it was another week — and another big win for the Kansas City Chiefs. The 36-10 domination of the Piitsburgh Steelers— a team thought to be a contender — was even more impressive, considering that it was played without many of the team’s starters due to COVID-19.
Led by head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the offense didn’t miss a beat on offense, getting nearly everyone involved. On defense, coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s group continued to dominate opponents with a combination of pressure, solid tackling and a good game plan.
Here are a few who stood out as the Chiefs took another step towards the AFC’s top seed.
(Author’s note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.)
Derrick Gore: Gore came in when Clyde Edwards-Helaire went down with a shoulder injury — and for a few drives, was a focal point of the offense. His rushing stats won’t look impressive — 12 carries for 43 yards — but he earned every yard and helped move the chains. Through the air, he had the biggest play of the game: a 50 yard catch and run on a play where Mahomes broke out of the pocket to buy time and improvise. Being able to read the situation and find an opportunity to get open deep — and then to convert — is a great sign for the kid’s evolution into a player who can command touches in the future.
Darrel Williams: Another Kansas City back was once again a consistent force in both running and receiving. Williams continued his impressive season, getting the tough yards, running with decisive cuts and moving the chains. Constantly underestimated, Williams might be the team’s most reliable runner and receiver on a weekly basis.
Byron Pringle: For a while now, we’ve wanted the former K-State wideout to step up into becoming the team’s second or third receiver — and against Pittsburgh, he really took advantage of the opportunity. Pringle caught six of his seven targets for 75 yards and two touchdowns. He’s got the strong hands and run-after-the catch ability — and for a while now, it was great to see it all come together.
Charvarius Ward: The fourth-year cornerback faced a tough task against some talented Steelers receivers in a press-heavy game plan. He responded with a tackle for loss, a pass defended and a brilliant interception. Ward has put together a nice season.
Patrick Mahomes: While it would seem a given that the best player in football would be on this list nearly every week, it hasn’t always been the case. But on Sunday, Mahomes earned praise for the growth he’s shown in his overall game. He was patient, moved around the pocket, hit his receivers and backs in stride and in rhythm. “Taking what the defense gives him” has been the season’s cliché, but Mahomes really does seem to have learned something from his early-season struggles. He was brilliant against Pittsburgh, working without Travis Kelce or a big performance from Tyreek Hill. He hit nine different receivers, getting everyone involved in moving the ball down the field.
Frank Clark: The defensive end was active and productive, notching a tackle-for-loss and a quarterback hit to go along with a number of quarterback pressures and solid play against the run. But the play that ended in a sack might have been one of his best of the season. Clark beat the Steelers’ left tackle twice in a relentless effort to get to Ben Roethlisberger. The Shark looks ready for another playoff run.
Noah Gray and Blake Bell: It’s not really fair to put these guys down as “losers”. They certainly did their jobs while blocking — and caught each of the targets Mahomes threw their way. But with Kelce sidelined, many expected more production from at least one of them. They had an opportunity to show they could be a starting tight end. But even though they looked like solid role players and backups, neither really did that.
Josh Gordon: Speaking of opportunities not capitalized upon... Gordon’s story continues. Once again, he got plenty of snaps — and once again, he was targeted three times with chances to make a spectacular play or two. But once again, it just didn’t happen for the big guy. It’s great to see his attitude remain positive — and as a blocker, his effort has been there. But it’s just starting to feel like Gordon won’t ever really break out.
Chad Henne: I’m sure he’ll be hearing it in the film room, but the team’s veteran backup quarterback had a rough series on Sunday. Getting into the game for mop-up duty, he fumbled the first two snaps from rookie center Creed Humphrey. No harm was done — but in case the team needs him later on, let’s hope the rust was knocked off.
The rest of the AFC: I don’t usually like putting non-Chiefs on this list But it just feels like it’s time to recognize what this team is doing to the rest of the league. Six straight division titles — and a pretty solid grip on the conference’s top seed — means that the road to the Super Bowl should once again go through Arrowhead Stadium. Your Chiefs are playing tremendous defense and deadly-efficient offense — and they’re getting hot at the right time. Good luck, AFC.