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Five things we learned as the Chiefs beat the Broncos

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Five lessons we learned from a snowy afternoon with the pending AFC West champions

On a snowy Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs pounded the Denver Broncos 23-3, advancing to 10-4 on the season — and one game closer to the playoffs.

Here are five things we learned during the game.

NFL snow games are great

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Except for the fact that it makes Arrowhead Stadium ineligible to host a Super Bowl, I love that the Chiefs play in an outdoor stadium — even on days like Sunday, when snow disrupts the typical routine of an NFL game.

I can’t explain why this is so. Normally, I’m a button-down guy; I like things neat and tidy. (Whenever she’s just been in my office, my wife Terri might dispute this... but I digress). So I don’t understand why I like the bedlam of an NFL game played in bad weather. I guess it’s just because it adds an extra layer of unpredictability to something that is always entirely uncertain: the outcome of an NFL game.

But that’s why we love sports, isn’t it? We always think we know what’s going to happen. But we watch because we don’t know for sure. When the weather is bad, we’re even less assured of the outcome.

What’s not to like about that — especially as long as your team wins?

Travis Kelce is amazing

NFL WEEK 15 “u2013 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS VS. DENVER BRONCOS Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

If you didn’t know this before Sunday, you just weren’t paying attention. But it’s worth repeating: Travis Kelce is amazing. On a third-and-4 play in the second quarter, Kelce did what he always does: make the play. His 11-yard catch not only converted a third down on a scoring drive but also gave him exactly 1,000 yards on the season.

As you’ve probably already heard, that made Kelce the first tight end in NFL history to have four consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards. Kellen Winslow never did that. Neither did Ozzie Newsome, Mike Ditka, Shannon Sharpe or even Tony Gonzalez — all of whom are in the Hall of Fame. Winslow and Gonzalez — along with more recent players like Rob Gronkowski and Jason Witten — each had four 1,000-yard seasons. They just weren’t consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

It took a while for the Chiefs to find another tight end to replace Gonzalez — and once he arrived, Kelce hasn’t always been everyone’s favorite Chiefs player. Early in his career, he played inconsistently — and without discipline. But he always played with fire and passion; it was clear he could be great. Now that he’s grown both as a player — and a person — he is great. Through seven seasons, Kelce now has more yards than any tight end in league history.

Gonzalez is often credited with changing the way the position is played. It’s looking more and more likely that someday, we’ll say that Kelce took the way Gonzalez played and made it... normal.

Spencer Ware might be just the ticket

NFL WEEK 15 “u2013 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS VS. DENVER BRONCOS Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

If you had told me before the beginning of the season that getting Ware back on the roster might be one of the keys to the Chiefs’ success this year, I probably would have laughed in your face.

But the way the season has played out, that might be exactly what happens.

The Chiefs’ rushing attack has been less-than-overwhelming this season. Damien Williams wasn’t as productive as we thought he would be — and he’s now missed a total of five games. Whether he can be a factor the rest of the season remains to be seen. Darrel Williams is already out for the season. LeSean McCoy still has some gas in the tank, but not enough to run a whole rushing offense. Darwin Thompson’s tank is full to the brim, but the precise octane of the fuel — while it smells like the real thing — has yet to be fully measured.

But as we saw during the final minutes of Sunday’s game, a back who can be relied upon to gain tough yards while protecting a lead is something the Chiefs offense really needed — along with Ware’s ability to provide additional pass protection behind a sometimes-questionable offensive line.

We know the history, which suggests that had he been with the team for the full season, Ware might have missed as many games as either of the Williamses. But he only needs to stay healthy for... oh, three to six more games. That’s doable.

Mecole Hardman will get his chance

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

When a wide receiver comes on the field for only a handful snaps and makes big plays, it’s completely understandable for fans to clamor that they get more playing time — especially when that player is so fast.

Such is the case with Hardman, who has been on the field for just under half of the team’s offensive snaps this season — close to 70% of those in the first six weeks of the season while Tyreek Hill was injured. In an article published in these pages on Saturday, our Pete Sweeney examined how Hardman has grown over the course of the season — and in a user poll, 92% of our readers thought Hardman needed more playing time.

But we should probably remember what the Chiefs did with Tyreek Hill.

During his rookie season, Hill was used as Hardman is being used now: primarily as a kick returner, and sometimes as a wide receiver. They didn’t use him on offense more often not only because he was a rookie, but also because as a kick returner, he had to spend a certain amount of his practice time with the special teams unit. It’s the same with Hardman. Every practice snap he takes with special teams is one he can’t take with the offense. That matters.

Some would argue that Hardman should move on from special teams — that he’s made so much progress during his first year in Reid’s offense, it’s time to change his focus.

It’s a compelling argument — especially given what we have seen from Hardman in such limited snaps.

But it’s important to remember that Hardman might be so effective now precisely because he is on the field so little; the Chiefs are able to use him only where he is most comfortable and effective.

And we should also remember the second part of what we saw with Hill: in his second year, he was a starting wide receiver — and had nearly 1,200 receiving yards. From Alex Smith.

The Chiefs are saving the best for last

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

While they were winning three consecutive games from Week 11 through Week 14, the Chiefs defense held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 60.9. During those three weeks, that was lowest in the NFL — against quarterbacks Philip Rivers, Derek Carr and Tom Brady. On Sunday — against Broncos wunderkind Drew Lock, who posted a passer rating of 111.4 in his first two starts — the Chiefs allowed a passer rating of just 50.8.

It would be easy to say this was because of the weather conditions during Sunday’s game — except that Patrick Mahomes had a passer rating of 115.7 in exactly the same conditions, playing against a defense that’s allowed a passer rating of 87.5 through the first 14 weeks of the season.

Even with Mahomes’ bruised hand — which Fox Sports analyst Jay Glazer reported on Sunday morning might have been more serious than we have been led to believe — Sunday may have given us a glimpse of what we could expect to see when the Chiefs have a productive offense and a very stingy pass defense: total domination.

Yes... the Broncos aren’t at the level of a team the Chiefs might face in the playoffs. But unless Mahomes hurts that right hand again, he should be 100% in January — when it will matter the most. Meanwhile, the swagger of the defense continues to grow — particularly against the pass.

And with 4:47 left in the game, the Chiefs took possession of the ball after holding off the Broncos’ last fourth-down attempt. Thanks to Ware, the team was able to seal the win by running every second of it off the clock.

In most of the ways that matter, the Chiefs really do seem to be saving the best for last.