The Chiefs sent a message to the NFL against the Raiders on National ... uh ... streaming (dang, I hate it when my intro loses steam).
In fact, the Chiefs sent several messages in front of what seemed like the entire NFL universe, during a game that was more hotly anticipated than nearly any other I can remember during my time as a Chiefs fan.
There are two main messages I want to focus on. The first is to the Oakland Raiders and the Denver Broncos. The second is to the NFL at large.
To the Raiders and Broncos, that message is simple: the Chiefs are the best team in the AFC West.
That’s it. The debate is over. Sure, things might change down the stretch, but right here, right now, the Chiefs are the cream of the crop. Oakland fans can whine about Derek Carr’s pinky or the cold or Amari Cooper’s sudden fear of falling footballs, but the fact of the matter is the Chiefs have now swept their division rival, beating them soundly at their house and then winning what ended up being a nail-biter at Arrowhead.
And let’s cover just a few basic facts about said nail-biter. Make no mistake, the Chiefs were demolishing the Raiders despite an early muffed punt that gave the bad guys a 3-0 lead. The defense was stonewalling every Raider drive, and the offense was downright scary (in a good way, not the way it’s been scary to Chiefs fans much of the year), with Alex Smith slinging the ball all over the field. The Chiefs were up 21-3 and the game was starting to look like it was going to turn into a laugher.
When Alex Smith is making (and hitting) these throws, which he's doing more and more, the offense can do just enough to carry its weight. pic.twitter.com/MO2L8mBwNB— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) December 9, 2016
And then came Derrick Johnson’s injury and yet another reminder of just how important momentum and confidence is in the NFL. The defense, CLEARLY shaken up, allowed the Raiders their only good drive of the night and the game came within a single score. Then halftime came and things got weird.
The Chiefs turned the ball over on two consecutive drives, (I’ll get into the film aspects of both turnovers during Alex Smith’s film review), and after that the offense was... weird. Just weird. No more jet sweep action, no more downfield shots (outside of one gorgeous throw to Travis Kelce down the seam), just ... a whole lot of really familiar-looking stuff and runs up the middle. In the meantime, the defense recovered from DJ’s injury and played lights-out, getting out of one jam after another.
It was a nail-biter at the end, sure, but the Chiefs beat the Raiders on a day where they lost the heart of their defense and lost the turnover battle 3-0. They’re just BETTER than the Raiders. And speaking of better, they have also marched into Mile High and beaten the Broncos. And now they’ve beaten a team that crushed the Broncos twice. The AFC West belongs to the Chiefs, and the Chiefs alone. That’s message number 1.
Message Number 2 is to the NFL at large. I’m going to put it in nice big letters for the sake of ... I dunno, feeling like I’m splitting this article up nicely, I guess.
The Chiefs are not a team you want to play in the postseason
Let’s go over the last three weeks of the Chiefs season, shall well?
They went to Denver and played the Broncos, who have arguably the best defense in the league. They then went to Atlanta and played the Falcons, who have arguably the best offense in the league. Then, on a short week, they played a red-hot Oakland Raiders team that boasted a great (well, supposedly) offense and had won six consecutive games before coming to Kansas City.
When you take out the games they played against the Chiefs, those three opponents’ combined record is 25-8. Every one of them has been talked about (repeatedly) as a potential Super Bowl contender. I would argue that no team has faced a tougher three-game stretch than at Denver, at Atlanta, then against Oakland this season. I wrote weeks ago that this stretch would tell us whether the Chiefs are contenders or pretenders. Well, the results are in, and the Chiefs have hung a sign out of their window that says “CONTENDERS” in giant red letters.
They’ve come back from down eight with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter on the road against a great defense. They’ve stood and traded shots with a fantastic offense. They’ve faced an incredibly moment of deflation in losing their defensive soul AND all momentum against a team that’s built to take advantage of such moments... and then sucked it up and hung on, swatting away a comeback attempt like so many passes in the direction of Marcus Peters.
Marcus Peters is just incredible when the ball is in the air. It says something that I was half-surprised he didn't pick this off. pic.twitter.com/8SW5hhDon5— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) December 9, 2016
The Chiefs have some questions that need to be answered, most notably how they will stop the run without Derrick Johnson down the stretch (this next game against the Titans is going to be a very stern test in that regard, as they’re a very good running team and playing solid football at the moment). However, they’ve got a fierce pass rush and a ballhawking secondary. That’s more than enough to frighten any team looking to contend in the postseason, especially teams that are particularly QB-dependent (like many playoff teams are). They’re a defense with no quit whatsoever.
And while the offense may have work to do, they’ve done just enough stretching the field as of late to make defensive coordinators everywhere second-guess the tried-and-true strategy of “load the box and dare Alex Smith to throw deep.” The emergence of Tyreek Hill as a deep ball threat and Travis Kelce as a legitimate superstar at tight end has had a great deal to do with this.
Offense had an ugly 2nd half but this play was huge to flip field and bleed clock. Not a throw you expect Smith to make. Kelce is a star. pic.twitter.com/hSyekJnGpE— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) December 9, 2016
The Chiefs aren’t always (or even often) pretty on offense, and the run game has been disappointing. But they’re doing enough to take at least SOME of the pressure off the defense, and have started to flash some big-play potential as of the last few weeks.
To sum up, the Chiefs have a lot of strengths and not many real weaknesses, and they’ve gone through some BATTLES to get where they’re at. They know how to come back from a deficit, how to weather comebacks and bounce back from stomach-punch moments (DJ means so much to me personally as a fan that I can’t talk about it at the moment), and how to keep calm and keep swinging.
The Chiefs sent some messages against Oakland, and teams need to start fearing The Walking Chiefs. They’ve walked through the fire of an incredibly difficult stretch of games, physically and mentally, and now have a mini-bye week to get healthy and start scheming around the few weaknesses they’ve shown. And that should be the scariest part of all for the rest of the league: this team STILL hasn’t peaked.