The Kansas City Chief fell to 2-3 on the season with a 38-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday Night Football at Arrowhead Stadium.
Here are five things we learned.
1. The Chiefs’ defense has finally gone over the line
I know that many Chiefs fans believe this happened a long time ago. And there’s no doubt that the Kansas City defense had been bad on different levels at different times.
But what we’ve seen in the last two games is entirely unacceptable.
As I’ve previously noted in this space, the Chiefs’ defense can afford to give up a lot of rushing yards. This is for a simple reason: since Patrick Mahomes became the starting quarterback, teams simply haven’t been able to beat the Chiefs by putting up big numbers on the ground. In the Mahomes era, the Chiefs are 23-2 against teams that gain more than five or more rushing yards per attempt.
But the Chiefs cannot afford to give up a lot of passing yards — just as they have done in two consecutive weeks. Worse, in each case, it was against offenses that weren’t running efficient passing offenses before they played Kansas City.
Even in 2018 — when fans and media alike were screaming for the head of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton — the Chiefs fielded a competent passing defense, allowing a passer rating of 92.7. That was the league’s 12th-best figure. Through five weeks, the defense has allowed quarterbacks a rating of 109.6. That’s the NFL’s fourth-worst rating.
Whether it comes from making adjustments to the defensive scheme or changing personnel — either among players or coaches — the team must get this figured out. It’s simply a waste of Kansas City’s offensive talent for it to be accompanied by a defense that is so dreadfully incapable of playing a complementary game.
2. No football team can survive turnovers
Once again on Sunday, the Chiefs gave up four turnovers — while getting none from their opponent. In the previous five NFL seasons, 1,280 games were played. There were only 68 games where a team had a turnover margin of -4 or worse. Those teams lost 67 of those games.
During that five-year period — in which the Chiefs won the AFC West every season — it never happened to Kansas City once. They've now done it twice in five games — with what should be entirely predictable results.
Kansas City’s cumulative turnover margin for 2021 now stands at -7. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars (at -10) are worse. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Buffalo now leads the league with +10.
During the opening weeks of the season, there’s been a lot of talk about how this rash of turnovers is somehow the fault of the coaching staff — that players can be taught not to fumble the ball or throw an interception. To be sure, that plays a role.
But the best way to combat turnovers is to get some of your own. The Chiefs simply haven’t been doing that — while their opponents have come into every game motivated to defeat what they perceive as the league’s best offense. When you’re playing in your regular-season Super Bowl, there’s hardly a better way to get an advantage over a superior offense than to create turnovers — which is far easier than avoiding them.
So now, the Chiefs must respond in kind — or else turnovers will be their undoing.
3. The rest of the way isn’t going to be easy
We began the season looking at the first five games of the Chiefs schedule and realizing it was going to be a very difficult stretch, facing at least three (and possibly four) teams that are likely to be among those contending for the 2021 AFC championship.
After that, we thought, things were bound to get easier... right?
Well... not so much.
Based on all the game results through Week 5 (not including the yet-to-be-played Monday Night Football matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens) the Chiefs have the league’s second most-difficult remaining schedule. Their opponents in the remaining 12 games currently have a combined winning percentage of 0.5833.
There is some context to be noted here. This early in the season, it’s hard to draw a whole lot of conclusions from won-lost records; it’s still hard to know which teams are really good (or bad) because they might have played an unusually weak (or strong) slate of teams.
Still... this is way less than ideal — especially when you discover that the team with easiest remaining schedule is... the Buffalo Bills.
4. Josh Gordon is very good — until he isn’t
The Chiefs’ newest player has had way more than his share of media attention during the last few weeks. On the one hand, it’s been completely insane for there to be so much focus on a player who is considered so risky for teams to acquire that the best deal he can get is to be signed to a practice squad. But on the other... there’s never been much doubt that he is an extremely talented player.
In his debut for the Chiefs, Gordon was targeted just once, making a truly spectacular catch for an 11-yard gain at the beginning of the second quarter. The drive eventually led to a touchdown. But just before the end of the half, he was tagged with an offensive pass interference penalty that wiped out a 17-yard pass to Travis Kelce that would have put Kansas City at the Bills’ 17-yard line with just 23 seconds remaining in the half.
It completely deflated a drive that likely would have ended the half with a Chiefs touchdown. Instead, the team had to settle for a field goal.
It’s not as if this was the turning point of the game; it’s was just one of many things that went wrong for the Chiefs on Sunday night. But when a player like Gordon gets so much attention, it’s only fair to mention the bad stuff, too.
5. Harrison Butker is having a great season
I can’t conclude this column without mentioning something that’s going well for the Chiefs. And the team’s placekicker certainly fits that description.
Through five games, he’s attempted five field goals and 19 extra points — making every single one of them. And the 54-yarder he kicked on Sunday night — as a storm was about to drive both teams (and the fans) under cover for more than an hour — was quite an achievement.
When he went through a period with a number of missed extra points last season, there was justifiable concern about him — and his new holder Tommy Townsend. But through the opening of the 2021 season, he’s been everything the Chiefs could want.