The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Baltimore Ravens 27-24 in overtime on Sunday afternoon, improving their record to 11-2 and pulling two games ahead of the New England Patriots and Houston Texans — two teams that have also been eyeing the AFC’s number one seed.
Here are five hot takes from the game:
1. Courage and character
Anyone who thought that the loss of Kareem Hunt would cause the Chiefs to implode in the final weeks of the season needs to rethink that point of view. Whether it was because they thought Hunt’s contributions on the field could not be replaced, or that the emotional cost to the team would be too great to bear, they made their calculations without considering 53 important factors:
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, and the 52 players who remained.
We need to understand how Chiefs players view what happened a week ago Friday. They all expressed their sorrow and regret at the situation. Kareem Hunt was — and still is — their friend. Every one of them would do anything to help him.
But the key statement by any of the Chiefs — coach or player — was uttered by Patrick Mahomes after the game last Sunday:
“I’ve talked to [Kareem],” Mahomes said. “I’ll keep it between me and him. We had a close relationship. I saw the stuff that happened and we don’t do those things. At the same time, I just focused on our organization, the Chiefs. I know we have to move forward and keep going out there to win football games if we want to have success this season.”
We had a close relationship. We don’t do those things.
Chiefs players under Andy Reid understand that the team is greater than themselves. And quite simply, Kareem Hunt let them down. That doesn’t make them care less about him as a man or a friend. Anyone can make a mistake — drop a pass, fumble the ball or miss a field goal. But Hunt willfully violated the bond under which they live — that you never let your teammates down.
That’s what Tyreek Hill and Spencer Ware were likely thinking about when both of them were injured in the first half of Sunday’s game. (Hill actually suffered two different injuries before halftime). Both were listed as questionable to return to the game. Yet once the medical staff had decided they weren’t seriously injured, both were on the field in the second half and made key plays to help pave the way to this thrilling victory — because they couldn’t let their teammates down.
This Chiefs team can be defeated. We’ve seen that. But don’t ever count them out.
2. The new NFL paradigm
In my game preview on Friday, I suggested that the game between the Chiefs and Ravens might be seen as an indicator — that if the Chiefs won the game against what is almost unquestionably the NFL’s top defense, it would help to validate the new theory about building a championship team.
If you’ve been keeping track of the media buzz about the NFL’s “offensive explosion” this season, you know the theory: that it’s now possible to build a championship-caliber team with a high-powered offense and an average (or even weak) defense — as long as that defense can create turnovers and sacks that will stop enough of your opponent’s drives that you can outscore them.
Had the Chiefs won 42-24, such a case might be made. But that didn’t happen.
In the coming days, many pundits — mostly those who have only read the box score from this game — will say that this game clearly demonstrated that defense is still the key to postseason success; the Chiefs were simply lucky to escape with a victory.
Others who actually watched the game will note that while the Ravens terrific defense did slow the Chiefs down — through regulation, the Chiefs had their lowest point total of the season — it was Justin Houston’s opportune strip-sack with 44 seconds remaining that made the difference. In other words, exactly the kind of defensive play that the new theory suggests is one of the keys to victory in the new NFL.
So the argument will continue — and that’s OK with me. An NFL where there’s only one way to build a team that can win a championship seems like it would be pretty boring. And there was nothing about the Chiefs-Ravens game that was boring.
3. Justin Houston
Speaking of Justin Houston, let’s give the man his due.
He’s clearly not the same player he was in 2014, when his 22 sacks led the league. He’s been injured a lot. And he makes a lot of money. There are plenty of fans who think it’s time for Houston to be gone — and in 2019, that might be something the Chiefs will decide they have to do.
A strip-sack (not to mention a recovered fumble) with 44 seconds remaining in a tied game with big playoff implications is, by definition, a big play.
But I think that it’s possible that in the years to come, we’ll look back on this play, and see it as one of the defining moments of the 2018 season — that like Spencer Ware and Tyreek Hill, Justin Houston just decided that in the moment, he just wasn’t going to let his teammates down. He made up his mind to make a play, and he made it.
Of course, I realize that’s exactly the kind of starry-eyed nonsense that makes otherwise rational people make poor decisions when it’s time to choose how you spend your cut of the NFL salary pie. It’s precisely why guys like me aren’t entrusted with those decisions.
So I’ll just say this: 2018 could be Justin Houston’s last hurrah with the Chiefs. And it could also be the year that the Chiefs (and their fans) finally have that special moment for which they have waited nearly five decades. So let’s just remember that if it happens, Justin Houston is definitely one of the guys who played a big part in making it happen.
4. Resident alien
I have long believed — and sometimes expressed my opinion — that former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway is not of this Earth.
Instead, he is a space alien who was transported to this planet from a galaxy many light-years away. He was sent here as a baby — much like Superman, actually — to grow up among humans, and learn to play in their vastly inferior sporting competitions. Once he ascended to the NFL, he was allowed to unleash his inhuman athletic skills on the poor Earthlings who never had a chance against him.
Back on his home planet — which, unlike Krypton, wasn’t destroyed as Elway’s spaceship rocketed away — the other members of his superior race while away their Sunday afternoons chortling over pirated DirecTV transmissions showing their implant humiliate one NFL team after another; since the planet is 20 light-years away, they’re just now seeing Elway’s second Super Bowl season.
As I watched the fourth-and-9 play in Sunday’s game — the one where Patrick Mahomes rolled to the right sideline, threw across his body to the left hash, and completed a 48-yard pass to Tyreek Hill that gave the Chiefs a chance to win the game — I suddenly wondered if Mahomes is one of them, too.
But I decided not to worry about it, and just be grateful that the aliens not only have otherworldly athletic skills, but also a finely-developed sense of justice. The other AFC West teams should have a chance to play with one of their implants once in a while, too. And 20 years from now, they’ll be able to enjoy it just as much as we are.
5. Thank you Dolphins and Colts
On behalf of all the loyal subjects of Chiefs Kingdom, I’d like to express my appreciation to the Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins for their victories against the Houston Texans and New England Patriots on Sunday.
We especially appreciate how the Dolphins victory came to pass. A multiple-lateral touchdown play from your own 30-yard line with seven seconds remaining against the New England Patriots — with no less an exalted personage as Rob Gronkowski unable to stop Kenyan Drake as he closes on the end zone?
Priceless. Just priceless.
Hey... don’t get me wrong. I remain confident that the Chiefs could get to the number one seed in the AFC without the help of any other team — indeed, it may yet prove that the Chiefs didn’t need anybody’s help.
That said, Colts and Dolphins, your selfless actions have calmed the nerves of many in our humble Kingdom. Husbands, wives, children and pets will have an easier time over the coming days because Chiefs fans will be able to chill a little bit before dialing their anxiety level back up to 11. This will occur sometime on Thursday — if not sooner.
We’ll never forget this kind gesture — until we play a game against you, of course.