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Chiefs vs. Broncos Instabreakdown: an ugly win still gets the job done

On Saturday, the Kansas City defense came through in the clutch with what might be the play of the year.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Final Score: Kansas City Chiefs 28, Denver Broncos 24

Offense (Talon Graff)

The Chiefs only had three first-half possessions — but two of those drives accounted for 30 plays, 150 yards and over 12 minutes of possession time. In particular, the opening drive was kept alive with multiple third-down conversions — and two big Patrick Mahomes runs were also pivotal to sustaining the 17-play, 91-yard march. A Travis Kelce touchdown catch capped off the first drive — but before halftime, Kansas City would only muster an additional field goal. An ill-timed third-down sack knocked Kansas City out of field goal range, forcing the first of only two Tommy Townsend punts.

Going into the half with a 3-point deficit, it appeared that minor adjustments would need to be made to turn things around. But if any offensive adjustments were made, they didn’t have the intended results; the first three drives of the second half exactly matched the outcomes of the first half drives: touchdown, punt and field goal. The Chiefs’ offense just wasn’t doing anything special.

Still, the offense caught a break when the defense delivered on a big scoop-and-score which gave the lead back to Kansas City — and Mahomes was able to scramble his way to the end zone on the ensuing two-point conversion.

The pass protection broke down on a few plays, but gave up only one sack — albeit a costly one. Orlando Brown Jr. looked solid in his return after missing Week 17 with an injury. Penalties seemed to plague the offensive line more than usual; before the postseason, that will need to be cleaned up.

With 54 yards on the day, Mahomes was the team’s leading rusher — but Jerick McKinnon was the running back who emerged from the committee. His best play of the afternoon was a 14-yard touchdown catch on a third-down swing pass. In a reserve role, fan favorite Derrick Gore was also able to make some plays for the offense. Darrel Williams was more impactful as a receiver — and as a runner, really failed to get anything going.

Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill each looked a bit hobbled. Hill was dealing with a heel issue; he looked far less than 100%. Meanwhile, Kelce had trouble getting back on the field late in the game — but a positive report from the trainer assured the staff it was nothing serious.

Offensive player of the game: wide receiver Mecole Hardman

Hardman has been under a microscope most of his career in Kansas City. He has flashed potential — but consistency has always been his biggest problem. On Saturday, he was Mahomes’ most productive weapon, collecting eight catches for 103 yards — and even though he didn’t find pay dirt, he looked like he had an extra gear.

Defense (Bryan Stewart)

Gross. This game was not fun to watch. All of us probably feel like we need a shower.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t think it would be the most energetic, dominant effort by the Chiefs’ defense. Like it or not, a regular-season finale — unless it has major implications for both teams — will rarely ever have normal energy levels. Business decisions are typically made.

Such was the case on Saturday. It was a pretty flat outing from a Chiefs team ready to fast-forward to the playoffs. Early in the contest, the Broncos looked like they might be ready to pack it in — but then a key roughing-the-punter penalty extended a Denver drive, allowing them to get back into the game.

Entering the matchup, my perspective was pretty simple:

Unfortunately, the Chiefs didn’t do what had to be done in order to rotate starters out of the game. They didn’t escape this game without injury, either. Tyreek Hill, Darrel Williams and Travis Kelce were all beaten up — although the severity of their injuries (and their implications for the postseason) are unknown at this writing.

The Broncos’ running game was fantastic, averaging 6.8 yards per carry with 191 total yards. Kansas City’s run defense often lacked focus and discipline, allowing some major chunk plays. Quarterback Drew Lock struggled to throw the football for much of the day, but did escape the pocket for two rushing touchdowns early in the game.

I am intentionally leaving out a lot of the statistical analysis that we would normally include — because in doing do so, we would move the focus towards Saturday’s production. But this game wasn’t about production. Instead, it was about winning and staying healthy... period. We will see what this week’s injury reports tell us.

But the Chiefs did achieve their first goal: winning the football game. Despite what was sometimes a truly ugly effort, Kansas City finished the regular season with a 12-5 record, which will now earn them one of the AFC’s top two postseason seeds — depending on what happens between the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Defensive player of the game: defensive end Melvin Ingram

We just cannot say enough about how impactful the veteran defensive lineman has been since he was acquired in a mid-season trade.

Even before the forced fumble that totally flipped Saturday’s matchup, Ingram was in line to be defensive player of the game — largely due to his top-notch effort. Rushing the passer looked difficult for both teams — likely because of horrific field conditions in Denver — but particularly against the run, Ingram consistently made his presence felt.

Ingram closed the game with four total tackles — and a tackle for loss, which was the play that forced the game-changing fumble.