Here are five things we learned from the game.
1. Raiders gonna Raider
One of the most interesting developments of the 2020 season was that the Las Vegas Raiders suddenly showed signs of being a real football team. After many years in the wilderness, it seemed like they were finally finding their way to the light.
But on Sunday night, they returned to their usual form: false starts blew opportunities for sustained drives on two separate occasions. Another time, an encroachment penalty gave the Chiefs new life on a third down inside the 10-yard line, leading to a Kansas City touchdown. Quarterback Derek Carr gave multiple iterations of a longtime tendency against the Chiefs: throwing a ball up for grabs when under pressure. One of them was intercepted — and the others deserved to be.
And the most amazing of all: after new Raider DeSean Jackson had snagged a 40-yard pass from Carr — and appeared to be on an unimpeded path to a third-quarter touchdown that would have narrowed the score to 24-21 — Jackson inexplicably turned the wrong way, allowing Rashad Fenton the opportunity to punch the ball free. The Raiders never threatened again.
I have no wish to take anything away from an incredible Chiefs victory, which the team richly earned. Even without these Las Vegas miscues, I still think the Chiefs would have won the game. But along with the comfort we found in seeing the Kansas City team we have been expecting all season, there was also comfort in seeing a Raiders team that was so familiar.
2. The Chiefs haven’t forgotten how to dink and dunk
In the last few games, the Chiefs have shown flashes of being able to do what they have continued to say they were going to do: take what defenses are giving them, rather than trying to beat defensive alignments specifically engineered to limit Patrick Mahomes’ most dangerous tendencies. But until Sunday night, they’ve never been able to do it through an entire game this season.
This has been puzzling, since there was a time not too long ago that this is what the Kansas City offense was all about.
Whether this has been because Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy have been unable to make effective play-calls after they have exhausted their pre-planned script to begin the game — or because their quarterback simply can’t bring himself to throw passes underneath or to the flats — isn’t really important. What is important is that the Chiefs finally managed to do it for four full quarters, proving to themselves (and the league’s defensive coordinators) that they can still overwhelm defenses without relying on home-run plays.
That means two things: that if opposing coordinators continue to try and take away the deep plays, the Chiefs can counter — but the coordinators will also have to at least consider playing Kansas City more honestly. Either way, it gives the Chiefs’ offense an advantage.
And this is not to say that the Chiefs will necessarily be as successful against other defenses as they were against the Raiders on Sunday night. But it’s one thing to have a theory about how to beat certain kinds of defenses — and yet another to have proof that your theory actually works.
3. The Chiefs can still run the old razzle-dazzle
With all the other fundamental offensive problems the Chiefs have had during the 2021 season, they’ve also had difficulty making Reid’s trademark creative plays work. More often than not, they’ve resulted in negative plays.
But on Sunday, the team trotted out several of them. They all worked. In the first quarter, a tight end sneak — where Blake Bell went into motion across a shotgun formation, stopped behind the center, took the snap and ran for a first down inside the 10-yard line — worked perfectly. Several plays earlier, a clever play-action pass — where Mahomes faked a pitchout and convincingly “sold” that he no longer had the ball — allowed Travis Kelce to sneak out of the backfield and gain 19 yards into the red zone.
And then there was punter Tommy Townsend’s fourth-and-7 pass to Marcus Kemp that extended a fourth-quarter drive — eventually leading to the brilliant touchdown catch by running back Darrel Williams that gave the Chiefs a commanding 34-14 lead. Even though it came while the Chiefs were at their own 47-yard line, the fake punt completely fooled the Raiders — probably because they thought Reid wouldn’t take the risk while his team had a two-score lead.
But it showed that Reid will take such a risk — as long as his defense is playing well enough that if it fails, it won’t be a disaster. And on Sunday... it was.
4. There’s still room for improvement
Despite this big win against a longtime rival — which also included a smart and well-executed game plan to neutralize Raiders tight end Darren Waller, great play from the offensive line (even third-string tackle Andrew Wylie, who held his own against Las Vegas defensive end Maxx Crosby) and an excellent job spreading the ball around to different receivers (Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill only received 20 of the 48 targets), there are still plenty of things the Chiefs need to fix.
A decision to put cornerback Mike Hughes in as a punt returner — which looked really smart as he returned his first punt 36 yards, but seemed really dumb as he fumbled the ball away to the Raiders at the end of that very run — may have been ill-considered. We’ll have to see if the Chiefs consider the fumble an isolated incident or if this becomes another thing they don’t trust Hughes to do. In any case, the fumble — along with a pass interference call against Rashad Fenton that kept Kansas City from holding the Raiders to a field goal — led to the first Las Vegas touchdown.
And the mystery surrounding wide receiver Josh Gordon continues. Once again, he started the game and was on the field for plenty of snaps but didn’t get a single target — much less a reception. I don’t have a dog in this fight — it makes no difference to me if Gordon becomes productive or not — but if he isn’t even going to be targeted, he’s taking snaps away from a wide receiver who could be. Against the teams the Chiefs have faced in their three-game winning streak, they might have been able to afford to have a non-productive player on the field. But in most of the games to come, that’s not likely to be the case.
5. There is little margin for error
We already knew this, of course. Ever since the Chiefs lost games to the Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans in the first half of the season, we knew they had given up nearly all of their margin for error.
But the Chiefs can’t allow this blowout victory to make them think they’ve turned the corner — and neither can we. As gratifying as this victory against the Raiders has been, Kansas City’s hold on the AFC West is tenuous at best; until other division contenders lose more games, even a single loss — especially the Week 15 matchup against the Chargers — could turn Kansas City’s dream for a sixth consecutive AFC West crown into ashes. Even with this win, their chance of grabbing the only AFC bye remains remote — probably a one-in-50 chance — but with any loss, that chance will essentially disappear.
But there is good news. Concerning that division crown, the Chiefs now control their own destiny. Should they win their remaining games, they will claim their sixth AFC West title. It won’t be easy. The next game against the Dallas Cowboys might be their most difficult challenge of the season — and more tough games will follow.
But just a few weeks ago, few would have given the Chiefs much chance to make the playoffs — much less win the West. That’s something.