The Best Defensive Performances in Chiefs History

Austin J

In our fourth and final installment of Game Balls, we're looking at the greatest defensive performances in Chiefs history. A caveat — unlike a quarterback or offensive skill player, a defensive player can have a superlative day without filling the box score. Moreover, many defensive statistics only started appearing in NFL box scores in the 1980s and 1990s — for example, sacks became an official statistic in 1982, while tackles for loss and solo tackles just got added in 1999. While I'd love to crush film of every defensive stand the Kansas City Chiefs have made in their sixty-year history, that's just not feasible. So, just in time for the Fourth of July, these performances are going to have some box score fireworks. Ready?

DERRICK THOMAS

November 11, 1990

Seattle 17, Chiefs 16

7 sacks

Arguably one of the greatest defensive performances in NFL history, we all knew which game would be No. 1 on this list. Derrick Thomas is the only player since 1982  when sacks first became an official statistic — to record seven sacks in a single game. Thomas forced a fumble in the third quarter which Dan Saleaumea recovered in the end zone for a 16-10 Chiefs lead, and kept up relentless pressure throughout the game, aided by one-sack performances from Chris Martin and Neil Smith. Their victim, Dave Krieg, would become the Chiefs' starting quarterback two years later, and one wonders whether this game somehow influenced the Chiefs' decision to acquire Krieg: despite Thomas's heroics, Seattle won the game on a last-second 25-yard touchdown, with Krieg narrowly avoiding an eighth sack from No. 58. But the disappointing outcome of the game can be forgiven, if not forgotten, with time. What remains legendary is Thomas's performance.

DERRICK THOMAS

September 6, 1998

Chiefs  28, Raiders 8

6 sacks

Eight years after making NFL history, DT nearly did it again. In once-and-future Raiders' coach Jon Gruden's NFL head coaching debut, the Raiders started rookie Mo Collins at left tackle, and Raiders' quarterback Jeff George nearly paid with his life. Thomas racked up an astonishing six sacks — only three other players since 1982 have as many in a single game (Adrian Clayborn, Fred Dean, and Osi Umenyiora). In fact, only 11 players have even five sacks in a single game. Just one player has multiple games of 5+ sacks: Derrick Thomas. When it comes to dominating a single opponent in a single game, no one in the history of the NFL has ever done it like DT did it.

DERRICK JOHNSON

January 3, 2010

Chiefs 44, Broncos 24

2 INT, 105 INT return yards, 2 touchdowns; 4 passes defensed; 6 tackles (5 solo)

In the same game where Jamaal Charles set the Chiefs' single-game rushing record with 259 yards on the ground, Derrick Johnson became the fourth defensive player in Chiefs history to score two touchdowns in a single game. Johnson, the Chiefs' all-time leading tackler, got both his first and second career pick-sixes here. The first came in the third quarter, when the game was still close. With the Chiefs leading by just three, 20-17, Johnson hung with wide receiver Brandon Lloyd deep down the field and picked off a pass from future Chiefs quarterback (this is a running theme, apparently) Kyle Orton, then ran it back 45 yards in the thin air of Mile High to the end zone. It was still a one-score game, with KC leading 30-24, when Johnson scored a second time, putting the game away for good. This time, Orton and the Broncos were in Kansas City territory, at the KC 40, when Orton threw an ill-fated short pass to his right, intending to hit tight end Daniel Graham, but instead giving Johnson a clear path to take the ball 60 yards the other way. Charles would turn the game into a laugher on the Chiefs' next possession with a 56-yard touchdown run that made the score 44-24. Derrick Johnson, a legend in Chiefs Kingdom, made his mark in this one.

JUSTIN HOUSTON

September 19, 2013

Chiefs 26, Eagles 16

4.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss

In Andy Reid's return to Philadelphia — his third game as Chiefs' head coach after 14 years in Philly — Justin Houston stole the show. A Pro-Bowler on the wildly talented but extremely disappointing 2012 Chiefs team — which sent five players to the Pro Bowl despite a 2-14 record — Houston had flashed with 10 sacks the previous year and three in Week 1. But this was, in effect, his coming-out party. He dominated the game, racking up 4.5 sacks and four tackles for a loss against Michael Vick and Chip Kelly's Eagles. He also forced a fumble, recovered two, and registered five quarterback hits. He is one of four Chiefs to register four tackles for loss in a single game, and the only Chief to do so while also racking up 4+ sacks. In fact, only 26 times in NFL history has a player for any team managed to hit that combination. Houston would pick up just 3.5 sacks for the remainder of the 2013 season, before putting up an earth-shattering 22 in 2014, but his 4.5 sacks in this game remain his career-high, and the third-highest single-game total in Chiefs history. 

LLOYD BURRUSS

October 19, 1986

Chiefs 42, Chargers 41

3 interceptions, 121 interception return yards, 2 touchdowns

In one of the strangest games in Chiefs history — one that my podcast partner Taylor Witt broke down in full on Episode 6 of It's Always Sunny in Chiefs Kingdom — Lloyd Burruss played the hero. KC was outgained in this game 512 total yards to 222 (!), and possessed the ball for just 20 minutes and 43 seconds, yet stole a victory with five turnovers and three touchdowns on defense and special teams, two by Burruss. San Diego attempted 65 passes in this game: 33 by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, the starter, and 32 by Mark Herrmann in relief after Fouts was injured. Fouts was picked off three times (twice by Burruss, both in the second quarter), staking the Chiefs to a 28-14 lead. With the Chiefs up 42-34 late in the game, the Chargers drove and scored a touchdown, but the two-point conversion would not be introduced in the NFL until 1994, so the Chargers were forced to kick an extra point down eight, and lost the game, 42-41. 

Honorable Mentions:

CRIS DISHMAN

November 28, 1999

Chiefs 37, Raiders 34

1 interception, 47 interception return yards, 1 touchdown, 3 passes defensed; 6 tackles (2 solo), 1 fumble recovery, 1 touchdown

Cornerback Cris Dishman scored on a 47-yard interception of former Chiefs' backup Rich Gannon and scooped up a fumble forced by teammate Jerome Woods, running it back 40 yards for a second score in a narrow win for the Chiefs.

JIM KEARNEY

October 1, 1972

Chiefs 45, Broncos 24

2 interceptions, 75 interception return yards, 2 touchdowns

The first multi-touchdown game from a defensive player in franchise history, Jim Kearney was, at the time, just the sixth player in NFL history to take two interceptions back for touchdowns in a single game. Kearney totaled four pick-sixes in this 1972 season, an NFL single-season record which stands to this day (shared with Eric Allen and Ken Houston). 

For More Kansas City Chiefs Game Balls: Click here for Part I: Greatest QB Performances. Click here for Part II: Greatest Receiving Performances. Click here for Part III: Greatest Running Back Performances. Click here for Part IV: Greatest Defensive Performances.

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