The Kansas City Chiefs finally got Justin Houston back onto the field Sunday against Arizona, and the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker made one of the plays of the game when he picked off Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen on a second-half screen pass.
The Chiefs also got safety Daniel Sorensen back from injured reserve, where he had resided since breaking his leg in training camp, and he five tackles while providing a hard-hitting presence.
Perhaps it's no surprise the Chiefs defense played the best it has all season.
With two of their anticipated starters back on the field, the Chiefs held the Cardinals to 260 yards in a 26-14 victory. They sacked Rosen five times, intercepted him twice and even managed to keep David Johnson under 100 yards rushing — just barely.
"I feel like the first couple weeks we were putting too much into it, trying too hard," linebacker Reggie Ragland said. "We're having fun with it. Whatever happens, happens. It's football. We've been playing this game for too long for us not to have fun with it. It's a child's game and we're grown men playing it, so have fun with it. Don't worry about all that other stuff."
The Chiefs (9-1) sure looked as if they were having a ball Sunday.
Dee Ford had his ninth sack of the season, not to mention three tackles for a loss and four hits on Rosen. Allen Bailey had his fifth sack while Chris Jones had two more to give him a career-high seven for the season, including at least one sack in six consecutive games.
All told, Rosen was hit 13 times and fumbled once while throwing for just 208 yards and a score.
"The one thing we're doing right now is we are minimizing big plays," defensive tackle Jarvis Jenkins said. "That is one thing we all play on is minimizing big plays, then getting them one-dimensional so we can rush the passer. I think we did that this game."
The only game in which the defense played nearly as well was Cincinnati, when the Chiefs allowed 239 yards in a 45-10 rout. But it's often easier to play stingy defense when the game has gotten out of hand, and on Sunday the Chiefs needed to show up in a game that Arizona managed to keep relatively close.
"That's happened a couple of times now, things have stalled out (on offense) then they step up and make plays," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "That's a great thing. We need that as a football team. We need that. It's important."
Especially given who is up next: The Chiefs are headed to Mexico City to face the high-flying Los Angeles Rams on Monday night in a matchup of two of the NFL's most dynamic offenses.
The Rams are second in yards-per-game and the Chiefs are third, and those rankings are flipped when it comes to scoring with Kansas City second and Los Angeles third.
In other words, it's a good time for the Chiefs' maligned defense to start showing up.
They can still get a whole lot better, too. Middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens was out Sunday with bruised ribs, and backup linebacker Frank Zombo missed the game with a hamstring injury, giving undrafted rookie Ben Niemann a chance to start his first NFL game.
"I was still on four phases of special teams," Niemann said, "so I got a little tired out there. But it was good. You want to play. You want to play as many snaps as possible."
Someone else who wants to play? Eric Berry, the Chiefs' star safety, who still hasn't played since tearing his Achilles' tendon in the season opener last year. Berry practiced throughout the summer and into training camp, but a heel injury has kept him off the field for months.
It would be another boon for the Chiefs defense if he can return in any effective capacity.
"Sooner or later, it has to be the defense (stepping up)," Jenkins said. "That's part of being a team. You can't be one-dimensional. I think the feeling we have now is it's a good team. It wasn't pretty (Sunday) but we got it done. That's what we have to do."
Notes: Reid said Monday he's not concerned about the field conditions at Azteca Stadium, where the combination of concerts and soccer matches have wrecked the turf. "I've seen it," Reid said, "but I think the NFL is on top of it. They do a great job with all that stuff." ... Reid said he doesn't expect Patrick Mahomes to miss practice after his girlfriend's stepfather died suddenly on Sunday. The Chiefs are off on Tuesday and Wednesday. "He's here this morning and he's got things set there, organized and settled down," Reid said, "so he can do what he's got to do here."