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Five things we learned as the Chiefs defeated the Lions

The Chiefs advanced to 4-0 with a 34-30 victory in Detroit

The Kansas City Chiefs advanced to 4-0 on the season after defeating the Detroit Lions at Ford Field 34-30 on Sunday afternoon.

Here are five things we learned from the come-from-behind victory:

1. Travis Kelce has come a long way

Kansas City Chiefs v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

This past week, I fielded a request from a public relations writer at the University of Cincinnati about Travis Kelce. He was apparently in the process of writing a story about one of their more famous alumni. He wanted to know: what did Chiefs fans know about Kelce when the Chiefs drafted him? What were our expectations of the tight end when he joined the team?

I thought about it, and looked back at some of the materials from the time. It struck me that we really knew little about Kelce — and had expectations that could hardly have been lower. Since Tony Gonzalez had left the team, multiple third-round picks had been expended on tight ends. None had worked out — some because they weren’t any good, and some because they couldn’t stay on the field. When Kelce was placed on injured reserve during his rookie season, it looked like yet another third-round tight end bust.

Even after he returned from injury and we (eventually) learned Kelce was capable of playing at a high level, we worried that he was too hotheaded and self-centered to be a great player. But over time, he has demonstrated otherwise — not often more eloquently than he did on Sunday afternoon.

On second-and-12 in the fourth quarter — with the Chiefs trailing 23-20 — Kelce caught a 10-yard pass and was wrapped up while in the act of bringing it in. In that brief moment, he had the presence of mind to realize that LeSean McCoy was behind him and all alone. Kelce’s lateral to McCoy added 23 yards to the play and put the Chiefs in position to score the tying field goal.

It was one of the key plays of the game. Without it, the Chiefs might not be coming home with a win.

Kelce has become not only one of the team’s most consistent performers, but also one of its best team players. Pretty damned good for a kid from whom so little was expected.

2. Deon Yelder can play

Kansas City Chiefs v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Speaking of tight ends... through the offseason, the Chiefs signed and released dozens of players trying to find the ideal player to back up Kelce.

OK... that’s an exaggeration. But it is true that the Chiefs tried quite a few players at the position. And one of those players left standing was someone the Chiefs already had: former New Orleans Saints tight end Deon Yelder.

After being signed to the team’s practice squad in early October of last season, Yelder was active for only three Chiefs games. I won’t blame you if you don’t remember his single offensive snap and half a dozen special teams snaps; I don’t remember them, either.

But the Chiefs believed in Yelder. Right from the start of the offseason, Yelder drew praise from head coach Andy Reid. He made the final roster despite being hobbled with an ankle injury. On Sunday — in his first game of 2019 — he was targeted twice and caught both passes for 43 yards. 26 of those yards were after the catch.

I’m not claiming Yelder is going to be pushing Kelce for the starting job. But it’s nice to see the team’s faith be rewarded — and to see Mahomes find another receiver upon whom he can depend when its necessary.

3. The Chiefs offense isn’t indefensible

Kansas City Chiefs v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

It’s easy to think there’s no way to consistently slow down — much less stop — the Chiefs offense. But on Sunday, we learned that even as good as they are, Patrick Mahomes and his merry men are not unstoppable.

But was it because the Lions dreamed up a defensive game plan that brilliantly counteracted the Chiefs offensive attack — or was it simply that Mahomes didn’t have his best day?

To my eye, it was the latter. Mahomes was missing throws that he normally makes. Nor did it seem to be because the Lions were putting undue pressure on him; Mahomes has never been one to lose effectiveness when under pressure. He just wasn’t making the plays that are normally second nature to him.

If Mahomes had managed to make a handful of throws that were just out of the reach of his receivers — or if on a few more plays, he and his receivers had been on the same page — the character of this game would have been much different.

I’m not criticizing Mahomes. He’s the best quarterback in the game — and even the best quarterbacks have bad days. For Mahomes, Sunday was just one of them. And much to his credit, in the Chiefs’ final drive, Mahomes executed. That’s what franchise quarterbacks do: even on a bad day, they figure out a way to win.

4. Matthew Stafford can still play the game

Kansas City Chiefs v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Being Matt Stafford must not be much fun.

The first overall selection of the 2009 draft, the former Georgia quarterback should have had a bright NFL career — and it’s certainly had its moments. But Stafford — who will soon exceed 40,000 yards in career passing — has had the misfortune to play for the Lions, a team that has only made the playoffs three times since Stafford has been under center. Each time, they lost in the wild-card round.

Stafford played superbly on Sunday. His throws were consistently on the money. In the fourth quarter, he made a gutsy 7-yard scramble in which he shed a pair of tackles to keep a scoring drive alive. That’s just not the kind of thing you typically see from a 31-year-old NFL pocket passer.

Hats off to you, Mr. Stafford.

5. The Chiefs defense bailed out the offense

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

I mention this because it’s been a while since we’ve had the opportunity to say this. Bashaud Breeland’s heads-up fumble return for a touchdown can be described as what made the difference in the game.

But it was more than that.

Soon the naysayers will be out in force. The Chiefs need a cornerback or a linebacker... or whatever. The run defense is terrible. The secondary is hot garbage.

It’s true: the Chiefs gave up 5.3 rushing yard per attempt against the Lions. No one is going to say that’s a good number, but if you have Mahomes, does it really matter that much if the other team can run the ball against you?

It’s true: Stafford completed 34 passes for 291 yards. I won’t say I didn’t see coverage errors, but I also saw a quarterback who was playing at his very best. Stafford is going to make some throws — even if you have a so-called “shutdown” cornerback. I remind you: Patrick Mahomes had a passer rating of 143.2 against a Jacksonville Jaguars secondary that included Jalen Ramsey and 125.4 against an Arizona Cardinals defense including Patrick Peterson.

Here’s what matters: on Sunday, the Lions were just three for six in the red zone and just two of five in goal-to-go. They were only five of 13 on third down. After giving up three sacks in three games, the Lions gave up four to the Chiefs. All but one of them ended a Lions drive.

You may have seen something different. But what I saw on Sunday was a Chiefs defense that recognized that for at least for one day, the burden had shifted. They were going to have to be the ones to make plays. And when it mattered most, they did.

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