The Kansas City Chiefs met the Cleveland Browns on their home turf on Sunday, and turned in a convincing 37-21 win, extending their record to 8-1.
Here are five hot takes from the victory:
1. Mahomes passes yet another test
Up until Sunday, the Browns defense boasted the best opposing quarterback passer rating in the league — and unlike the offense, it wasn’t suddenly without its coordinator. It promised to be another tough test for second-year Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
And it was like he didn’t even notice.
Mahomes passed for 375 yards — a new career high — and three touchdowns, while only throwing one interception. Through 10 games, he’s still outpacing Kurt Warner’s blistering career start. And now after playing the Browns, he’s done all of this against five of the league’s top 10 pass defenses.
It’s no longer hyperbole. It’s now a dead-serious question: is there any defense in the league that can slow down — much less stop — Patrick Mahomes?
2. A Kareemcoming in Cleveland
Kareem Hunt grew up in Willoughby, Ohio — a suburb of Cleveland with a population of about 22,000 fine Midwestern folks. ESPN’s Adam Teicher reported on Sunday that Hunt bought tickets to the Sunday’s game for the football team and coaches at Willoughby South High School, where Hunt played his prep ball. Hunt said he had even once played a pee-wee game in Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium, and playing there on Sunday was like a dream come true for him — even in a Chiefs uniform.
So it was Homecoming for Hunt. And while there was no parade, he put on a show.
2017’s NFL rushing leader had a bit of a slow start in 2018 and hasn’t yet put up the kind of numbers that would attract notice around the rest of the league. But his coaches have continued to insist that Hunt is playing at a very high level — and our own analysts agree.
He sure proved it to his homies on Sunday, scoring three touchdowns on 141 yards from scrimmage. Hunt now has 13 touchdowns on the season — two more than his 2017 total. And if he continues the pace of the last four games through the rest of the season, he’ll eclipse the 1754 yards he gained from scrimmage in 2017.
Even the folks outside of Willoughby will notice that.
3. A special play for the special teams
Raise your hand if you thought the Chiefs would punt only twice in this game.
Once again, Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt spent most of his game time holding for placekicker Harrison Butker. And that’s OK.
Now... raise your hand if you thought the Browns would punt only twice in this game.
I made a prediction about this game that I’m sure I’ll be hearing about for a long time to come — which is fine, because with the information available to me, I’d make it again — but I don’t think anybody was thinking we’d see just two punts by the Browns in this game.
While we did think that because of the special teams advantage the Chiefs had against the Browns might result in a big play on special teams, we didn’t think it would manifest itself in only four punting team snaps. So kudos to special teams coach Dave Toub and Chiefs running back Damien Williams, who — with only two opportunities to do so — managed to block a Browns punt.
Ironically, it might not have been the best move for the Chiefs. Had the Browns been allowed to punt the ball, the Chiefs might have been able to bleed more time off the clock while driving down to their next touchdown — to that point, the Chiefs had scored a touchdown on every possession except the one at the end of the first half — but that’s a fine point. Some other time, the Chiefs might need a two-play touchdown drive, so we should be glad Williams got the practice.
4. Fourth-down woes
One of the few bright spots we have noticed about the Chiefs defense in 2018 is their ability to deny conversions on third downs. Going into Sunday’s game, the Chiefs had allowed conversions on just 34 percent of third-down attempts — good for fifth in the league.
To some extent, you have to take that with a grain of salt, because through Week 8, the Chiefs have allowed first downs on first down 23 percent of the time, which is tied for second-worst in the league.
Still, that’s a good percentage on third down.
So what’s the problem on fourth down? Through Week 8, teams had attempted fourth-down conversions against the Chiefs 16 times. The Chiefs allowed first downs on 69 percent of these plays — not to mention three touchdowns.
So you can say that Gregg Williams went for it on fourth down so often on Sunday because he’s an aggressive coach who had decided on an aggressive game plan. That’s probably true. But he probably also did it because the percentages were on his side; he knew it would probably work.
And it did.
On a fourth-and-2 in the second quarter, the Browns gained 23 yards on a pass to Duke Johnson. On another fourth-and-1 in the second quarter, Derrick Nnadi was called for encroachment, handing the Browns a first down on a silver platter. Nick Chubb picked up a fourth-and-1 the old-fashioned way in the first quarter, gaining a yard off-tackle.
Only in a critical situation — in the fourth quarter, on the Browns’ last viable drive — did the Chiefs hold the line, when Breeland Speaks made a nice stop after Johnson caught a pass in the flat on a fourth-and-2 play.
So we can take comfort in the fact that the Chiefs held on at the end of the game — when it mattered most — but let’s be honest: two of the fourth-down conversions the Browns got resulted in touchdowns. If a couple of them had been turned away, this game could have been a blowout. As it was, the Browns stuck around until uncomfortably late in the game.
There are signs the Chiefs can be successful on fourth-down conversions. They turned away three two-point conversions on Sunday — after allowing four of six on the season. So it would seem they can do it better with the back of the end zone behind them. Let’s see if they can figure out how to do it a bit farther upfield — before coaches like Williams decide to give their punters the day off against the Chiefs.
5. The Chiefs have a defense? Maybe.
Once again, the Chiefs played pretty solid defense for three of four quarters on Sunday, giving up 388 yards — which is a lot, but less than most other games this season — with 102 yards of it on the ground. The biggest chunk of Browns offense came in the second quarter, during which they accounted for about 40 percent of their yards and scored more than half of their points.
But just as has happened in several other games this season, the Browns also ran significantly more plays than the Chiefs — 70 to the Chiefs’ 58. That means that while the total yardage given up was higher than we’d like to see, it was still just 5.5 yards per play — which is actually a bit better than average in the NFL. If you do the math on what the Chiefs did outside the second quarter on Sunday, it works out to just 5.0 yards per play — which is about as good as it gets these days.
If the Chiefs can figure out how to be that efficient on a more consistent basis — that is, to do it through four quarters of a game — then we’re talking about something.