The Kansas City Chiefs had their backs to the end zone in the third quarter on Sunday, and the Houston Texans had first and goal with an opportunity to take the lead.
Three straight plays went nowhere and the Texans had to settle for a field goal.
It was a virtuoso display by the NFL’s stingiest defense, and a signature stand in a stellar second half.
The Chiefs kept repelling the Houston offense the rest of the way, and the result was a 17-16 home victory to extend their perfect start.
‘‘You know as well as I do, you win with great defenses. That’s how it rolls,’’ Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.
Nor can you be successful without a guy like Jamaal Charles, who ran for 86 yards and a touchdown, or quarterback Alex Smith, who also had a scoring scamper.
The game was still in doubt even after the Chiefs’ goal-line stand. They had to punt with 1:46 left, but the Texans had no timeouts. Case Keenum threw an incompletion on first down and then was stripped by linebacker Tamba Hali on the ensuing play.
Derrick Johnson recovered the ball for the Chiefs, and Smith kneeled on it from there to run out the clock. Kansas City’s 7-0 start trails only the 9-0 mark by the 2003 team for the best in franchise history.
In the Super Bowl era, 31 teams have started 7-0 and all qualified for the playoffs. Fifteen of those 31 clubs advanced to the Super Bowl and nine have won it.
Keenum, making his first NFL start in place of the injured Matt Schaub, threw for 271 yards and a TD for the Texans (2-5). His performance was overshadowed by a pair of crushing injuries: Running back Arian Foster left in the first quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return and linebacker Brian Cushing was carted off with a left knee injury in the second half. Multiple reports said Cushing tore the LCL in his knee and also suffered a broken leg.
Host Carolina (3-3) won back-to-back games for the first time this season, getting another efficient effort from Cam Newton, who was 15-of-17 passing for 204 yards and a TD. St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford wasn’t as fortunate, leaving with a left knee injury in the fourth quarter. According to NFL.com, Bradford has a torn ACL.
Bradford was injured when he landed on his knee after being shoved out of bounds by Panthers safety Mike Mitchell. Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Bradford ‘‘was in significant pain on the sideline.’’
Before losing their QB, the Rams (3-4) lost their cool. They were flagged for five personal foul penalties and defensive end Chris Long was ejected for throwing a punch after one fracas involving more than a dozen players. The Panthers were flagged for two personal fouls.
Bradford’s first pass was intercepted by cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and returned 45 yards for a score.
Shaun Suisham drilled a 42-yard field goal with no time remaining, giving host Pittsburgh its second straight win after an 0-4 start. Suisham converted all four of his field goal attempts to remain perfect on the year (14 for 14), and Ben Roethlisberger completed 17 of 23 passes for 160 yards and a score.
Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a pair of big gains on Pittsburgh’s final drive, putting Suisham well within range to win it. Running back Le’Veon Bell ran for a season-high 93 yards on 19 carries.
Joe Flacco threw for 215 yards and a TD, but couldn’t stop Baltimore (3-4) from losing for the third time in four games. The Ravens trailed all day, but finally ran the Steelers down when Flacco guided a 16-play, 73-yard drive that ended when he hit Dallas Clark on a 1-yard TD pass to tie the game at 16 with 1:58 to go.
Green Bay (4-2) won its third straight game and took over first place in the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers threw for 260 yards and three TDs and the Packers held Cleveland out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter at rainy Lambeau Field.
Rodgers finished 25 of 36 in methodically carving up the Browns (3-4) despite being without two of his top targets in injured receivers James Jones and Randall Cobb. Tight end Jermichael Finley had a 10-yard TD catch in the first quarter before leaving with a neck injury with about 10 minutes to go. He was carted off the field, and the team later said Finley had movement and feeling in his extremities.
Brandon Weeden struggled again for the Browns, completing just 17 of 42 passes for 149 yards and an interception. His 2-yard TD pass to Jordan Cameron with 6:09 remaining got Cleveland within 24-13, but the Packers needed just four plays to respond, on Rodgers’s 20-yard scoring toss to Jarrett Boykin.
Cincinnati used superior special teams play to earn a second straight hard-fought road victory. Mike Nugent’s 54-yard field goal as time expired won it.
The AFC North-leading Bengals (5-2) led by 11 in the third quarter, but Detroit (4-3) tied it at 24 on Matthew Stafford’s 50-yard TD pass to Calvin Johnson with 11:59 remaining. It looked as if the Lions were going to send the game to overtime, but rookie Sam Martin shanked a punt just 28 yards to midfield in the final minute.
Andy Dalton threw two short passes to gain 15 yards and called the team’s last timeout with four seconds left to set up Nugent’s second winning field goal in as many weeks. Dalton was 24 of 34 for 372 yards and three scores.
Bumped up to Atlanta’s No. 1 receiver because of injuries, Harry Douglas had seven receptions for a career-best 149 yards, including a 37-yard TD catch, as the host Falcons (2-4) kept Tampa Bay winless while ending a three-game losing streak.
Matt Ryan threw two TD passes to Jacquizz Rodgers, and his scoring toss to Douglas put Atlanta ahead, 24-7, with 5:32 left in the first half. Ryan completed 20 of 26 passes for 273 yards.
Mike Glennon, making his first road start for the Bucs (0-6), completed 26 of 44 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns to Vincent Jackson. Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin left early in the third quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return. Martin said his X-rays ‘‘look fine’’ and the shoulder is not separated.
Colin Kaepernick threw for 199 yards and ran for 68 and a touchdown, guiding San Francisco to its fourth consecutive victory. The 49ers (5-2) jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead in Nashville, and Frank Gore had two 1-yard TD runs.
The Titans (3-4) dropped their third in a row despite outgaining the 49ers, 368-349. That advantage was built in a frantic fourth quarter as they tried to rally. San Francisco still had a big edge in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 35 minutes, including the third quarter when the 49ers played keepaway for more than 11 minutes. Gore capped that drive with his second TD for a 24-0 lead.
Coming off a short week and playing across the country, San Diego improved to 4-3 as Philip Rivers threw for 285 yards and a TD and Ryan Mathews ran for 110 yards and a score. Granted, the Chargers were playing Jacksonville, which became the first team since the 1984 Oilers to lose each of its first seven games by double digits.
Rivers completed his first 14 passes, picking apart the Jaguars’ defense. He finished 22 of 26, including a 27-yard scoring pass to Eddie Royal early in the second quarter for a 14-0 advantage.