The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Oakland Raiders at 35-3 at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday afternoon, winning the AFC West for the third consecutive season and locking up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Here are five hot takes from the game:
1. A record-breaking 2018 season
By now you know that Patrick Mahomes — in only his first season as a starter — threw for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns in 2018. He’s only the second quarterback to do both in a single season, and at 23, he’s the youngest to ever do it. Peyton Manning was 37 when he did it in 2013 with the Denver Broncos. (And no... Tom Brady didn’t do it. At age 30, he did throw 50 touchdowns for the 2007 New England Patriots, but didn’t eclipse 5,000 yards).
You also probably also know that world-renowned gadget player Tyreek Hill shattered Derrick Alexander’s franchise single-season receiving yards record of 1,391 yards set in 2000. Hill finished with 1,479 yards.
I assume you’ve heard that Travis Kelce exceeded Rob Gronkowski’s single-season NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end. Gronkowski had 1,327 in 2011. Kelce finished the season with 1,336. But unfortunately there was someone else chasing the record, too: San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle finished with 1,377 to set the new record.
But did you know that the Chiefs season total of 565 points scored is the third-highest in NFL history — behind only the 2013 Denver Broncos (606) and the 2007 New England Patriots (589)?
Or did you know that the 2018 Chiefs are the only team in NFL history to score at least 26 points in every game of a season?
2. Turn down the volume
But there’s a problem with these so-called volume stats. They provide zero context, and in the grand scheme of things, they really don’t mean that much.
Peyton Manning cruised to that 5,000/50 season in 2013, and lost in the Super Bowl. Badly. (I mean... who among us will ever forget that 43-8 game?)
Tom Brady threw those 50 touchdowns in 2007 as the Patriots scored 315 points more than their opponents (an NFL record) on the way a 16-0 season. And what good did it do them? They lost the Super Bowl when one of the other guys caught a pass upside his head.
Which leads me to my all-time favorite NFL stat: the regular-season passing yards leader has never won a Super Bowl. Never. Not once. Oh, sure... Peyton got there — a handful of others, too — but not one of them ever emerged from the game with a victory.
And I’m delighted to tell you that Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers is the 2018 NFL passing yards leader, having exceeded Mahomes by 32 yards on the season. And thanks in no small part to the Chiefs, he’ll be spending Super Bowl Sunday on the sofa.
That’s why I’m a lot more encouraged by Mahomes’s passer rating for the season. If I’ve done my ciphering correctly, he finished at 113.8 for the year. Among quarterbacks with at least 400 attempts — in other words, season-long starters — that’s the seventh-best season all-time, and he’s the youngest to ever exceed a rating of 110 for a season. Only five quarterbacks have ever had better passer ratings in a season: Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning (twice) Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.
Those guys have combined for nine Super Bowl wins.
The passer rating stat has a lot of flaws — sometime in the offseason, I’m thinking about an article to tear it down into little pieces and rebuild it into something better — but it is pretty predictive. Teams whose quarterbacks have really good passer ratings tend to win games, and teams whose quarterbacks have bad passer ratings tend to lose them.
Hold that thought.
3. Room to improve
But even with all of these superlatives, it was easy to see there was plenty of room for the offense to improve. One of Sunday’s touchdowns was a defensive score — and there could easily have been another if Reggie Ragland hadn’t run out of gas on his interception return — so the final score was a bit deceptive.
Mahomes underthrew Tyreek Hill on the long pass that was intercepted at the end of the first half; a little more juice on that ball, and the outcome of the game would have been even more lopsided. (Although if it had been a touchdown pass to Hill, Mahomes would be the 2018 passing yards leader — so never mind on that one). And Mahomes had two passes in the game that very easily could have been picked off.
But that’s what you’re going to get with a first-year starter. He will make mistakes — but unlike so many others we have seen over the decades, Mahomes’ ability to learn from these mistakes is incredible — and all things considered, I’d rather have Mahomes and the offense thinking about ways they can improve during the bye week, rather than reading about how great they already are.
4. But... but... but... the Chiefs DEFENSE!
Yeah, I know. It’s just one game against a bad team. It’s doesn’t mean the Chiefs defense will always play that well against a playoff-caliber team. It’s even possible it won’t play that well even one time against a playoff-caliber team.
But now we’ve seen that it can play that well. That’s something.
The Chiefs defense — particularly defensive coordinator Bob Sutton — is nothing less than a lightning rod for criticism. With a Sutton Lightning Rod™ Doc Brown would have little difficulty harnessing the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity he’d need to send the DeLorean back to 1997 to bring back Gunther Cunningham and a few of his stalwarts to solve these problems. He wouldn’t even have to have advance knowledge of a lightning strike. These days, they’re occurring almost continuously.
But as much as you might like for Bob Sutton to go elsewhere, he isn’t going anywhere right now — certainly not in the middle of a postseason run. If the Chiefs fail to reach their goal this season — and maybe even if they do — there will be plenty of time for that conversation, and we should have it.
But right now, Sutton and his players need our support. At least in this one game, they earned it.
5. The key difference-maker
I can’t really just make a call for fan support without saying something about how the defense was better on Sunday.
We’ll know more when we see the snap counts — and after Craig Stout has churned through the film — but it sure seemed to me that with Kendall Fuller back, the Chiefs felt they could afford to replace Orlando Scandrick with Charvarius Ward. They saw enough in him that they liked last week, and they thought the experiment should continue.
I’m not here to say Scandrick is terrible. A savvy veteran can really help a pass defense — and in some games this season, Scandrick has played well. But he just doesn’t seem to have the speed the Chiefs need — especially going into the postseason. With his young legs, Ward provides that speed — and somehow, he managed to bring it to the table without committing dumb penalties in critical situations.
The Chiefs were penalized just four times on Sunday — and two of those were taunting penalties after Chiefs touchdowns. There wasn’t a single defensive pass interference or holding penalty against the Raiders. And look what happened! The Chiefs did just what they’re supposed to be able to do: hammer a lesser opponent on their home field.
For all the energy being expended in ranting about how bad the Chiefs defense is, a lot of people have missed something important. The Chiefs have been truly bad against the run this season, but by and large, they’ve been decent against the pass. Going into Sunday, opposing quarterbacks have had a cumulative passer rating of 94.4. That’s not a great number — it’s right around the league average — but it’s been a long way from awful.
Five weeks ago in Oakland, Derek Carr had a passer rating of 123.2 against the Chiefs. On Sunday, his passer rating was 60.8 — less than half of what it was five weeks ago. If your quarterback can put up a passer rating about fifty points higher than the other guy — as the Chiefs did on Sunday — you’re going to win a lot of games. And the score is going to be a lot closer to 35-3 than it is to 40-33.
So... more of this, please.