The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 54-51 in a thrilling — and in many ways, historic — Monday Night Football game that went pretty much as expected... except for the things that didn’t go as we thought they would.
Here are five hot takes about those surprises:
1. Take my over... please!
Most expected this to be a high-scoring game. Vegas oddsmakers had the over/under for the game set around 63 points, which was higher than some betting databases had ever recorded for an NFL game.
Of the 12 Arrowhead Pride contributors, only Gary McKenzie and I predicted a combined score under 63. Four — Joel Thorman, Matt Lane, Matt Stagner and Dane Van Why — predicted a combined score above 80.
But none of us thought the two teams would score 105 points. Pete Sweeney came closest to calling it right; his prediction of 52-49 Chiefs was closest to the total number of points. He also picked the right winning margin — although the wrong team.
But it shouldn’t be so surprising that nobody wanted to go that far out on the limb. Only two NFL games since 1940 have had combined scores of 105 or greater: the Cleveland Browns’ 58-48 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in 2004, and the Washington Redskins’ 72-41 win over the New York Giants in 1966.
It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that one of the quarterbacks in that 2004 game was Carson Palmer. You may never have heard of the other one: Kelly Holcomb. Holcomb threw five touchdown passes that day — more than an eighth of all the touchdown passes he would throw in seven NFL seasons as a journeyman quarterback.
Likewise, Sonny Jurgensen — the Redskins quarterback in 1966 — will be a familiar name to you. But I’m pretty sure the names of Tom Kennedy and Gary Wood — the two Giants quarterbacks who combined for three touchdown passes that day — are unknown to you.
None of the three had a spectacular day. Jurgensen threw for only 145 yards and three touchdowns. Most of the scoring came on rushing touchdowns — the teams combined for seven of those — and the Redskins added three D/ST touchdowns to the mix.
One other bit of oddball trivia about the 1966 game — which remains the highest-scoring in NFL history: the Gogolak family scored 17 points. Brothers Pete and Charlie Gogolak were the placekickers for the Giants and Redskins that day, contributing 14 extra points and a field goal.
2. Defensive scores... seriously?
Raise your hand if you expected that the Chiefs and Rams would combine for three defensive touchdowns. Raise your hand if you thought two of these would be scored by Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam. Raise your hand if you thought that someone other than Marcus Peters would have a pick-six against the Chiefs. Raise your hand if you thought both teams would have a stripped ball returned for a touchdown.
Yeah... I didn’t think so.
It’s not that these two teams are bad at creating turnovers — but neither are they all that good, either. Both are pretty average compared to the rest of the league. It’s just not something that is generally included in the narrative about each team. After all... it’s a lot more fun to talk about passing touchdowns and elite offensive players than it is to talk about boring old interceptions and fumbles,
But these defensive scores were huge in this game — for both teams.
Seems to me that part of what’s going on is an unanticipated byproduct of this season’s new rules about protecting quarterbacks. We’ve all seen how adept Chiefs pass rushers have become at stripping the ball from opposing quarterbacks. The Rams demonstrated much of the same on Sunday. If your pass rushers risk a penalty for sacking the quarterback, why not emphasize stripping the ball instead? There’s less risk and higher reward.
To be sure, it’s not as if this is something that’s just started happening in the NFL. There have been many pass rushers who have been effective at creating turnovers in the offensive backfield. But it sure seems that more strip sacks are happening in 2018 — and it might not be a coincidence.
3. Patrick Mahomes throws three and six
This wasn’t something that was unexpected. We knew Mahomes wasn’t going to be able to keep his interception numbers relatively low forever. We’ve always known that sooner or later, he was going to throw a bunch in a game, and we’ll just have to chalk it up as a learning experience for him.
We also expected that sooner or later, we’d see a really big game from him — one where he would throw five... six... maybe even seven or eight touchdown passes. And it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect such a performance against the Rams.
But who would have predicted that these two things would happen in the same game?
Well, they did. And guess what? It’s happened before. One time.
Since 1950, just one quarterback has thrown at least six touchdown passes and and three interceptions in a single game. It happened in 1964 — in the same season where that quarterback was also busy setting a franchise record for touchdown passes.
His name was Len Dawson.
With each passing week, Mahomes keeps matching (or breaking) records set by some of the greatest quarterbacks who have ever played the game. This particular one doesn’t sound like much — I mean, it’s not good to have a record that includes throwing three picks in a game, right? — but what it demonstrates is Mahomes’ resilience. When something goes wrong, he gets up, dusts himself off and gets on with his business... as if nothing happened.
Dawson was the same way. That’s why we called him “Lenny The Cool.”
On Monday night, when Samson Ebukam batted Mahomes’ pass high into the air, caught it and ran it in for a touchdown, Tyreek Hill did his best to drag him down — but of course, it was never going to happen; Hill just doesn’t have the size or weight to tackle a guy like that. But another Chief got in on the play, and the two of them brought Ebukam down just as he was crossing the goal line.
The view switched to another camera, and I saw Mahomes getting up. I wondered if he had been knocked down in the backfield, and began wondering if a roughing the passing penalty was coming. Then on a replay from another angle, I saw that it was Mahomes who had raced after Ebukam and joined Hill on the tackle. As the three of them rolled into the end zone, Mahomes was still desperately trying to strip the ball from the linebacker’s hands.
That’s “Patty The Cool,” man.
4. Todd who?
In the weeks leading up to the games, we all heard it: Todd Gurley was going to eat the Chiefs rushing defense alive. He was going to rush for 200 yards and three touchdowns, and score two more on passes out of the backfield.
And there wouldn’t be a damn thing the Chiefs could do to stop him.
Except... they did.
In fairness to Gurley, he did miss some snaps on Monday night in the Rams medical tent after getting banged up. So it’s fair to wonder if the Chiefs devised a specific plan to limit his impact on the game, or the Rams just decided to emphasize the passing game more against the big-time offense the Chiefs possess.
In any case, Gurley wasn’t a big factor in this game. He had 55 yards on 12 carries, plus 39 yards on three catches. No touchdowns. Keeping a guy like Gurley down to less than 100 yards from scrimmage isn’t a bad thing in anybody’s book.
5. I ain’t mad
Like everybody else, I had high hopes the Chiefs could win this game. I had even convinced myself they’d not only win, but also win by a larger margin than most were predicting. Some of the factors that led to this loss are totally on the Chiefs; the team surely has a list of things to clean up.
But although I am disappointed by the loss, I am oddly serene. The Chiefs’ only losses have come against two of the best teams in the NFL. Each of them was not only a game the Chiefs lost by only a field goal, but also one in which they were still in it right up to the last whistle.
They’re going to have to be a better team than they were on Monday night — or against the Patriots — to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender. And it’s more than possible that one (or both) of these teams will be on the Chiefs’ dance card again before the season is over.
Should that happen, after these two losses, I like the Chiefs’ chances.