1994 Kansas City Chiefs: Joe Montana’s Last Ride

The Kansas City Chiefs had made big moves before 1993. They signed two veteran legends in quarterback Joe Montana and running back Marcus Allen. And the moves paid off in spades. The Chiefs went from a nice playoff team to one that made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game. The 1994 Kansas City Chiefs were looking to take that final step to the Super Bowl. But after a nice start, they faded, barely made the playoffs and Montana went off into the sunset.

The future Hall of Fame quarterback still had a decent year in ’94. He completed 61 percent of his passes and was only intercepted on 1.8 percent of his throws, both figures ranking in the top 10 of the league. The 6.7 yards-per-attempt was mediocre, but playing clean, precision football was more important in the offense of head coach Marty Schottenheimer.

Where the problem came in was that the running game, typically a Schottenheimer staple, was pedestrian in 1994. Allen averaged less than four yards a rush. Young Greg Hill, who split time with the Hall of Fame veteran, was barely over the 4-yards a carry threshold. Kimble Anders was solid, but his skills were in pass-catching, where his 67 receptions led the team.

The running game problems could be traced to the offensive line. Right guard Will Shields would eventually become a Hall of Famer himself, but Shields was only in his second year and there was no Pro Bowl talent up front in 1994. The offense relied on Montana occasionally stretching the field to Willie Davis, J.J. Birden and rookie receiver Lake Dawson, but otherwise trying to move the chains with short throws to Anders and tight end Derrick Walker. The Chiefs finished 14th in a 28-team league for points scored.

KC’s defense was better. They had playmaking talent in defensive end Neil Smith with his 11 ½ sacks and linebacker Derrick Thomas, who had another Pro Bowl season in a Hall of Fame career. Dale Carter made the Pro Bowl at the cornerback spot. And after the success in bringing in great veteran help in ’93, Kansas City added another vet with a Super Bowl ring—defensive back Mark Collins, part of Bill Parcell’s championship run with the Giants in 1990. The Chief defense ranked seventh in the league in points allowed.

Any problems with the offense in general or the running game in particular were nowhere evident in an opening day trip to mediocre New Orleans. Allen’s 82 yards keyed a 152-37 edge in rushing yardage. Montana went 24/33 for 315 yards and two touchdowns. Kansas City won the turnover battle 4-zip and the football game 30-17.

Everyone in the country was interested in the home opener, an early afternoon kick against San Francisco. It was Montana’s first time playing the franchise where he’d made his legend. And this 49er team was outstanding—they would go on to win the Super Bowl. San Francisco took a 14-7 lead into the second quarter.

Thomas stepped up and made a big play, sacking 49er quarterback Steve Young for a safety. In the third quarter, Montana threw a touchdown pass and converted a two-point conversion. He went on to go 19/31 for 203 yards. More important was that Montana and the Chiefs played mistake-free, while Young and the 49ers did not. Another 4-0 turnover edge led to another victory, this one 24-17.

Kansas City went to Atlanta for Week 3 on Sunday Night. The Falcons were a mediocre team, so even though the Chiefs turned it over four times and committed fourteen penalties, it didn’t come back to bite them. They forced six turnovers and the Falcons drew ten flags of their own. Montana threw for 361 yards, with Birden catching seven balls for 99 yards and two touchdowns. KC won easily 30-10.

The Chiefs were rolling and looked every bit the Super Bowl contender they were expected to be. Even when a home date with the woeful Los Angeles Rams turned into an ugly 16-0 loss, that could be seen as just one of the mysterious things that happen in the course of a long season. And Kansas City was going into their bye with a chance to get things cleaned up after two straight sloppy performances.

The heart of the schedule was still ahead. A weird schedule quirk had KC opening with all four of their NFC opponents, so the rest of 1994 still had their entire AFC slate coming up.

A visit to San Diego was up next. The Chargers had won the AFC West in 1992 before slipping back to .500 in ’93. They looked like their ’92 selves on this October afternoon. The Chiefs could not run the ball. Even though Montana got his numbers, he had to throw 55 times,  and there was a lot of empty yardage in a 20-6 loss.

John Elway and Denver were up next and the cameras of Monday Night Football were on hand. Elway and Montana was must-see television and these two great quarterbacks did not disappoint. Elway played well. Montana was brilliant, going 34/54 for 393 yards. One key statistical difference was that the KC defense got home to Elway six times, with Smith recording 2 ½ sacks.

But the game is defined by Montana’s late drive and touchdown pass with eight seconds left that pulled out a 31-28 win. This Broncos-Chiefs showdown of 1994 remains one of Monday Night Football’s iconic moments.

Montana kept it rolling, going 23/33 for 311 yards, three touchdowns and no mistakes in a 38-23 home win over Seattle. Kansas City’s record was back up to 5-2 and they were going to Buffalo, the four-time defending AFC champion who had ended the Chiefs’ season a year ago.

The result in this game was all too similar to what went down the previous January. KC’s rush defense got pummeled, Montana was sacked four times, they turned the ball over five times and were buried 44-10.

A visit from the contending Raiders, then playing in Los Angeles, was on tap for Sunday Night Football. The Chiefs’ defense redeemed themselves with a dominant performance. Some shaky red-zone football from the offense kept an otherwise lopsided game close, but a 57-yard touchdown pass from Montana to Walker provided the cushion in a 13-3 win.

San Diego was next in town and the Chargers were a game up on the Chiefs in the AFC West. Kansas City needed this game and took a 13-0 lead by halftime. But Montana was erratic, throwing two interceptions. The running game was non-existent. And the Chiefs ended up on the short end of a 14-13 decision.

Another good playoff contender arrived in the form of Bill Belichick’s Cleveland Browns. In a home game the Chiefs had to have, they played some vintage Schottenheimer football. There was a balanced running game, led by Hill’s 66 yards. There were no mistakes. And the result was a 20-13 win over a good team.

But again, just when Kansas City was showing life, they stumbled. Seattle—an AFC West team prior to the realignment of 2002—was having a bad year, but they shut down Montana and beat Kansas City 10-9. What’s more, Montana was knocked out and Steve Bono was forced into action for the next week’s game, a big late afternoon kickoff against Denver.

Bono made big plays—even though he only completed 18/37 passes, those completions generated over 320 yards. That included a 62-yard strike to Davis that tied the game 17-17 in the fourth quarter. What the Chiefs could not do, again, was run the football. A game that went deep into OT saw KC only control the ball for 26 minutes. Denver eventually won it 20-17.

This season of such promise was teetering on the brink. San Diego was in complete control of the AFC West race. But the race for the final two wild-card spots were open. The Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos were all 7-6. So were the Patriots and Bills. The Colts were sitting at 6-7. So the postseason was still very much in play.

But Montana wasn’t ready to come back and even if he were, it wasn’t going to matter on a Monday Night at eventual AFC East champ Miami. Bono played well, going 33/55 for 314 yards. But the 55 pass attempts underscores the problem. The Chiefs couldn’t run and even if they could have, the defense got carved up in a 45-28 loss.

The prior day had seen the Raiders beat the Broncos and the Patriots knock off the Colts. The Raiders and Pats had pole position for the final playoff spots,  with the Chiefs, Broncos and Bills a game back.

Kansas City hosted the Houston Oilers, who were enduring a hard collapse after a strong seven-year run of playoff seasons. Montana returned and went 16/27 for 235 yards. He was also mistake-free. Dawson caught five of those passes for 101 yards. The Allen/Hill rushing tandem produced 105 yards on 24 carries and the Chiefs won easily, 31-9.

Good news came from elsewhere in the league. The Broncos and Bills both lost. Kansas City wasn’t home free, but they did control their destiny. They would go to Los Angeles and play the Raiders. It was a virtual playoff game. The winner was in. The loser was out.

The season finale fell in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve and Chiefs fans were looking for an early Christmas present. Montana hit Davis on a 47-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to get the scoring rolling. In the second quarter, the lead was 7-3, but the Raiders were driving. Collins intercepted a pass and went 78 yards to the house.

With the money on the table, the veterans were coming through. Allen, playing a former team whose front office he despised, rolled up 132 yards. Hill only carried eight times, but gained 51 yards. The defense scored again when they recorded a safety. A 19-9 win sent the Chiefs back into the playoffs.

Kansas City was the 6-seed and made a second December visit to Miami  in the late afternoon on New New Year’s Eve. This one went better than the earlier visit—Montana threw a couple touchdown passes, including a 57-yarder to Anders and KC led 14-10 in the second quarter.

A critical red-zone failure swung the tide. The Chiefs had to settle for a 21-yard field goal. They had kept Dan Marino very much in striking distance at 17-10. Even though Montana played well and threw for over 300 yards, Marino got rolling in the third quarter and the Dolphins scored 17 unanswered points. The Chiefs were in a 27-17 hole by the start of the fourth quarter and that’s how the game ended.

It was another playoff season in Marty’s terrific run here in Kansas City. It was another playoff trip in the extraordinary career of Joe Montana. But it wasn’t what either man was hoping for when the season began. Montana retired. The Chiefs started anew. They still had the two best teams of Schottenheimer’s tenure ahead, in 1995 and 1997. But they never did make it to the Super Bowl until Patrick Mahomes arrived over twenty years later.