For me, it was September 28 at Baltimore, November 29 at Tampa Bay and December 20 at New Orleans. AFC West games are just as important — if not more (as we learned Week 5) — but these would be the dates that told us where the Chiefs truly stand on the road to running it back.
Through two of these three legs, the Chiefs have shown themselves to still be that team.
In the NFL, it is so easy to be misjudged as a team before a season begins. We see it every year and that has continued in 2020. The Chiefs — even after having to stave off the Bucs’ late comeback — appear to be right there.
There are still matters to clean up — which I will get to — but there was a lot to like from Sunday’s 27-24 win.
Tyreek Hill continues to serve as a beacon of defensive attention. He came into this league as a “return specialist,” as he made sure to remind us after the game. Now, he has become the NFL’s best receiver. And what a blessing it is for the Chiefs to be able to pair him with the league’s best quarterback.
At this writing, Hill leads the NFL in receiving yards. At No. 2? Travis Kelce, who added another 82 yards on Sunday.
This is not a typo.— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) November 30, 2020
No. 1 and No. 2 in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/SfoT3WkuSr
A couple weeks back, Andy Reid noted that Sammy Watkins’ absence might have led to an uptick in their production. It may very well be that the opposite is actually true. Hill and Kelce may be about to produce more.
At quarterback, Patrick Mahomes continues to take what is in front of him: a lot of room to attack the opposing defense through the air. The timing he has down with Hill and Kelce has been special — something we have discussed on these pages all year.
I thought the Chiefs defense took some strides in Tampa Bay. The way to beat Tom Brady is to make him uncomfortable — and the Chiefs set that tone early. They hit him eight times on the day. He might have become a little too comfortable in the second half — but by then, it was too late.
Linebacker Anthony Hitchens, defensive end Alex Okafor and safety Tyrann Mathieu all had moments that popped on Sunday afternoon. Mathieu was involved in both causing an interception and securing one for himself. Chris Jones showed some bite to go along with his bark.
Had it not been for two Frank Clark roughing-the-passer penalties on the final Bucs drive, the defense would have perhaps hit their established goal of no more than 17 points on the game. That is not an easy feat against Brady, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Rob Gronkowski.
Just as on the defensive side of the football, offensive holding penalties cost the Chiefs on their final drive. A lapse in protection made for an early sack-fumble and 14-point swing — and wide receiver Mecole Hardman and Mahomes could not connect on a walk-in touchdown pass that might have made it a runaway game.
As I weigh the good and the bad from Sunday in Tampa Bay, I feel the penalties are correctable. I believe the defense is improving and it can gain confidence from the win. I do wonder if we see a shakeup along the offensive line — and perhaps more Le’Veon Bell — to ensure Mahomes stays on his feet.
Up next — an AFC West matchup against Denver and a good Miami defense — both before the third and final “measuring-stick” game in New Orleans.