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Turnover differential has been key to Chiefs’ resurgence

Turnovers have defined Kansas City’s season — and in recent games, they paint a whole new picture.

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

"Turnovers, they kill you in this league," said Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid after his team lost 35-36 to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2. "We had two of them down the stretch in crucial times. We have to do better."

The turnover issues were only amplified when the Los Angeles Chargers visited Arrowhead Stadium a week later. With the game tied 24-24 with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes rolled out to his right, attempting to drop the ball between three defenders to his tight end Travis Kelce. But he overthrew the pass — and it landed in the arms of Chargers safety Alohi Gilman.

After the turnover, Los Angeles took care of business. In a little over a minute, the team capped off a 59-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Justin Herbert to wide-receiver Mike Williams to win the game 30-24.

Fans had become accustomed to seeing the Chiefs win these sorts of games. Since entering the league, Mahomes has authored nine fourth-quarter comebacks and 10 game-winning drives — one of which occurred in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns. So what we had seen against the Ravens and Chargers was not the Chiefs team we were used to seeing.

By Week 8, Kansas City was minus-10 in turnover differential — and in seven games, Mahomes had thrown an unbelievable nine interceptions. With a record of 3-4, the Chiefs were tied with the Denver Broncos at fourth place in the AFC West — and were reeling from a 27-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans in which they had committed three turnovers.

But since then, the Chiefs have gone on a six-game winning streak — starting with a too-close-for-comfort 20-17 victory over the New York Giants. Still... even in the win, Kansas City lost the turnover battle two to one.

The Chiefs ' fortunes started to turn when the Green Bay Packers came to town. With starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers sidelined on the team's COVID list, Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur turned to second-year quarterback Jordan Love to lead their offense. Love had never started a game in the NFL — and it showed. His interception was one of two turnovers the Packers committed, while the Chiefs had none in a 13-7 get-right victory.

In the last five games, Kansas City's defense has created 15 turnovers11 of which have come in the previous three games. That includes five during Sunday's 48-9 victory against the Las Vegas Raiders — in what will forever be remembered as The Logo Game.

And after having a turnover differential of minus-10 through seven games, the Chiefs have been plus-10 since then.

With turnover differential, you're talking about two different things: an offense's ability to protect the ball, and the defense's ability to take it away. Since Week 8, Kansas City has significantly improved in both areas — and their 6-0 record reflects that.

"One thing we always discuss, if we protect the football, I like our chances," said offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy on Monday. "I think we give ourselves a great chance of winning."

Heading into Thursday night's return match against the Chargers — where a victory will all but secure the team its sixth-straight AFC West title — the Chiefs are in an entirely different place since the two teams met in September.

"That game was a valuable learning lesson for us," recalled Bieniemy," because first of all, it just goes to show you, when you take the little things for granted, things will come back and bite you in the tail... I told our guys throughout the course of this year: 'You know, although we've had these tough losses, if we handle it the right way by learning and focusing on the fundamentals, it could be beneficial for us later on' — and it's starting to pay dividends."

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