In a league where quarterback is the most influential position — and when a particular franchise hasn’t had a transformational athlete playing that position for generations — it should be no surprise that all the focus will be on that quarterback.
That’s been the case for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018.
The team, the media — and its fans — have essentially been like a radio station blasting All Mahomes, All The Time since the opening kickoff of the season.
That’s not going to stop. Patrick Mahomes will continue to be the headline for the Chiefs this year — and for many years beyond. But it was fascinating to hear how the other players on the team talked about Sunday’s 26-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals. To them, this isn’t just about Patrick Mahomes. It’s about a team with a common goal — one that just happens to have an MVP candidate suiting up at quarterback every week.
“We take a lot of pride,” said linebacker Justin Houston in the locker room after the game. “As a defense, we haven’t been playing well all season. So, we’re trying to turn this around, and [we] are trying to get this thing in the right direction because we’ve got goals. As a whole, we know that if we want to win this whole thing, the defense has got to play better — week in and week out. I think it’s a great start. We just [have] to continue to build on it.”
While the defensive unit has made substantial contributions to a number of the Chiefs’ nine victories, everyone has been able to see that it’s the Chiefs offense that has been carrying most of the load. On Sunday, it couldn’t. The Chiefs punted five times against Arizona. That’s happened in two other games this season. The Chiefs won both of those games, too, but against Arizona, they won by the largest margin of the three — even though the Chiefs were held to a season-low 26 points.
“We say every week that we’ve got to be willing to win the game however it presents itself — whether it’s on defense, offense or special teams,” said linebacker Dee Ford. “Defense actually met [the challenge] this week, and that’s one thing that we spoke on. Let’s take it to another level. We can’t really rely — especially late in the season — [on] a lot of points from our offense. They’re tremendous, but we can be tremendous also. The same goes for special teams. Once we play like that as a unit, this team can be really great.”
Lest we forget, this isn’t a team that comes together in the locker room huddle after each game to shout out “Execute!” or “Just win!” or “Eliminate bad football!” The Chiefs — as they have done for years under head coach Andy Reid — come together and shout “Family!”
“It’s a team game,” said linebacker Reggie Ragland. “[It’s] 22 guys on the field at the same time. It’s a team game, and we’ve got each other’s back. When they’re not going, we got them — and when we’re not going, they’ve got us. That’s why you play the game.”
Chris Jones — who had two sacks on Sunday, and has had a sack in each of the last six games — agreed.
“It’s hard to win games — no matter [whether] you’re at home or away,“ he said. “[You’ve] got to complement each other. [If the] offense having a bad day, the defense has to step it up. Defense having a bad day? [The] offense is going to step it up. We complement each other.”
Ragland also said that part of the defensive improvement in recent weeks has simply been about removing some of the pressure they had put on themselves.
“We’re having more fun with it,” he said. “I feel like the first couple weeks, we were putting too much into it — trying too hard. [Now] we’re having fun with it. Whatever happens, happens. It’s football. We’ve been playing the 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. Have fun with it. Don’t worry about all that other stuff. Do what we’re supposed to do, handle what you can handle. and everything else will work itself out.”
But this shouldn’t be construed to mean that the defense isn’t taking things seriously — that it is losing focus on improving each week.
“The defense speaks every week about the performance — whether it’s good or not,” said Ford. “The crazy part is that even when we have great defensive performances like today, defensively we have a lot of things to correct. Every week we’re talking about how we can improve as a defense. Even after the New England game — giving up a ton of points — we didn’t really want to harp on that one game. It’s kind of routine of us to talk about, ‘We need to get better in these areas. If we can continue to attack these areas, then we can be a great team.’”
And what about the challenge of facing the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night in Mexico City — especially running back Todd Gurley, who is leading the league in rushing yards? Houston isn’t worried.
“Last time I checked, he puts his pants on the same way I put my pants on,” he said. “No offense — he’s a great guy and a great player. I’m not putting too much on it. I’m going to watch film and study. It’s not just him, it’s [the] whole Rams offense. They make plays, and they do a lot of great disguising. Our focus is them as a whole — not just one player. For him to run the ball the way he does, somebody’s got to block for him. The offensive line is obviously blocking well, so we’ve got to do good as a defense. [To] stop the run, [our] defensive line has got to play well — to put our linebackers in position to make plays.”