Marty Schottenheimer had turned the Kansas City Chiefs fortunes around with a winning season upon his arrival in 1989. Schottenheimer followed that up with playoff trips in 1990 and 1991. With expectations on the rise, the 1992 Kansas City Chiefs season ended up being a bit of a disappointment. But they still made the playoffs—and got one very notable win to get there.
The Chiefs were built on defense and the running game, but both areas faced challenges in 1992. Christian Okoye, the top rusher, only played five games as knee injuries brought his career to a premature end. Barry Word’s 607 yards ended up leading the team. While the offensive line had a pro Bowl left tackle in John Alt, the rest of the unit was plagued by injuries throughout the season and wasn’t able to generate continuity.
Defensively, Kansas City still had some excellent individual talent. Neil Smith was a Pro Bowl defensive end, and Derrick Thomas the same at linebacker. Each player finished with 14 ½ sacks. Dale Carter, a playmaking rookie corner, picked off seven passes. But the defense as a whole wasn’t consistent and finished 13th in the league in points allowed.
Amidst all this, KC was going through a transition at quarterback from one so-so veteran (Steve DeBerg) to another in a 34-year-old Dave Krieg. Formerly of the Seattle Seahawks, Krieg stepped up and finished fifth in the league in yards-per-attempt, tied with future Hall of Famers Jim Kelly and Dan Marino. Krieg’s 15-12 TD-INT ratio might look bad by the standards of today, but by only throwing interceptions on 2.9% of his passes,
Krieg ranked seventh in avoiding mistakes. His only weakness was a 56% completion rate that was 19th in the NFL. J.J. Birden and Willie Davis were his two primary targets and together, they produced enough that the Chiefs would finish seventh in the league in points scored.
The Chiefs opened the season in San Diego. They led 10-3 in the third quarter, but the Chargers were driving. Cornerback Kevin Ross intercepted a pass and went 99 yards to the house. It was one of three interceptions on the day for the KC defense and they also got five sacks. The 24-10 win would loom larger than anyone thought might be the case in Week 1.
Krieg hosted his old team in Seattle for Week 2. The Seahawks were an AFC West team prior to the divisional realignment of 2002, so the quarterback shift was a big deal. Krieg went 13/19 for 231 yards ,including a 72-yard touchdown pass to Birden that started the scoring and led to a 26-7 win.
A trip to Houston against another playoff perennial in the Oilers was up next. While Krieg played efficiently and the Chiefs ran the ball fairly well, they couldn’t pressure Houston’s Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, who threw for 279 yards. The game went to overtime, but KC took their first loss, 23-20.
Kansas City returned home for a Monday Night date with the Los Angeles Raiders and Word had his coming out party. He ran for 125 yards on 27 carries, as the Chiefs dominated the line of scrimmage in a 27-7 win. KC was set for a showdown in Denver where the Broncos were also 3-1.
The Chiefs took a 19-6 lead into the fourth quarter. But anyone who knew the history of Schottenheimer against Denver quarterback John Elway couldn’t feel comfortable. Elway had rallied his teams to beat Marty’s outstanding Cleveland Browns teams in the 1986 and 1987 AFC Championship Game. And Big John did it again. He threw two fourth-quarter TD passes, negated a 22/31 for 301-yards performance from Krieg and stole a 20-19 win from Kansas City.
KC had no time to lick their wounds, because another consistent playoff contender, the Philadelphia Eagles, were on their way to Arrowhead. Willie Davis broke through against the Eagle secondary, catching five passes for 167 yards. Kansas City led 24-3 in the fourth quarter and hung on to win 24-17. Another battle with an NFC East playoff contender, the eventual Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, didn’t end as well. The Chiefs lost a defensive battle in Dallas, 17-10.
A Sunday Night home game with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who would end up the #1 seed in the AFC, was an utter disaster. Word injured his foot early in the game, and that might have been the high point. Krieg went 9/27 for 82 yards and threw three picks. The special teams gave up a punt return for a touchdown. Kansas City lost 27-3 and went into their bye week a .500 team, at 4-4.
The Chargers were coming to Arrowhead on November 8 and after an 0-4 start, San Diego was gaining team and getting back into the AFC West race with KC and Denver. The Chiefs needed this game and in spite of another shaky performance from Krieg, they got it. A four-zip edge in turnovers was the difference in a 16-14 win.
A fifth straight game against an eventual 1992 playoff team was up next against the Washington Redskins. The defending Super Bowl champs were having to fight for their lives this season and this game showed why. Krieg got rolling again, 19/29 for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Birden caught seven balls for 60 yards, while Tim Barnett was the big-play man, his six catches going for 148 yards. The result was an easy 35-16 win.
Kansas City had a three-game road swing ahead, but the schedule was getting easier, with non-playoff teams in the Seahawks, Jets and Raiders on the docket. KC broke open a 10-7 game in Seattle with a punt return from Carter and an improbable 22-yard Pick-6 from Neil Smith, and they won 24-7. Krieg was sharp the next week in the Meadowlands, going 17/21 for 222 yards and no mistakes in a 23-7 win But the Chiefs played poorly on special teams and on the line of scrimmage in losing 28-7 at Los Angeles.
There were three weeks left and the AFC West was up for grabs. Kansas City and San Diego were both 8-5, but the Chiefs head-to-head sweep gave them the edge. Denver was in hot pursuit at 7-6.
KC came home to play New England, a lousy team in this era and on their way to the worst record in the league. Perhaps it was an omen that the Chiefs didn’t play well. The game was sloppy, four turnovers apiece. Okoye played his best game of the year and his last notable game as a pro, rushing for 86 yards and keying the 27-20 survival. The Chargers held serve, while the Broncos lost in Buffalo.
The Denver loss meant that Kansas City could clinch a playoff berth when they made another trip to the Meadowlands, this time to face the mediocre New York Giants. KC could also retain control of the division race. A lot was on the line in this early Saturday afternoon kickoff for the national audience. But the Chiefs seemed unaware. They were flat, crushed in the line of scrimmage and lost 35-21.
San Diego beat the Raiders the following day and took control of the AFC West. Denver won and stayed alive. The Chiefs were 9-6, the Broncos were 8-7…and they were set to go head-to-head for the final playoff spot at Arrowhead. Marty and Elway in another big game. No one in Kansas City could feel remotely good about this and they didn’t even know about the heartbreak of 1997 that was still in their future.
But today would be different. In a 7-7 game, KC defensive back Charles Mincy picked off Elway and waltzed 32 yards to the house. Carter intercepted another pass and turned it into a 36-yard Pick-6. Thomas recovered a fumble in the end zone. Three defensive touchdowns cures a lot of ills and Kansas City never gave Elway a chance at any late heroics, sealing this one 42-20.
While this was going on, the Chargers were taking care of business against the Seahawks and clinching the division. It set up a third matchup between the Chiefs and Bolts in the first round of the playoffs.
Beating any good team three times in a year is hard and it’s even harder when you’re theoretically the worst of the two teams and playing on the road while your rival is red-hot. San Diego’s turnaround from the 0-4 start into a playoff team was historic and the talk of the league. After a scoreless first quarter, the Chargers got their running game rolling and piled up 192 yards on the ground. The Chiefs never could run the ball and the season ended with a 17-0 whitewash.
The joy of simply making the playoffs was wearing off in Kansas City, but this 1992 team still overcame a lot of adversity to get there and has the season-ending win over Denver to hang their hat on. That’s not a bad legacy and another veteran quarterback was on the way. By 1993, the legendary Joe Montana would be in Kansas City and author the high point of the Schottenheimer era.