Here are five things we learned from the game:
1. The Chiefs’ secondary is doing a fantastic job
At some point, we’re just going to have to give up on the narrative.
It really doesn’t matter how much money (or draft capital) the Chiefs spend on acquiring defensive backs. It doesn’t matter if they’re rookies or free agents. Nor does it matter whether the guys who make the plays are cornerbacks or safeties. There’s only one standard that matters: that the defensive backs do their jobs, keeping opposing quarterbacks from making big plays against the Chiefs.
In 2018, the Chiefs defense allowed a passer rating of 92.7. That was the league’s 12th-best mark — not great by any means, but far from the team’s most-pressing defensive problem. But throughout the following offseason, all anyone could talk about was what the Chiefs were going to do about addressing “the cornerback problem.” In 2019, the defense allowed a rating of 80.8 — fifth in the league — and the offseason complaints continued. After Monday night’s game, they’re allowing a passer rating of just 72.9. That’s second in the league.
And they’ve done it entirely without one of last year’s starting outside cornerbacks. The other one is playing with a broken hand. The load has been carried by a second-year, sixth-round pick who played lights-out on Monday night, a fourth-round rookie who has surprised everybody, a second-year safety who is still recovering from an ACL injury and an assortment of castoffs from other teams.
Plus Daniel Sorensen. And you know... Tyrann Mathieu.
Let’s stop worrying about how much these guys cost. Let’s start focusing on what we’ve received in return. The secondary is fine.
2. Bill Belichick is a terrific coach
I know. It’s hard to sing the praises of a coach who has been an enemy for so long — a man who has been the primary driver of so much disappointment and heartbreak among our people.
For the better part of 20 years, we couldn’t decide whether it was Belichick, Tom Brady — or maybe just the combination of the two of them — that made the Patriots’ dominance of the NFL so complete for so long. Now that Brady has moved on, we can finally start unpacking the answer.
Even at 43 years old, Brady is demonstrating that he was a major part of the dynastic equation — but it’s also true that he was able to walk into a situation that was tailor-made for him; there is definitely some talent around him in Tampa Bay.
Belichick had to carry on — and he was dealt a pretty bad hand. He not only had to figure out how to get along without Brady, but also without eight players who chose to opt out of the season — some of whom were among his best players. It was as if the star quarterback, four starters and a couple of important role players were injured and lost for the season in meaningless preseason games. Few coaches would be able to handle that challenge.
But Belichick is doing it. With all of that against him, he’s fielding a competitive team — even when the quarterback he wisely chose to sign (and make his own) had to sit out one of the biggest games of his season. For three quarters, he held off the best team in the league — and with a couple of different bounces, he might even have been able to pull out a win using Brian Hoyer and a second-year fourth-round quarterback.
That’s a good coach.
3. Andy Reid owns the first quarter of the season
It’s one of those records that’s hard to look up. But it’s still very impressive.
Under head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs have now opened their season 4-0 in four consecutive seasons. In a century of NFL history, no team has ever done that. Not Belichick’s Patriots, Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins, Chuck Noll’s Pittsburgh Steelers or even Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers.
Let’s take a moment to think about what that really means. In the first quarter of the year — when you don’t really know if the team you’re about to play is going to be good or bad after the changes they’ve made in the offseason — you always win. And that’s without knowing if your team is good or bad after the changes you’ve made.
It means that you’ve done it with all kinds of players and coaches — not just a special few you managed to put together for a couple of seasons. In the first season of this streak, Alex Smith was the Chiefs quarterback. Albert Wilson was one of the starting wide receivers. Frank Zombo started at linebacker and Terrance Mitchell started at cornerback. The defensive coordinator was Bob Sutton.
That’s not just a good coach. That’s a great coach.
4. We forgot someone’s birthday
I would like to take a moment to express my apologies to Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.
I forgot all about your birthday on Monday. Please forgive me.
I suppose when you look back on it, you’ll remember your 31st as pretty disappointing. At first, it was looking like it was going to be pretty sweet — what with a new Super Bowl ring on your finger and a conveniently-arranged day off when you could celebrate after an important game. There wouldn’t be a lot of stories in the press to compete with the news of your day.
But things just didn’t work out. You had to spend a couple of days on pins and needles as other people decided what you were going to do on your birthday — and once it arrived, you had to begin it by having more of those damn swabs stuck up your nose. Even if you would have had time to go out and celebrate, someone probably would have taken a photo and posted it on the Internet. Then you’d have had to deal with a league fine for not following protocols.
But I’ve had two birthdays for every one of yours, Travis — and I can tell you that a few of them will just have to get written off. It happens. For now, you’ll just have to settle for once again leading your team in receiving yards and coming up with one of the biggest catches of the game — one that made it possible for your team to break out of its offensive funk against a really good defense and come away with a big win. For your birthday, you did what you do. Don’t ever think that we don’t appreciate it.
We’ll catch you again next year, OK?
5. There will be more weekends like this one
Through training camp and the first few weeks of the season, the NFL was more than happy to give us weekly counts of the tens of thousands of coronavirus tests they had administered. And look! Each time, there were just a handful of positive tests!
That was, of course, very good to hear. It meant that the league had a well-designed system in place — and that players, coaches and staff were working hard to implement it correctly.
But now, the picture doesn’t look so rosy. Players, coaches and teams have been hit with more than a million dollars in fines for not following one protocol or another. The Tennessee Titans (and other teams that have done nothing wrong) have had to reschedule games, throwing the carefully planned, reasonably fair NFL schedule into turmoil in only the fourth week of the season.
And it almost happened to the Chiefs, too. For 48 hours, a team that had clearly labored to dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’ in the league’s coronavirus plan found itself wondering if its schedule was going to be turned upside down, too.
This time, it worked out for the Chiefs. But next time, it might not. And as soon as this Saturday morning, we could see other teams suddenly wondering if they’re going to get to actually face the opponent they’ve spent the week preparing to play — and perhaps we’ll see another shock wave of schedule changes rippling through the league.
It’s not really the NFL’s fault. On balance, they’ve done an excellent job. But the NFL loves to control everything. Don’t forget: this is the league where players can be fined for not having their jerseys tucked in — or for not wearing regulation socks in the proscribed way. But here’s the problem: the coronavirus doesn’t want to be controlled — and nobody is going to completely control it. Nobody.
With enough effort, you can come close — and coming close is a worthy goal. If nothing else, the NFL has proved that much. But just like the sport we love, fighting this virus is a game of inches — or more properly, microns. You just can’t win every down.
So hang tight. This season is going to get even stranger and more convoluted — and probably longer. At some point, the league will likely have no choice but to insert some makeup weeks after the end of the regular season — or come up with some other crazy plan that bears no resemblance to anything we’ve ever seen. It might be March before we get to Tampa Bay.