Here are five things we learned during the game:
1) This must be what it’s like to watch Patrick Mahomes play against you
Aaron Rodgers utterly dismantled the Chiefs defense when the two teams met at Lambeau Field in 2015. But since these teams meet in the regular season so rarely, it’s easy to forget just how good Rodgers is.
Right down to the last detail, the first two Packers drives were exactly what we have grown accustomed to seeing from Mahomes: escaping from pressure to complete laser passes, recognizing (and benefiting from) free plays, creating (and capitalizing upon) downfield mismatches for big plays and shaking off penalties that go against you. Nor did it stop there: under intense pressure in the fourth quarter, Rodgers seemed to be throwing the ball away — and instead completed an amazing touchdown pass to Jamaal Williams.
We haven’t been kidding. The proper comparison for Mahomes isn’t Brett Favre — as was presumed by so many when Mahomes was drafted in 2017. Instead, it’s to Rodgers, who is
now still playing at an elite level during his 15th NFL season.
Whatever else is true about this game — and this season — there is one thing for which we can be grateful: Patrick Mahomes belongs to the Kansas City Chiefs... for a looong time.
2) Matt Moore is a hero
The game’s eventual outcome really didn’t matter; Moore was playing with house money. Just ten days ago against the Denver Broncos, he set another one of those old-man NFL records, becoming the second-oldest player to throw 1,000 NFL passes. Any performance that didn’t result in absolute and total embarrassment for either himself or the team would have been a win for the 35-year-old quarterback that Chiefs head coach Andy Reid coaxed out of retirement in August.
Decades from now, it’s quite unlikely that writers like myself will be digging up this article, doing research on the game that reinvigorated the career of Hall of Fame quarterback Matt Moore. But for a brief and shining moment on a crisp fall night in Kansas City, Moore showed that dreams — sometimes even those that have already been abandoned — can still come true.
Even if it’s just for a game or two.
Was Moore perfect? No. He was slow getting started. He missed some throws he’d like to have back. But after a year out of the game and only a week practicing with the first string, he played with passion and energy, going blow-for-blow with one of the best quarterbacks who has ever played the game. He did his job: he put the team into a position it could have won the game — one in which almost no one expected the Chiefs to prevail. Absent a fumble that had nothing to do with him — or perhaps a couple of other bounces that went the wrong way — the team could easily have pulled it off.
It’s difficult to imagine how we could have expected more of the man.
3) The Chiefs defense is improving
After the lackluster performances we have seen from the Chiefs defense in the last few years — and the first six weeks of the season — I can’t blame anyone who wasn’t willing to credit the unit’s performance against the Broncos as anything but a fluke against a bad offense. And let’s (again) be clear: two games don’t make a season any more than the single game against Denver did.
Well... maybe a little more.
But no one is going to say the Packers offense is bad, or be able to claim that Rodgers had a terrible night against the Chiefs. The Chiefs defense isn’t great. Anyone can see that. But it is improving. When the team is back at full strength — or at least as close to full strength as an NFL team can manage these days — the defense may very well be effective enough to make the team a serious, legitimate contender for an NFL championship.
That was the goal, wasn’t it? For the defense to improve enough that it would not be a liability in late and post-season games? That goal hasn’t yet been reached. But it is within sight.
4) This is why they play the games
How quickly we have forgotten: the Chiefs had a very good offense before Patrick Mahomes came to Kansas City. Certainly Mahomes took it to another level, but it’s a mistake to think that any game in which Mahomes cannot play is automatically going to go into the loss column. It wasn’t true before Mahomes arrived — and it isn’t true now.
This isn’t to argue that the game couldn’t have had a different result if Mahomes had been available to play. It’s simply a reminder that while the quarterback is inarguably the most impactful player on a modern NFL roster, he still isn’t the only player on that roster. Even with Mahomes on the sidelines, the Chiefs came very close to pulling off what would have been trumpeted as a stunning upset victory — even though it probably wouldn’t have been as stunning as most would have made it out to be.
5) Execution is always the key
In the coming days, you will hear a lot about head coach Andy Reid’s decision to punt on fourth-and-3 with 5:13 remaining in the game. Many will characterize this is the reason the Chiefs lost the game.
I won’t say it isn’t. There’s a solid argument that it was the wrong decision.
But I will, however, agree with what tight end Travis Kelce said about it after the game: that the real failure was on the third-and-3 play that immediately preceded it. Kelce could have caught that pass — and should have. If he had, the Chiefs were well-positioned to go down the field and score, leaving very little time for the Packers to respond; they were effectively mixing the pass and run, moving the ball down the field and taking time off the clock. It just didn’t happen.
The same could be said about LeSean McCoy’s fumble at the Chiefs’ 25-yard line the end of the third quarter. The Packers cashed in that miscue for a touchdown — one that ended up being the difference in the game. As is almost always the case in games between well-matched NFL teams, turnovers are critical. On Sunday night, the Chiefs had one, while the Packers had none. It’s not just a coincidence that the Packers won the game.
There were other such moments, too.
So it’s not that Reid’s decision didn’t have an impact. It did. But as so often happens, the discussion about such a decision masks the real problem: a team simply didn’t execute in critical moments.