Here are five things we learned from the game:
1. There are few circumstances in which the Chiefs can’t find a way to win
There’s no way to sugarcoat this: through much of this game, the Chiefs didn’t look good. The offense was terrible in the red zone. The defense was soft against the run — allowing the Broncos 179 rushing yards on 33 carries — and still couldn’t notch a sack of Drew Lock.
But somehow, the defense allowed the Broncos just 16 points — one point less than their stated goal for each game. It looks like defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo chose this number well. As it happens, that’s enough for the Chiefs offense to win a game — even when everything is going wrong.
And everything was going wrong. There is every reason to expect that the Chiefs’ offense could have put at least 21 additional points on the scoreboard — most of them on three long touchdown passes to Tyreek Hill.
- The first — in the team’s first drive of the game — was an end-zone catch that Hill would make four times out of five. Apparently, this was the fifth one — so Hill didn’t pull it in.
- The second was the one that television commentators Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth declared was a touchdown the officials had missed. But Hill didn’t think it was a touchdown — or he would have told Andy Reid. If he had, Reid would have paused long enough for his upstairs coaches to watch the television replay — but Reid didn’t wait. That said, I’m not convinced the call would have been overturned. (It’s important to note that on this play, Michaels and Collinsworth didn’t solicit the opinion of their in-house former official). But it certainly would have been worth risking a timeout to find out. The bottom line: after a comedy of errors, it just didn’t happen.
- The third was in the fourth quarter — the one where Hill stopped short of the goal line and waited before executing his backflip. This was nothing more than a scoring play called back because of garden-variety offensive holding — in a game where the Chiefs were penalized just five times.
The probability is low that all three of these things — along with others I haven’t mentioned — would happen in the same game. But they did — and the Chiefs won anyway. That’s because...
2. The defense did its job
I’m not prepared to enter into an argument about whether Player X or Player Y is earning his salary based on their perceived production. In a league where a salary cap exists, these discussions are important; there’s only so much money to be spent, so it must be used as efficiently as possible.
But I can’t help but wonder if those kinds of conversations sometimes wander too far afield — that they go so far into the weeds that we can’t see the big picture. I’m old enough to remember a time when fans were clamoring for an average defense to complement the Chiefs’ fantastic 2018 offense. Spagnuolo gave them that — and more — in 2019. And the defense continues to do its main job: prevent opposing offenses from putting points on the board. It’s doing it well enough to be a top-10 unit in every meaningful statistical category. And without it on Sunday night, Denver could easily have been flying back to Colorado with a victory.
That isn’t to say that the defense couldn’t make use of better talent — or shouldn’t get better in certain areas; there’s always room for improvement, and we should talk about what that will take. But let’s not forget the big picture: when the Chiefs offense is running on all cylinders — and sometimes even when it isn’t — the defense is more than good enough.
3. Patrick Mahomes is once again falling into bad habits
Over and over again on Sunday night, Mahomes dropped too far back into the pocket, making things even more difficult for his makeshift offensive line. The trouble is that this works most of the time — because Mahomes also has the ability to make plays out of structure.
There are two potential solutions to this problem: force Mahomes to trust the line more, or improve the line enough that he can trust it — without being coached to do so.
Personally, I prefer the latter. If it were me, I’d get Stefen Wisniewski on that line as quickly as possible. Some would suggest that the proper place for him is at right guard. I think the Chiefs would be better off with Wisniewski at center — a position he held down for four years with the Raiders. That would put him in a position to help the young Nick Allegretti on his left and the struggling Andrew Wylie on his right. If Martinas Rankin is ready to go... great. Get him in there at right guard and see how things work.
But please... do something.
4. 11 is the number of the counting
Not only did the Chiefs notch their 11th win of the season, they also won their 11th-straight game against the Broncos. Denver hasn’t defeated the Chiefs in more than five years — their last win coming on September 17, 2015, when the Broncos defeated Kansas City 31-24 at Arrowhead.
Even though this win wasn’t acquired in the dominating manner most Chiefs fans would have expected, it’s still a pretty impressive achievement. In the NFL, it’s not easy to routinely beat an opponent you face twice a year.
But even so, it isn’t the longest streak of victories against a single opponent in franchise history. Between November 1, 1964 and October 4, 1970, the Chiefs also racked up an 11-game winning streak — also against the Broncos. In fact, the franchise was 19-1 against the Broncos from the formation of the AFL in 1960 all the way through the 1969 season.
Nor is the Chiefs’ 11-1 record unprecedented. The Chiefs were 11-1 after the 12th game of the 2003 season. That year, they finished 13-3 before losing their Divisional round game to the Indianapolis Colts in the infamous no-punt game.
But 11-1 also guarantees a third-consecutive season with at least 11 victories — the longest streak in franchise history — and Andy Reid’s sixth 11-win season in Kansas City. No Chiefs head coach has ever done that.
5. Red-on-red has taken the lead
The Chiefs wore their red-on-red uniforms — the red jerseys and red pants — for the 11th time on Sunday night. (Here we are with that ‘11’ thing again. Sheesh!)
It’s amazing how fiercely divided fans can be about these uniforms. Personally... I think they’re great. I admit that I hated them at first, but it only took me one game to get used to the look and decide that I liked it. And I’m an old-school, guy, too. To me, the best-looking Chiefs uniforms have always been the red-on-whites — the red jersey and white pants.
So I’m perfectly fine with the way things are. At home, the Chiefs play in red-on-white. And once a year or so, they break out the red-on-red.
But hey... if they’re not your favorites, I get it. People have different tastes — and that’s fine. The world would be a pretty dull place if everybody’s tastes were exactly the same.
And for what it’s worth (which isn’t much), the Chiefs are now slightly above .500 when they wear the red-on-red:
- September 14, 2013: Chiefs 17, Cowboys 13 (1-0)
- September 29, 2014: Chiefs 41, Patriots 14 (2-0)
- November 30, 2014: Broncos 29, Chiefs 16 (2-1)
- September 17, 2015: Broncos 31, Chiefs 24 (2-2)
- December 8, 2016: Chiefs 21, Raiders 13 (3-2)
- October 19, 2017: Raiders 31, Chiefs 30 (3-3)
- December 16, 2017: Chiefs 30, Chargers 13 (4-3)
- October 21, 2018: Chiefs 45, Bengals 10 (5-3)
- December 13, 2018: Chargers 29, Chiefs 28 (5-4)
- October 6, 2019: Colts 19, Chiefs 13 (5-5)
- December 6, 2020: Chiefs 22, Broncos 16 (6-5)
Of course, the Chiefs tend to choose these uniforms when they’re playing big games on national television — and regardless of the threads they’re wearing, any team will tend to be a bit less successful in those circumstances. So as a rational person, I just can’t get behind the idea that these uniforms — by themselves — give the team bad luck.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go wash my Mahomes jersey, so I’ll be able to wear it for next week’s game. It’s never let me down.