KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Eric Berry credits Kansas City's 4-0 start to the "family feeling" that held everyone together during the hapless 2-14 season of 2012.
Maybe so. But after the Chiefs (4-0) pounded the winless New York Giants 31-7 on Sunday, it's obvious that importing a cool, savvy quarterback from San Francisco and bringing in a smart, no-nonsense coach from Philadelphia also had a lot to do with a rags-to-riches transformation.
Even in a league known for quick turnarounds and breathtaking free-falls, this seems preposterous.
Alex Smith, who lost his job last year in San Francisco, threw three touchdown passes, and Dexter McCluster returned a punt 89 yards for another score as the Chiefs joined the 1980 Detroit Lions as the only teams in modern league history to win two or fewer games one season, then rocket to a 4-0 start the next.
"To be honest, all we talked about all offseason was being 1-0," said Smith. "Just get the first one."
Did he ever dream of being 4-0?
"No, to answer your question."
The Giants, proud Super Bowl champions of 2007 and 2011 season, are 0-4 for the first time since 1987, a mass of injury and disarray.
"It is disappointing," said quarterback Eli Manning, who's been operating all year behind a patchwork offensive line. "The defense got us some turnovers and we weren't able to do anything with it. We are just not playing very well offensively."
The injury-ravaged Giants trailed only 17-7 after three quarters. They managed a 69-yard catch-and-run TD from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz.
"This is a situation we've got to fix," said Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. "We know what we're capable of doing."
Smith hit touchdown passes of 4, 2 and 35 yards and was 24 for 41 for 288 yards. He was intercepted twice and the Chiefs also lost a fumble, Kansas City's first turnovers in what may be turning into a magical season under first-year head coach Andy Reid.
"I know they'll battle," said first-year coach Andy Reid, who spent the previous 14 seasons coaching the Eagles. "That's what I know. There are a lot of things I don't know but I do know this: We're a tough bunch."
Manning was 18 for 37 for 217 yards and the one TD. He was sacked three times and intercepted once, but harried and hurried much of the bright, sunny afternoon.
All of a sudden, the misery of 2012 that cost coach Romeo Crennel and general manager Scott Pioli their jobs seems a distant memory.
"We just kept working, kept sticking together," said Berry. "We know things don't always go your way. But you've got to be able to stick together through tough times, in life, period. We kept leaning on each other. Nobody pointed a finger at anybody at any time. We just stuck together and I feel like that was the foundation that was built for us to do what we're doing now. But we've still got a lot of work to do."
Late in the first quarter, Smith hit Sean McGrath, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe for gains of 12, 17 and 14 yards on successive plays. McGrath, the heavily bearded tight end and Seattle Seahawks castoff, got free in the end zone to catch Smith's 5-yard TD pass to cap the 11-play, 98-yard drive.
The drive took 5 minutes, 38 seconds. To answer, Manning needed only 54 seconds.
Cruz went streaking down the right sideline — turf normally patrolled by injured cornerback Brandon Flowers — caught Manning's pass in stride and raced into the end zone. Trailing far behind was Dunta Robinson, a backup cornerback.
The Chiefs led only 10-7 when McCluster fielded the ball and set sail on the first TD punt return the Chiefs have had since Sept. 13, 2010, when McCluster took one back a team-record 94 yards against San Diego during a rain storm. He juked one tackler, put a dizzying 360-degree spin move on another and then broke clear up the middle.
Ryan Succop kicked a 51-yard field goal in the second quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Smith fired a 2-yard TD pass to Charles and a 35-yarder to Bowe, who twisted free of a couple of tacklers.
NOTES: Like many fans, referee Terry McAulay is used to Reid being with the Eagles. After Reid successfully challenged a spot in the third quarter, McAulay announced, "Philadelphia will not be charged a timeout."... Gary Barbaro, a Pro Bowl safety in the early '80s, was inducted into the Chiefs' Hall of Fame at halftime. ... The 1987 Giants team which started 0-5 and missed the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl the year before, came in a strike-interrupted season. ... In their last 16 games against the NFC, the Chiefs are 13-3.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org