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Chiefs-Falcons: three big takeaways from Week 16

An ugly game ends with the Chiefs locking up the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

NFL: DEC 27 Falcons at Chiefs Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs are able to hold on in a barn burner, beating the Atlanta Falcons 17-14 as a last-second field goal attempt drifted outside. The game was a surprising defensive battle. Neither offense never really got in sync — exactly as no one predicted.

We broke down the game on the Arrowhead Pride Laboratory Postgame Show — as presented by Ruback Fine Jewelry.

Here are our three big takeaways from the game:

Chiefs clinch the top seed

With this win, the Chiefs officially clinched the AFC’s top postseason seed, getting a first-round bye and ensuring they’ll play at home throughout the playoffs.

That bye may be extremely critical, as the team already had injuries piling up along the offensive line and linebacker groups. During Sunday’s game, wide receiver Sammy Watkins left with a calf injury — as did linebacker Ben Niemann with a hamstring injury. Tight end Travis Kelce and running back LeVeon Bell both came off the field with injuries, although both did return in some capacity.

I fully get understand why most would not want this sloppy performance from the team’s starters to be their last for 20 days; nobody wants the team to carry a rather nonchalant effort over into the playoffs. But this team needs the rest. As tempting as it would be for a coach to ask the starters to line up in Week 17 and show what they can do, resting a banged-up roster — and protecting Patrick Mahomes — is the smart move.

Travis Kelce regains the record

Not only did Travis Kelce become the first tight end in NFL history to record multiple seasons with more than 100 catches, but he also regained the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end. Currently at 1,416 yards, he broke George Kittle’s 2018 record of 1,377 — and in one fewer game than Kittle played.

It was fitting that Kelce broke the record while being one of the few pieces of the Chiefs’ offense that seemed to be functioning like normal. With the Chiefs struggling to move the ball — and needing a score to come from behind — it was Kelce who got back-to-back calls to drive them deep into Atlanta territory. He’s proving once again that he’s the best tight end in the game and arguably the most important offensive player, too.

It’s unfortunate that he probably won’t get a chance to play in Week 17 to compete for — and perhaps win — 2020’s receiving yards title, but given that he was shaken up in the game, it’s worth it for him to get the rest.

Young defenders come up big

Given that by halftime, the defense was without three of its starting linebackers by halftime — Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson missed the game altogether and Ben Niemann left the game — the defense played a great game.

Willie Gay Jr. had a very up-and-down game but made some splash plays showing off the athleticism that the team (and its fans) find so exciting. Darius Harris did an admirable job taking on the play-calling duties when Niemann went out, doing his best to protect the team from constant coverage busts.

There are many other defensive topics, but the star of the defense — yet again — was rookie cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, who turned another outstanding performance in coverage, run defense and rushing the passer. Simply put, Sneed rarely gives up big yardage — and he just makes plays. If he hadn’t missed time with an injury earlier in the season, he’d be a lock for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

A couple of weeks ago, this defense greatly needed a little rejuvenation. Sneed’s return from injury provided that — and he’s quickly developed into one of the defense’s most important pieces.

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