Not every win in the NFL will be pretty — and Kansas City Chiefs fans are used to that.
For most of the game, Sunday’s 33-29 victory over the Cleveland Browns didn’t look likely — and most of that can be put on the defense. In the first half, the Browns racked up 318 total yards and 22 points, scoring a touchdown on each of their first three possessions — and nearly scoring another on the one right before halftime.
On that final drive of the first half, the Browns got down to the Kansas City 36-yard line with 49 seconds to go and two timeouts in their back pocket. But then the Chiefs forced two incompletions — and on third down, defensive end Chris Jones blew past the left tackle for a sack. The Browns weren’t able to score any more points before the break.
For the remainder of the game, the Kansas City defense held Cleveland to seven points on 139 total yards — and forced two turnovers.
Speaking after the victory, Jones recognized his unit’s lackluster start to the day.
“We just have to settle down as a defense,” he told reporters. “We were all over the place. They were giving us a lot of different looks — especially with the play-action when we were expecting the heavy run. We’d expect a run and we’d get a play-action over the top — or we’d expect play action and we got a run down the middle. So we just have to settle down as a defense — and once we got settled, we were able to get them off the field.”
Getting the Browns’ offense off the field was exactly what the Chiefs did to finish the game. Jones noted they didn’t allow points on the Browns’ last three drives. Big plays highlighted those crucial stops.
“There [were] a lot of different key moments,” Jones recalled. “The turnovers are always huge, the sack at the beginning of the drive kind of took the Browns out of the game plan they wanted to go with — and the interception at the end. There’s a lot of key moments, but a lot of building moments also. When you make plays like that, it helps the defense around you; you’re able to settle the corners and let them know the front four is getting after them, make (Browns quarterback) Baker [Mayfield] release it faster than he wants to. It’s a plus for the defense.”
The biggest key moment came from cornerback Mike Hughes, the newest member of the Chiefs’ secondary. After earning the third cornerback position in training camp, he justified that decision by the coaches with the game-sealing interception.
He was in the right place at the right time — understanding that he was only one part of a great play made by the entire unit.
“I’ve got to give credit to the other 10 guys that did their job,” Hughes pointed out. “[They] flushed him out of the pocket, he made a bad decision and we just capitalized off it. So, it’s not all about me. I made a great catch, a great play. I’ve always got to give credit to those guys as well.”
Before Hughes’ big play, Jones earned a huge sack on first down of a crucial Cleveland possession. The 7-yard loss forced the Browns into a tough situation to convert, and they never recovered. Jones’ second sack of the day came as a result of a great in-game adjustment by him and the coaching staff.
“We talked on the sideline, came up with some keys that they were showing us pass,” Jones explained. “When I realized it was a pass, I was able to fully pass rush on it and I was fortunate enough to get a sack on the offensive tackle.”
The important plays down the stretch of the game wouldn’t be possible if the group was hanging its head about their performance in the first half. They overcame that shaky start by looking forward instead of backward.
“As a unit, we have to have a short-term memory,” Hughes declared. “That’s how we approach the game, we know things are going to happen, we know they’re going to make plays — they get paid to. We just have to have a short-term memory and come back and be ready to play the next play.”
There’s plenty of room for improvement for the Chiefs’ defense. Their performance in the first half was still unacceptable, and the players know that.
“Obviously, we need to stop the run better, the pass as well,” Hughes reflected. “But we’ll make those corrections tomorrow, and we’ll keep this thing rolling.”
It’s hard to complain about getting lessons to learn from in a victory. Especially when the defense gets starting players like safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive end Frank Clark, and linebacker Willie Gay Jr. back, there’s plenty of reason to believe their best days are ahead of them.
Even then, they helped close out a huge win over a conference contender — and it was a handful of key moments that made the difference.