December 31 2006: Kansas City Chiefs 35 – Jacksonville Jaguars 30
When the Chiefs made the trip to Jacksonville on New Year’s Eve 2006, the season was on a knife edge for both sides. Neither could win their division, but with a pair of 8 and 7 records, each team knew that a win could get them into the playoffs as a wild card – a defeat and the season was over.
In the first quarter, a Jaguars punt was blocked by Bernard Pollard, who recovered the punt himself and took it back for the opening score. Rookie safety Pollard had been the Chiefs’ second round draft pick that year, and this was his only score during his three seasons with the team. He went on to play for the Texans, the Ravens (where he won a Superbowl ring) and the Titans.
Pollard had a series of run-ins with the New England Patriots, where he seemed to have the evil sign over them: as a Chief in 2008, he tackled Tom Brady, injuring his knee and ending his season. In 2009 when he was a Texan, Wes Welker injured his ACL and MCL while being tackled by Pollard, also ending his season. In the 2011 playoffs, Pollard tackled Rob Gronkowski and injured his ankle – Gronk’s subsequent limited mobility in the Superbowl a few weeks later was one of the factors in the Pats surprise defeat by the Giant. And finally in the 2012 playoffs, Pollard helped the Ravens defeat the Patriots, ending their season – in that game, Pollard was the last to tackle Aaron Hernandez: it proved to be Hernandez’s last game ever, as before the next season started he had been arrested for murder.
Jacksonville soon equalised through a Fred Taylor TD, and then went ahead mid way through the second quarter when Josh Scobee kicked a field goal. But two touchdowns before half time put the Chiefs back in charge: on our next drive, new star running back Larry Johnson took the team up-field with a 40 yard run, before then finishing the job from short range a few plays later. Then on the next drive after that, veteran wide receiver Eddie Kennison grabbed a 20 yard pass to take play into the Jags’ half, and shortly after held onto a 35-yarder in the end zone to make the half time score 21-10.
The third quarter started even better for KC. Jacksonville’s opening drive was ended by a Ty Law interception – he made the pick at the Jags 18 yard line, and came very close to returning it for a touchdown. Chiefs fans didn’t have to wait long though, as Larry Johnson took it home from 2 yards out on the very next play for his second score of the game.
Johnson is undeniably a controversial figure in recent Chiefs history. His figures speak from themselves – taking his opportunity when Priest Holmes was side-lined by injury, he rushed for 1,750 yards in 2005 and then bettered that with 1,789 the following year. These remain the top two rushing seasons for the franchise (beating any of Priest Holmes, Christian Okoye or Jamaal Charles’ great years) – in those two years he also scored 37 touchdowns and was unsurprisingly an All-Pro both times.
But Johnson also managed to rub a lot of people up the wrong way – falling out with coach Vermeil before he had played a game, then falling out with coach Haley, insulting fans over Twitter, and making a number of homophobic comments on-line. He was injured in 2009 while less than 100 yards behind Holmes as the franchise’s all-time career rushing leader, and a fans’ petition was started to not let a player who reflected so badly on the team get the record. The management bowed to public pressure and L.J. was traded to the Bengals without playing again for the team. Over three seasons with Cincinnati, Miami and Washington, he never regained his stellar form.
The scoring really took off at this point – Jacksonville’s next drive saw another touchdown after Maurice Jones-Drew’s kick off return gave them great field position, and then when the Chiefs received the ball back they drove 70 yards, finishing with Johnson’s third rushing touchdown of the day. After the ball was kicked back to the Jags, they took it straight back in a handful of plays for yet another touchdown. The score was now 35-24 to KC, with over a quarter left to play.
The next score was another Jags touchdown – MJD rushed home to bring the margin back down to 5 points and ensure a nervy ending. But the Chiefs managed to grind down the clock – a five minute drive including nine short rushes by Larry Johnson ensured that the hosts never got the ball back. Kansas City went to 9-7 and secured the 6th AFC seed as wild card.
Elsewhere in the NFL at the time:
Jay Cutler’s Denver Broncos raced into an early lead at Mile High, before the San Francisco 49ers turned it right around in the second half under young quarterback Alex Smith (I wonder whatever happened to him…?). The Broncos fought back again, with a late Cutler touchdown pass taking it to overtime. Both teams had failed drives in OT, before a series of Frank Gore rushes brought the 49ers into range to hit the game winning field goal.
Elsewhere in the world:
A couple of notable deaths – a few days before this game, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and a few days after, long time host of the quiz show Mastermind, Magnus Magnusson