Top Ten Plays of 2008: 6-10

Brian Bahr - Getty

As we reflect on the Chiefs' season, I've combed through all 16 games to compile a list of Kansas City's top 10 plays of 2008. The plays I've picked out were not only significant in the course of the games they occurred in, they were also significant in some other way – be it statistically, historically, or just in my own mind.

Agree with the selections? Disagree? Feel free to post your take - and even a top 10 list of your own - over at the WPI forums.

Starting with play #10, part one will examine the bottom half of the list. We'll count down to #1 next week.


10) Darling nearly goes the distance (Kansas City @ New England - September 7)

Brodie Croyle had left the game with an injury, the team was trailing 17-10, and if there was any hope of the Chiefs pulling off a major upset in their season opener, Damon Huard needed to engineer a 73-yard drive with just over a minute left to play in the fourth quarter.

Considering how Kansas City's offense had looked that day, things didn't appear too promising.

But right after taking a sack, Huard rose and threw a strike to Devard Darling, the Chiefs' offseason addition at wide receiver. Darling ran 68 yards to the Pats' 5-yard line before he was brought down.


Darling was off to the races.
Getty

Things had seemed so bleak, but then – with one play – a bunch of exciting possibilities suddenly began to emerge. For one thing, the Chiefs' punchless offense had actually shown some life. Even better, they'd done it in a clutch situation with the game on the line. Was new coordinator Chan Gailey really going to make a difference in the unit's performance?

Then there was Darling, who – despite a disappointing preseason – had just made the biggest play of the game. Putting aside the fact that the alleged speedster had been caught before making it in for the touchdown, was it possible that the Chiefs had actually found a competent #2 receiver?

Then there was the game itself. With just five yards to go for the tying or winning score, could the Chiefs actually go into New England and come away with a victory over the mighty Patriots?

The answers to those questions, as we now know, were not terribly positive.

Gailey did get the offense going, but only after designing a gimmick scheme around the Chiefs' third-string quarterback. After his big reception in the season opener, Darling didn't make another notable contribution until Week 16. Despite having four shots at the endzone, the Chiefs were unable to score and flew home from New England with their first of 14 losses.

But in the immediate wake of Darling's catch and run against the Patriots, a lot of exciting things seemed possible – even if it was only for a few brief moments.


9) Thigpen hits Bradley deep (Tampa Bay @ Kansas City - November 2)

On the surface, it was just a long pass play. Late in the second quarter of KC's game with Tampa Bay, Mark Bradley ran straight up the field and caught a 57-yard bomb from Tyler Thigpen. The pass didn't result in a touchdown and it wasn't a key third-down conversion that kept a drive alive.

But looking deeper, the play wasn't without significance. Bradley – who was released by Chicago after the first few games of the season – saw his first action with the Chiefs in Week 7. During the team's blowout loss to Carolina, he caught just one pass for eight yards.


Bradley toasts Buchanon.
FOX Sports

At first glance, there was no reason to suspect that Bradley would make any more of an impact on the Chiefs than Rod Gardner did in 2006. But a week later against the Jets, Bradley emerged by catching five passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. Not huge numbers by any means, but more of a contribution from any receiver not named Dwayne Bowe or Tony Gonzalez to that point.

The Jets game marked the Chiefs' debut of the spread offense, so there was some natural skepticism of the offensive performance that day. Not just in regards to Bradley, but also of Thigpen and the offense in general. Perhaps the Chiefs' spread attack had only looked good because the Jets were caught off guard.

That wouldn't be the case in the next game against a stiff Tampa Bay defense. The Bucs had been able to see what Thigpen and the Chiefs did in New York, and saw that Bradley had popped up as an option in the passing game.

So when he streaked up the field, running right past cornerback Phillip Buchanon to haul in the long throw from Thigpen, it helped prove that the showing against the Jets was no fluke.

With one big pass and catch, Thigpen further showed he could be a serviceable NFL quarterback, Bradley proved he might actually be a viable #2 receiver, and the Chiefs' offense showed that Gailey's new scheme was more than just a one-time surprise against an unsuspecting opponent.


8) Gonzalez burns the Chargers (Kansas City @ San Diego - November 9)

Late in the second quarter of the Chiefs' first game with San Diego, Tony Gonzalez caught a pass six yards from the line of scrimmage and turned the play into a 34-yard touchdown.

When Chargers' safety Clinton Hart whiffed on the initial tackle, Gonzalez read the field beautifully and broke for the sideline. Antonio Cromartie and Eric Weddle pursued, but both were taken out of the play by a single block from Mark Bradley.

With no one else in position to stop him, Gonzalez raced 20 yards down the sideline for the score. It was his longest touchdown catch of the year and came just a yard short of being his longest reception of any kind in 2008.

Putting statistics aside, though, the truly impressive thing about the play was how effortless the future Hall of Famer made it look.


7) Chiefs' defenders punish the Raiders (Kansas City @ Oakland - November 30)

During one singular game in the 2008 season, Kansas City played the sort of defense that fans had been hoping to see all year. They forced turnovers, kept the scoring low, and dished out some seriously bone-jarring hits in the process.

It's hard to narrow down which of the Chiefs' hits that day was the best. Special mention goes to Brandon Flowers for the way he separated the ball from Raiders' tight end Zach Miller during a play in the third quarter. It looked as though Miller had hauled in a pass for a considerable gain, but a perfectly timed hit by the Chiefs' rookie corner knocked the ball loose for an incompletion.


Boom!
AP

Then there was the hit delivered by Derrick Johnson early in the second quarter. Raiders' quarterback JaMarcus Russell dumped the ball down to running back Justin Fargas, who turned around right into a brutal spear tackle from the Chiefs' linebacker. Again, the ball was jarred loose and the pass was incomplete.

Two plays after Flowers' hit on Miller, Bernard Pollard laid a shot on receiver Ashley Lelie that not only sent Lelie to the turf, it sent him backwards into Chiefs' corner Brandon Carr, who hit the deck himself. Lelie suffered a concussion during the game, and while I'm not sure which play it happened on, this one would be a prime candidate.

But my pick for the best hit goes to Pollard's smash of Justin Fargas early in the fourth quarter. The play resulted in the Chiefs recovering a fumble, but Fargas had actually lost the ball before Pollard teed off on him. Linebacker Rocky Boiman made a diving attempt at a tackle and managed to dislodge the ball from Fargas' grasp a split second before Pollard made contact.

That's why this hit stands out as the most devastating. If Fargas hadn't lost the ball, he still would have taken a shot, but he would have had a chance to brace himself for the impact. After his fumble, however, Fargas' attention was on recovering the ball, giving Pollard the perfect opportunity to lower the boom.

Add in the turnover that occurred on the play and this hit stands out above the others.


6) The Chiefs bring down Jay Cutler (Denver @ Kansas City - September 28)

As we're all sadly aware, the 2008 Chiefs established a brand new benchmark for pass rush futility by sacking quarterbacks just 10 times over the course of the season. The Denver Broncos didn't see a lot of sacks this year either – but in their case, it was actually a good thing.

The Broncos' offense allowed just 12 sacks in 2008, tying them with the Tennessee Titans for the fewest in the league. But Denver's statistic is even more impressive than it first looks when you consider that the Broncos threw the ball 620 times during the season. Tennessee only attempted 453 passes.


Down goes Cutler!
Getty

Of those 620 Denver pass attempts, 616 belonged to Jay Cutler, which means the Broncos' quarterback dropped back 604 times without being sacked, or 98 percent of the time.

As a point of comparison, the Chiefs' defense faced 522 pass attempts and only tallied 10 sacks, so opposing quarterbacks dropped back 512 times without being brought down, or 98 percent of the time.

In summary, we're talking about an almost perfect pass-protecting unit and a nearly invisible pass rush. These two opposite entities collided on a third down play late in the first quarter of Week 4, and in a result that is still being studied by scientists, the resistible force actually managed to budge the immovable object.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the play – other than the fact it happened at all – is how it went down. It wasn't some kind of fluke, where Cutler was scrambling around and ran into a defender. Three Chiefs somehow managed to converge on Cutler at once, as Derrick Johnson, Pat Thomas, and Brian Johnston all stormed in and helped bring him to the ground.

In a season where the Chiefs managed just 0.625 sacks per game, this play against the best-protected quarterback in the league stands alone as the height of their pass rushing efforts.

Next time: Plays 1-5

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