(TNS) — Since Kareem Hunt fumbled on the first play of the season, the Chiefs have amassed 71 possessions. They have concluded in the usual variety of ways, except one.
The Chiefs haven’t committed a turnover since that first snap.
Ball security has been an important and somewhat under-the-radar quality in the Chiefs’ 5-2 record they take into Monday’s home game against the Denver Broncos.
Every possession since the first one has ended by a score, punt, missed field goal, downs, the end of the half or in victory formation — except one.
Against the Steelers, a snap over the head of quarterback Alex Smith went through the end zone for a safety. It was a negative play, but officially not a fumble.
That’s 423 straight offensive plays without an interception or lost fumble. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last team with as many snaps not to commit a turnover was the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 and 2012. They went 516 offensive snaps without a turnover. Their quarterback — Smith.
But there’s more. Turnovers can occur on special teams. Nothing there either.
“The turnovers can sway games so much," offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. “So far, it’s helped us out a lot. For us to be able to keep us going is going to be real important down the stretch.”
Think about what the Chiefs have avoided this season: the tipped pick, the sack and strip, the fumbled return, the bad snap on a field goal.
There has been no lost fumble by a wide receiver or tight end after a reception and hard lick, no ball punched out from a running back, no reading Smith’s gaze long enough to jump a route.
Nagy says there are reasons for this. Start in the meeting rooms. Take running backs coach Eric Bieniemy for instance.
“Coach EB with the running back harps on it every single day, in practice, in the film room,” Nagy said. “We do it along with the wide receivers and quarterbacks.”
Then there is Smith, a low-risk quarterback whose eight interceptions last year were the most he’s thrown in a season while playing for the Chiefs.
This season, Smith has become the fourth player in NFL history to start a season with as many as 15 touchdown passes without an interception. Smith leads the NFL in passer rating and completion percentage (72.4) and is second in number of completions of at least 40 yards with six. Seeking the big play without turning it over has paid off nicely for the Chiefs this season.
“He is taking more shots down the field and his percentage is still low with the turnovers,” Andy Reid said. “He’s kept that where it needs to be.”
In the Broncos, the Chiefs will be facing perhaps their biggest challenge to the ball-security trend. Although Denver has forced only four turnovers this season, the Broncos lead the NFL in total defense, surrendering 258.5 yards per game and have the second best rushing defense at 71.8 yards.
“Really good across the board,” Smith said. “It’s hard to say whether on the front end or the back end where it starts. They have Pro Bowlers all over the place.”
If the Chiefs need a history lesson in the impact of turnovers, they need not look beyond the same opponent in a prime-time spot two years ago.
The Chiefs’ 2015 home opener was against the Broncos on a Thursday night. Despite four turnovers, the Chiefs managed a seven-point lead until Denver evened things with a late touchdown. Overtime seemed likely.
But the Chiefs’ couldn’t overcome their next turnover. Jamaal Charles, now with the Broncos, fumbled and Bradley Roby returned it for a touchdown with 27 second remaining. The five giveaways were the most by the team in the Reid era.
That game was an outlier of Reid’s Chiefs, who entered this season with the second fewest turnovers in the NFL (67) over the four years.
What’s been happening this season, exceptional as the numbers are, is more the norm for the Chiefs.