Un­known stars emerge for sud­denly stingy Chiefs de­fense

Lu­cas and Ward are de­pend­able pieces for KC

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - SPORTS - By Dave Skretta

KANSAS CITY, MO. >> The two trans­ac­tions that the Kansas City Chiefs made be­fore the start of the sea­son came with lit­tle fan­fare, mostly be­cause ca­sual foot­ball fans prob­a­bly had never heard of ei­ther of them.

Jor­dan Lu­cas was drafted in the sixth round out of Penn State by the Dol­phins, and had spent most of his ca­reer on their prac­tice squad.

But when it be­came ev­i­dent in late Au­gust that Kansas City might need help at safety, gen­eral man­ager Brett Veach sent a sev­enth-round pick to Mi­ami for him.

Char­var­ius Ward went un­drafted this past April, over­looked by ev­ery team sev­eral times. He signed with the Cow­boys as a free agent, then was shipped the Chiefs for of­fen­sive line­man Parker Ehinger when Dal­las de­cided it needed some help up front.

Two play­ers, ac­quired one day apart, just may have turned a shoddy Chiefs de­fense into one that could carry the fran­chise to its first Su­per Bowl ap­pear­ance since Jan­uary 1970.

Lu­cas and Ward be­came de­pend­able pieces in the Chiefs’ de­fen­sive back­field the fi­nal two weeks of the reg­u­lar sea­son. And on Satur­day, they helped shut down An­drew Luck and the In­di­anapo­lis Colts in a 31-13 vic­tory that sent the fran­chise to its first AFC ti­tle game in 25 years.

“I think some of the young guys are ma­tur­ing right in front of our eyes,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, whose team will face the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots at Ar­row­head Sta­dium next Sun­day.

His de­fense had been seen as the big­gest vul­ner­a­bil­ity all sea­son, par­tic­u­larly as the Chiefs’ of­fense shat­tered all kinds of fran­chise records. The only games they lost came in shootouts against the Rams, Pa­tri­ots and Sea­hawks — on all three oc­ca­sions their de­fense giv­ing up a boat­load of points — and when Kansas City couldn’t stop Philip Rivers and the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers in the fourth quar­ter.

It was after that game against the Charg­ers that Reid made a bold per­son­nel move: He benched cor­ner­back Or­lando Scan­drick and safety Ron Parker, a pair of veter­ans that had started all sea­son, in fa­vor of Lu­cas and Ware, a pair of rel­a­tively untested young­sters.

They had some grow­ing pains the fol­low­ing week in Seat­tle, but Reid stuck with them, and they showed sig­nif­i­cant growth the fol­low­ing week. The Chiefs shut down Derek Carr and the Oak­land Raiders in a Week 17 vic­tory that they needed to wrap up the AFC West and No. 1 seed.

Their growth con­tin­ued in leaps and bounds against the Colts.

Ward was picked on early and came up with sev­eral big breakups, and Lu­cas pa­trolled the mid­dle of the field like a savvy cen­ter fielder. To­gether, they helped the Chiefs hold Luck to 203 yards pass­ing, and kept In­di­anapo­lis from scor­ing an of­fen­sive touch­down un­til late in the fourth quar­ter.

“At the end of the day, this is some­thing we love to do, some­thing we get paid to do,” Lu­cas said after­ward, “so we have to go out there and give Chiefs King­dome some­thing we haven’t had in 25 years, and it’s spe­cial. We’re just look­ing to keep build­ing.”

It’s par­tic­u­larly spe­cial given the al­ter­na­tive.

Lu­cas came from a Dol­phins team that went 7-9, missed the play­offs and fired its coach, while Ward joined from a Cow­boys team that was bounced from the play­offs by the Los An­ge­les Rams on Satur­day night.

Nei­ther could have imag­ined play­ing for an AFC ti­tle with the Chiefs back in Au­gust.

“Just a crazy ex­pe­ri­ence,” Lu­cas said. “Com­ing from Mi­ami here, it’s just a bless­ing.”

It’s been a bless­ing for the Chiefs, too.

Part of the rea­son their de­fense has strug­gled all sea­son is the fact that Eric Berry, their star safety and emo­tional leader, has been side­lined with a heel in­jury. Berry tried to come back late in the sea­son, only for the in­jury to flare up again, and was in­ac­tive against the Colts.

Lu­cas has filled in ad­mirably along­side fel­low safety Daniel Sorensen.

The im­proved play by the Chiefs’ de­fen­sive back­field the past few weeks has paid div­i­dends up front, too, al­low­ing de­fen­sive tackle Chris Jones and lineback­ers Justin Hous­ton and Dee Ford to ter­ror­ize op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs. Hous­ton had a pair of sacks and Ford had a strip-sack Satur­day, and Jones ap­plied enough pres­sure up the mid­dle to flush Luck from the pocket on sev­eral oc­ca­sions.

When asked what has changed, Ford replied: “Time. Per­sis­tence.”

“We had a lot of new faces and we just kept work­ing,” he added. “Kind of filled in the gaps as we went along and guys stepped up and sort of un­der­stand­ing the de­fense. We just kept step­ping up.”

Now, the Chiefs have to step up one more time to earn a trip to the Su­per Bowl.

“Very ex­cit­ing. This is what we need as a team. This is what we work for,” Ford said. “We just want to keep this thing rolling. En­joy it now but keep it rolling.”

More AP NFL: https://ap­news.com/NFL and https:// twit­ter.com/AP—NFL

CHAR­LIE RIEDEL — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Kansas City Chiefs line­backer An­thony Hitchens, top, and safety Jor­dan Lu­cas (24) tackle In­di­anapo­lis Colts run­ning back Mar­lon Mack (25) dur­ing the sec­ond half of an NFL di­vi­sional foot­ball play­off game in Kansas City, Mo., Satur­day.

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