KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs saw value in a trio of players that were essentially castoffs from what was one of the least-successful franchises in the NFL over the past 10 years, and their decision to pick them up when just about nobody else was calling is a big reason why they're playing in the Super Bowl.
The biggest move was picking up Damien Williams, who has gone from journeyman running back to an integral part of one of the league's best offenses. Backup quarterback Matt Moore filled in admirably when Pat Mahomes was hurt this season, and safety Jordan Lucas played on just about every Chiefs special teams unit.
All three once played for the Dolphins.
Now, all three are headed back to Miami.
“It's a big stage and a big moment,” Williams said. “I'm a pride-type person. I like to take pride. At the end of the day, this could be your last run, your last play, so you have to go at it as such. I'm going hard every single day.”
Each of those three players know quite well that any game could be their last.
Williams spent his first four seasons with the Dolphins, playing in 58 games and even taking over the starting role for a four-game stretch in 2017. But when they no longer envisioned Williams in their future, he signed a one-year prove-it deal with Kansas City to be the backup to Kareem Hunt, who was just then emerging as a star.
Then last season, Hunt was kicked off the team following an ugly off-the-field incident, and Williams took over down the stretch. He ran for 129 yards and a touchdown while also catching a touchdown pass in a playoff win over Indianapolis, and he added two touchdowns receiving and another rushing in the Chiefs' overtime AFC title game loss to New England.
That was enough to give Williams the No. 1 job entering this season. But injury trouble that has followed him throughout his career popped up again — it was a shoulder injury two years ago, a rib injury this year. He was sidelined for a long stretch in the middle of the season, and veteran LeSean McCoy and a host of others handled the majority of the reps.
The time off might have done Williams some good, though. He's been healthy and fresh when Kansas City has needed him most, scoring four touchdowns the past two weeks to give him a franchise-record eight TDs in the postseason.
“He's playing good football,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “He was banged up and he worked through it. I think he's done a nice job. Playing physical and running hard. Been impressed with his game right now, catching the ball well too.”
The Chiefs' offense isn't necessarily predicated on the run, especially with Mahomes under center. But Williams does just enough to keep defenses honest, and his ability to block and catch in the passing game has proven invaluable.
Asked what he does best, Williams replied: “I'm great at blocking. I can get out, I can catch, I can run between the tackles — I can do a lot of different things to disguise what we're doing, whether it's running or passing.”
The 35-year-old Moore was coaching high school football when the Chiefs lost backup quarterback Chad Henne late in the preseason and gave him a call. He had spent seven seasons with the Dolphins and went 8-9 as a starter, but nobody really showed much interest in him last season and he spent an entire year away from the NFL.
His value came in Week 7, when Mahomes dislocated his kneecap in Denver. Moore finished off that win, played well the next week against Green Bay, then led the Chiefs to a win over playoff-bound Minnesota. That victory wound up being even more crucial by Week 17, when Kansas City narrowly earned the No. 2 playoff seed and a first-round bye.
That allowed them to play the AFC championship game at Arrowhead Stadium, beating Tennessee last Sunday.
“It's been wild,” said Moore, who was inactive against the Titans because of an illness, but who is expected to return to his normal backup duties for the Super Bowl. “In this league, you never know.”
Lucas played sparingly on defense this season, but he played about 80 percent of snaps on special teams and gave Kansas City some additional depth when safety Juan Thornhill sustained a season-ending knee injury. He was traded from Miami for a seventh-round pick in August 2018, then played well enough to earn a $2.025 million contract this season.
Together, the three ex-Dolphins have played an integral part in the Chiefs' first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years.
“To single out one guy would be a disservice to everyone else who busts their tail,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said, when asked which move made him proudest. "We watch a lot of tape and some of these small signings that people think aren’t a big deal, to us they are. It is a battle of attrition. You have to have enough bodies out there to make it a full season. I’d say everybody me and my staff put the time and effort to bring here, they all pay the bills.”