The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Chicago Bears 26-3 on Sunday night, advancing their record to 11-4 with just one game remaining in the regular season.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
1. You just can’t count on NFL teams for anything
As we’ve been telling you the last few weeks, the outcome of Saturday’s game between the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots figured prominently in playoff scenarios involving the Chiefs. With a Bills victory — and winning the rest of their own games — the Chiefs could have assured themselves a postseason bye week.
Sadly, the Bills didn’t cooperate. They fell to the Patriots 24-17.
But that wasn’t the only Patriots game that could have made that happen for the Chiefs — simply the one where the opposing team had the best chance to win. A loss in their final game — against the Miami Dolphins in Foxborough this Sunday — could also do the trick.
There’s just one little problem: the Dolphins have lost ten straight road games to the Patriots. The last time they beat the Patriots at their house was in September of 2008 — while our old friend Matt Cassel was filling in at quarterback for the injured Tom Brady.
So hope for a miracle. But plan for a postseason run beginning in the Wild Card round.
2. The Chairman has returned
Long before the season began, the Chiefs made it clear they intended Damien Williams to be their main running back. But then at the preseason’s final cutdown, the Buffalo Bills threw a monkey wrench into the Chiefs’ plans by unexpectedly releasing LeSean McCoy.
Regardless of his age — or the amount of tread left on his tires — for former Philadelphia Eagles guys like Brett Veach and Andy Reid, it was just too tempting.
By August — thanks to a crowded running back room that included Carlos Hyde — Reid had already said the team would implement a running back committee. A month later, McCoy’s acquisition simply muddled the identity of the chairman.
Williams didn’t help his case for the chairmanship through his play early in the season; McCoy ended up being the head man. Then injuries to Williams — and his brother-from-another-mother Darrel Williams — forced the Chiefs to bring Spencer Ware back.
The games against the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos proved that Ware could return to the role in which he once excelled for the Chiefs: to be a third-down, late game bruiser, occasional receiver and pass-protection specialist.
And on Sunday night — returning from a rib injury he suffered against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 11 — Damien Williams finally showed the form that made the Chiefs want him to be at the head of the table. Or maybe Ware’s presence just made it possible for the Chiefs to use Williams in the ways he would be most effective.
In any case, the Chairman has returned. And at just the right time.
3. The Mahomes-Trubisky debate will never end
There will always be a link between Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Chiefs signal-caller Patrick Mahomes. Trubisky was taken second overall in the 2017 NFL draft. Mahomes was selected 10th.
“The comparisons are out there and they are never going to stop,” Trubisky said in a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune. “But there are no do-overs. We are where we are. Our careers are going on different paths and they will for the rest of time. And (we’ll) be compared against each other.”
This is why the the television gurus ultimately decided to keep Sunday night’s game between the Chiefs and Bears on national television — even though the Bears had already been eliminated from the postseason. Several more meaningful games could have been flexed into the slot, but the draw of a now-healthy Mahomes up against another quarterback chosen a handful of spots earlier in the same draft was just too compelling.
To be sure, Trubisky showed himself to be an able quarterback against the Chiefs. Early in the game, the Bears chose to use him as a rusher to try and keep the Kansas City secondary guessing. Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy did a good job trying to scheme success for the Bears offense — much as his mentor does for the Chiefs.
But as we clearly saw on Sunday night, Trubisky has a disadvantage he can’t fix: the receivers of the Chiefs offense. Watching these two offenses — each with talented quarterbacks and smart schemes — operate against good defenses, the Bears’ lack of weapons lit up like a Christmas tree on the Midway.
Given what we know now, I’d still take Mahomes without hesitation. But if Chicago can find a good tight end and another solid wide receiver, Trubisky could shine.
4. The mentor can beat the mentee
Before arriving in Chicago over the weekend, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid had a 5-4 record in his first game against former assistants who had become head coaches. Now that he and Nagy have coached against each other for the first time, Reid’s record is 6-4.
Reid — who prides himself on creative plays and unexpected twists in his game plans — might be particularly vulnerable to a former assistant who has been privy to his methods. But now that he’s a couple of games above .500, perhaps he’s learned a few things about fooling someone who knows him well.
Some fans, however, can’t stop thinking that Reid’s longstanding relationship with his former assistant clouds his judgement.
Over the next few days, you’ll probably hear people say that Reid “let his foot off the gas in the second half so he wouldn’t embarrass his buddy.” So here’s a fact you can casually mention: since Nagy became Bears head coach, his most lopsided defeat had been by 11 points. On Sunday night, Reid’s team beat Nagy’s by 23.
So maybe Reid isn’t such a good friend of Nagy’s after all. Or maybe — just maybe — Chicago’s third-ranked defense had something to do with the Chiefs scoring only nine points in the second half.
H/T to our own Kent Swanson for the term “mentee,” which he used during Sunday’s Arrowhead Pride Tailgate on 610Sports.
5. Santa Claus came through
As of this writing — that is, before the Monday night game between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings — the Chiefs have scored 28.0 points per game. That’s fourth-best in the league through Week 16. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have allowed 19.1 points per game. That’s seventh-best in the NFL.
So main goal of the 2019 season has been accomplished: turning the Chiefs defense into a competitive unit — while keeping the offense among the league’s best.
Many Chiefs fans just assumed team’s offense would simply roll over every opponent this season. Even with Patrick Mahomes, however, that was never a reasonable expectation; things just don’t (usually) happen that way.
But if the offense could remain among the league’s most productive, we figured even a moderate improvement in defense would be enough to improve the team’s chances in the postseason.
New defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has done even better that that.
But with the postseason looming, I always like to look at how teams are playing right now. You’ve probably already heard a lot of statistics and rankings based on the five straight games the Chiefs have just won. They paint a rosy picture.
But let’s be honest: breaking it out that way involves a bit of cherry-picking. So I always like to look at the second half of the season.
From Week 9 through Sunday’s games, the Chiefs have scored 27.7 points per game. That’s seventh-best in the NFL. But they’ve allowed 15.1 points per game, which is second-best. They’ve outscored their opponents by 12.6 points per game, which is also second-best in the league since Week 9. They’re 6-1 in the seven games they’ve played.
But you already know which team is at the top of all four of those categories: the Baltimore Ravens. Just like last season, the most difficult obstacle to a Super Bowl championship is likely to be the AFC’s top team.
So let’s not kid ourselves: this isn’t going to be easy. Nothing is assured. But this team is better equipped to handle the challenge than any since at least the mid-1990s — and maybe at any time since Garo Yapremian kicked that field goal during the second overtime period on Christmas Day in 1971.
So Merry Christmas, Chiefs fans. Looks like Santa really did bring us the first thing on our list. (That Bills victory over the Patriots would have been a nice stocking-stuffer — but you can’t get everything on your list).
Now it’s just up to the team to do the rest.