KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jamaal Charles hasn’t forgotten the nightmare that was last season, making the first words out of his mouth in describing the Kansas City Chiefs’ perfect start quite appropriate.
“It’s a dream,” the Pro Bowl running back said.
An impressive 26-16 victory over the Eagles in Kansas City head coach Andy Reid’s return to Philadelphia on Thursday night left the Chiefs 3-0 for just the second time in a decade. The Chiefs have won their first three games only eight times ever, and six of the previous seven ended in the playoffs.
“We’ve been through a lot in the six years I’ve been here, and I know they don’t want to go through (the hard times) again,” Charles said, “so having a change and Andy Reid coming on and being the coach, he just says to go out there and have fun.”
Sure is easier to have fun when you’re winning.
The Chiefs have already eclipsed their win total from all of last season, and they’re not doing it with smoke and mirrors, either.
Try turnovers and defense.
The Chiefs have forced nine turnovers and have yet to commit one after tying for the league lead with a minus-24 turnover differential last season. They forced the Eagles into five of them on Thursday night, including a pick-six by safety Eric Berry.
“Turnovers and points on both sides of the ball are very important,” Reid said during a conference call with reporters on Friday. “That’s been from the first meeting with the players, that’s what we stressed, and touchdowns do matter from special teams, from offense and defense. You want everyone to be involved in that part.”
The Chiefs defense, which allowed 40 points in their season opener a year ago, has allowed 34 points through its first three games. That includes what amounted to a shutout in their season-opener against Jacksonville, which managed just a safety off a blocked punt.
Kansas City piled up five more sacks against the Eagles, wrangling to the turf elusive quarterback Michael Vick on just about every play. Justin Houston had 4½ of the sacks, pushing his total to 7½ this season, and even recovered a pair of fumbles — one that he caused.
Houston’s sack total made him the third-fastest player in franchise history to reach 20 sacks to start a career since it became an official stat in 1992. The only players to do it more quickly offer some good company: Derrick Thomas and Jared Allen.
“The DBs, the linebackers giving great coverage, the big guys in the middle pushing the pocket,” Houston said. “When they’re doing that, man, it’s real easy for me to do my job.”
All those turnovers and short fields have been a boon for the Kansas City offense, which hasn’t shown much explosiveness but also has committed many mistakes.
Alex Smith has thrown 105 passes without an interception since he arrived in a trade from San Francisco. Compare that to last season, when Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn combined to throw eight touchdown passes and 20 interceptions in 474 attempts — roughly one in 23 passes was picked.
Smith’s ability to limit mistakes is the biggest reason he improved to 22-5-1 since the beginning of the 2011 season as a regular-season starter. The only other Chiefs quarterback to start their career with three straight wins are Len Dawson (1962), Mike Livingston (1969) and Joe Montana (1993), another former 49ers star who went on to win his fourth start, too.
Of course, it helps to have someone like Charles to carry some of the load.
After running for more than 1,500 yards last season, his first since a devastating knee injury, Charles has become a more versatile threat in Reid’s offense. Not only has he run for 224 yards in his first three games, he’s also caught 18 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m happy with running the ball, I’m happy with catching the ball. I know that I can do a lot to help my team out both ways,” he said. “I know they count on me even when I’m not even in the game. I try to catch my breath as fast as possible and get back out there.”
After all, perfect starts are a whole lot more fun when you’re on the field.
“We’re really motivated right now to play well,” Houston said, “but we have to put this win behind us and continue to play well and win these big games. We are really feeling good right now with being 3-0 up to this point.”