1 of 3 | Kansas City Chiefs Wide Receiver Jeremy Maclin scores a touchdown during an International NFL series match against the Detroit Lions at Wembley London on November 1st, 2015. Photo by Sean Dempsey/UPI. | License Photo
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The roots of the Kansas City Chiefs' current three-game winning streak were planted a month before, in the second half of their fifth consecutive loss when they were beaten by Minnesota 16-10.
Since then, Andy Reid's team won three straight games, with winning margins of 10, 35 and 16 points.
The 29-13 victory over the Broncos in Denver last Sunday pushed the Chiefs record to 4-5 and injected the club back into the picture for the wildcard spot in the AFC playoffs.
"I felt like we've taken it up a notch, for whatever reason that is," Reid said of his team's effort in the third and fourth quarters of that loss to the Vikings.
Since then, they've beaten Pittsburgh by 10 points, Detroit by 35 points and the Broncos last week, ending a seven-game losing streak to Denver.
"You're talking about the No. 1 defense in the National Football League and talking about a Hall of Fame quarterback," Reid said of the motivation his team had going to Denver.
"Those are good players and a good football team. It's important that you do it against that kind of a team too, and I thought our guys did that."
During the three-game winning streak, the Chiefs are plus-61 in point differential, plus-9 in turnover ratio and plus-6 in sack differential.
In that game against Minnesota, the Chiefs went to the locker room at halftime trailing 10-0, having generated only 51 offensive yards with three first downs in the first and second quarters.
The offense's longest play was a 13-yard completion to seldom-used fullback Anthony Sherman.
Things were different in the second half, as they registered 277 offensive yards, including a 42-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Smith to wide receiver Albert Wilson.
The Kansas City defense allowed the Vikings only 128 yards and two field goals in the second half.
"It was a point where I think we just pushed the previous four losses behind us and got back to playing the next play," veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson said of the second half of the Minnesota game.
"We knew we were a good team, and we started playing that way."
The Chiefs got lucky the next week when Pittsburgh visited Kansas City without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and the defense got after backup Landry Jones with three takeaways and two sacks on the way to a 23-13 victory.
A trip to London followed for a game against Detroit, and the Chiefs caught the Lions imploding, winning 45-10 while picking off quarterback Matthew Stafford twice and sacking him six times.
Victory No. 3 was in Denver over the Broncos and gimpy quarterback Peyton Manning. Before that game was over, Manning was pulled, the Chiefs had five interceptions and five sacks, and they collected an important victory in the AFC West.
Strong and opportunistic defense, solid special teams and an offense willing to play complementary football have powered the Chiefs to their modest winning streak.
All those factors and one more according to the starting quarterback.
"These last three weeks -- especially in the second half of games -- offense, defense and special teams have all made plays that have helped us put these games away and it just wasn't the case early on in the season," Smith said.
"I don't know if that's directly because of good weeks of practice, but I think we've had great weeks of work, intense weeks of work ... they've been fast, game-like and that's prepared us for those Sundays."
SERIES HISTORY: 110th regular-season meeting between the Chargers and Chiefs, who were charter members of the American Football League. The Chiefs started as the Dallas Texans and the Chargers began in Los Angeles. The series is tied at 54-54-1. Last season, the Chiefs swept the series with a three-point victory in San Diego (23-20) and a 12-point decision at Arrowhead Stadium (19-7.) The Chargers last winning performance against Kansas City was in the final game of the 2013 season, when they won 27-24 in overtime. In the last 20 games between the teams played at Qualcomm Stadium, the Chiefs hold a 6-14 record. The teams faced off once in the postseason, with the Chargers taking a 17-0 home victory in the 1992 AFC playoffs.
GAME PLAN: The Chiefs are on the up-ride of the NFL elevator, while the Chargers are heading down. Kansas City shows up in San Diego with a three-game winning streak; the Bolts have lost five straight. The Chiefs have turned their season around with dynamic defensive play and a solid offense that has not turned the ball over and has been able to overcome the season ending knee injury of running back Jamaal Charles. His replacement, second-year back Charcandrick West, has shown he's more than capable, producing over 100 offensive yards in each of the last three games.
For the Chiefs to extend their winning streak, they must keep the winning formula, but that will be tougher to do facing quarterback Philip Rivers and San Diego's offense. The Chargers lead the league averaging 328.6 yards per game in the air. But the Bolts' running game is among the lowest ranked in the league, averaging 85.3 yards per game. Kansas City must put pressure on Rivers with the pass rush and force turnovers, something the Chiefs did in the final game of the 2014 season against the Chargers; they sacked Rivers seven times and forced three turnovers. On offense, the Chiefs must continue to stay balanced. That's helped them provide a bit more protection for quarterback Alex Smith.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Chiefs pass defense vs. Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers.
Through what has been a disappointing season, Rivers has thrown (390) and completed (269) more passes than any NFL quarterback. He has thrown for more yards (3,033) than all but one passer. New England's Tom Brady has 10 more yards. In their three-game winning streak, the Chiefs' defense has given up an average of 180 net passing yards, with nine interceptions and 13 sacks. Opposing offenses have scored four touchdowns in the last three games. Rivers has been averaging 337 yards per game and the Chiefs have allowed only two quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards or more, Aaron Rodgers (333) and Andy Dalton (321). The Chiefs need to keep Rivers under his average, while getting him on the ground and grabbing a few of those throws.
--Chiefs punt returner De'Anthony Thomas vs. Chargers punter Mike Scifres and the punt cover team.
The Chiefs have gone 11 games without a return touchdown from special teams. They are overdue, and Thomas has been on the brink of busting out several times in recent games. San Diego's punt team has a 36-yard net punting average, ranking them next to last in the league going into this weekend. Opponents have averaged 10.6 yards a return against them, although none have reached the end zone.