt return
Albert Wilson 55 run
Tyreek Hill 86 kick return