The much-maligned Kansas City Chiefs defense continued its turnaround in Sunday’s 22-9 win over the Denver Broncos. During the team’s current five-game winning streak, the unit has been among the league’s best, turning the season around in spite of continued struggles on offense.
“Defense again had a nice game,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid remarked after the game. “It was beautiful to watch. The pressure we put on [Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater] and the way we were able to sustain against the run game.”
The Chiefs defense was disciplined — and even through difficult stretches, continued to battle. After beginning a drive on their own 3-yard line, the Broncos held the ball for almost the entire second quarter. The drive took 20 plays, had two fourth down conversions and went 89 yards — that is, before Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay stopped Broncos running back Javonte Williams for a loss on a fourth-and-1 from the Chiefs 8-yard line to end the drive with no points.
“That’s defense — it’s all about kind of weathering the storm sometimes,” admitted safety Tyrann Mathieu. “Dealing with sudden changes. Just being able to handle all those different things.”
Mathieu also addressed the large number of attempted fourth down conversions the defense is regularly facing.
“Teams still respect our offense,” offered Mathieu. “They don’t necessarily want to give those guys another chance to score a touchdown. So we know every time we get in these games — no matter who the opponent is — we know it could be four-down territory.”
In the fourth quarter, safety Daniel Sorensen essentially put the game out of reach by intercepting a Bridgewater pass and returning it 75 yards for a touchdown. Sorensen has struggled in coverage throughout the season — eventually losing his starting position to Juan Thornhill amid criticism of his play.
“Dan, a few weeks ago, I was sitting in here and everybody wanted him gone,” recalled Reid. “This is what is so great about this game. All of the sudden he’s back and performed in his last two games. Beautiful things to watch there.”
“We [were] in an all-out blitz,” noted Mathieu of the play. “And Dan had the running back. I guess the running back blocked. And Dan does what any smart player would do. He just found some work and the ball came to him. The rest is history.”
“I saw one of our linebackers blitz and the back pick him up,” explained Sorensen. “So I was able to free up. [Linebacker] Ben Nieman got a hand on the ball and tipped it, and it fell right in my lap.”
“He makes plays happen,” observed quarterback Patrick Mahomes. “If you looked at his entire career — whenever there’s a big moment in the football game, it seems like he’s around the ball making something happen.
“I actually told the quarterback room — it seems like every division game he gets a pick-six. So I would like to say I called it.”
But Sorensen declined to put extra importance on his play.
“I’m more focused on how we played as a defense, how we played as a team,” he countered. “That’s more satisfying than anything. Juan was able to get another turnover. We had a big turnover on special teams — [Byron Pringle] forcing that fumble and recovering it. We had a big fourth-and-2 stop in the red zone after the long drive. Those things are important.
“If you get a pick-six and lose, it doesn’t feel good. It’s good when you can play team, complementary football. I think we did that tonight: all three phases working together and coming up with the big win.”
Earlier in the season, the Chiefs actually lost a game to the Baltimore Ravens in which Mathieu returned a Lamar Jackson interception for a touchdown — only to see the defense unable to hold a lead. Sorensen credited the coaching staff with the in-season turnaround.
“It’s about fine-tuning and finding the right chemistry that works,” said the eight-year veteran. “The coaches, they’re the best at doing that. We’ve been here before in years past — where we’ve had to fight back — and I think we play well when our backs are against the wall.”
During the first part of the season, both media and fans were giving Sorensen a large share of the blame for the defense’s poor outings. But he he simply paid no attention to the criticism — and will not seek opinions about Sunday’s game.
“I didn’t read a single article,” he claimed. “I won’t read an article from tonight, either — what people say, good or bad. I don’t get on social media, I don’t read articles, I don’t care, frankly. The only people that I care about are the people in that locker room — coaches and players. We’re a family, we stick together, and we have each other’s backs. Good or bad, I could care less. I’m more focused on the next task.”
With five games against AFC opponents still remaining, Mathieu is equally focused on those tasks.
“I still don’t think we’ve played our best game yet,” he said. “So hopefully, that game is the Super Bowl.”