KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The atmosphere inside the Kansas City Chiefs locker room wasn’t a whole lot different Sunday than in any of their other victories during a franchise record-tying nine-game win streak.
There were high-fives and congratulations, of course. But mostly a business-like attitude.
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It was hard to believe the Chiefs had just qualified for the playoffs.
“We still have one more week left and there’s still a lot to play for,” said quarterback Alex Smith, who threw two touchdown passes in a down-to-the-wire, 17-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
When Pittsburgh lost to Baltimore moments later, the Chiefs clinched at least a wild-card spot.
They can still win the AFC West and host a playoff game if they beat Oakland next week and the Broncos lose to Cincinnati on Monday night or in their regular-season finale against San Diego.
Hard to believe when they were 1-5.
“We didn’t panic, that’s the most important part,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “You can’t get too far in the hole, and we got as far as you can get to still make the postseason.”
The Chiefs (10-5) jumped out to a 17-3 halftime lead Sunday, and looked as if they were cruising to an easy win. But their offense became listless over the final two quarters, just as Johnny Manziel was pumping some life into the downtrodden Browns (3-12).
The former Heisman Trophy winner led Cleveland to 10 straight points, then had them in possession for a go-ahead touchdown before his incomplete pass to the end zone on fourth down with 2:55 left.
Kansas City had a chance to put the game away, but failed to pick up a first down, and Cleveland took over at its 30 with 1:52 left and no timeouts. The Browns picked up three first downs, and Manziel hit Darius Jennings on fourth-and-10 from the 32 with time ticking away.
It ran out before Manziel could get off another snap, and he spiked his helmet in frustration.
“I’m definitely shouldering a lot for this loss,” he said. “Regardless of what our record is, where we are in the season, it (sticks) not to win, especially when our coach and the other 10 guys put us in a position to try to get us in the end zone there at the end. I just felt like I didn’t do the right thing in crunch time. I think that’s the moral of the entire story of the game.”
Manziel threw for 136 yards with an interception, but he also ran for 108 yards to give his team a chance. Isaiah Crowell added 88 yards rushing and a touchdown for the Browns.
“I talked earlier this week about planting seeds and moving forward,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “I think that second half was an indication. It’s one of those, you look at the scoreboard, you lost. But in some sense you just feel like you ran out of time.”
The Chiefs looked as if they’d make this one easy in the first half, driving downfield for a TD on their opening drive. Smith zipped a pass to Jeremy Maclin between three defenders for a score.
Kansas City added a field goal moments later for a 10-0 lead.
Travis Coons kicked the first of his two field goals for Cleveland, and an interception of Smith gave the Browns life. But two plays later, Manziel was picked by Marcus Peters, and the rookie returned his eighth of the season deep into Cleveland territory. Smith then connected with Travis Kelce with 32 seconds left to help the Chiefs take a 17-3 lead into the break.
Then the Chiefs got stagnant. And the Browns made things interesting.
His scrambling ability was critical to a nine-play, 82-yard drive to begin the second half, and Crowell finished it by racing 10 yards for a touchdown.
Then, after forcing a quick punt, Cleveland put together a grinding 21-play drive that took up more than 12 minutes despite going only 62 yards. Three times, Manziel picked up a first down by scrambling on third or fourth down, though his intentional grounding penalty helped force a field goal.
The Browns had twice more advanced deep into Kansas City territory. The final time came in the game’s final seconds, when he couldn’t get the ball spiked in time.
“Johnny is one of those quarterbacks you can never get comfortable with him,” Johnson said. “For a defensive guy he’s a headache. But at the end of the day, time ran out on him.”
NOTES: Maclin became the fourth wide receiver under Andy Reid to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving. He has 1,034. ... Browns RB Raheem Mostert (ankle) and WR Marlon Moore (concussion) left in the second quarter and did not return. ... Smith threw for 125 yards, giving him a career-best 3,330 this season. ... The Chiefs only had 258 yards total offense.