Early in this Monday Night Football matchup, things looked... bleak.
It’s doubtful that many of us envisioned a 30-29 Kansas City victory that was sealed by Las Vegas receivers running into each other on the game’s final play — but we should know by now that division games are... well... unpredictable.
Here are a few of the Chiefs (and one non-Chief) who made the difference on Monday night.
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.
Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce: When you have two players who are the best in the league at their respective positions, are future Hall of Famers and have an uncanny connection both on and off the field, it feels fitting to put them together here. On Monday night, Mahomes passed Troy Aikman in career touchdowns by throwing all of them to Kelce, who is perpetually open. The two carried their team to victory with a historic performance. No matter how many things went against this team, Mahomes was relentless. He kept firing and he kept running. Enjoy these two for every moment we get to see them together in Kansas City.
Darius Harris and Nick Bolton: Another duo that paved the way to victory were these two linebackers. Harris led the team with ten total tackles and a sack, while Bolton registered nine tackles and the quarterback hit that helped make sure Carr wasn’t going to complete his final pass of the evening. Getting Willie Gay Jr. back on this squad is going to be huge, but it’s clear that Kansas City finally has a third linebacker it can rely upon.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman: Two receivers who have struggled to get going this season — each known for a limited skill set and inconsistent production — both came up big against the Raiders. Valdes-Scantling led the team with 90 yards on six catches, while Hardman had the Chiefs’ longest offensive play (36 yards) and ended the day with four catches for 73 yards. Hardman battled through the heel injury that has been slowing him down, making some explosive plays. Valdes-Scantling made some tough catches when Kansas City really needed to move the chains. If they can build on this performance — becoming the explosive deep threats they have been in the past — this wide receiver room could really start to reach its potential.
Jerick McKinnon: Just when we thought we knew what this backfield would look like this season, the duo became a trio. McKinnon led the Chiefs with 53 hard-earned rushing yards, 30 of which came on one play that changed the momentum of this game. With the Raiders up 17-0 in the second quarter — and nothing going Kansas City’s way — McKinnon ripped off a huge run that seemed to spark the offense. He even converted a couple of one-yard runs, proving that we were wrong for not wanting to see him on short-yardage plays. It might just be a different back providing a spark each week. In this game — when Clyde Edwards-Helaire had an up-and-down night and Isiah Pacheco had only one carry — it was McKinnon. It could flip again next week — but without No. 1 on the field, the Chiefs might not have won on Monday night.
Rashad Fenton: It’s a big ask to leave anyone one-on-one with Davante Adams. But for some reason, Kansas City coaches thought Fenton was the guy they wanted in that spot. It didn’t take long for Adams to make them pay, torching Fenton early in the game with a 58-yard touchdown reception. Then it was Fenton (again defending Adams) who drew a pass interference penalty that sparked the drive that gave the Raiders a 14-0 lead. Rookie Jaylen Watson was also called for PI on the same drive, but it still felt like he was more capable of sticking with Adams than Fenton was. Interestingly, the Chiefs trusted Joshua Williams to press Adams on the game’s final defensive snap, which led to a collision and a huge incompletion. Whichever rookie gets the call going forward, it feels like it’s their time.
Orlando Brown, Jr. and Andrew Wylie: Other than Adams, the toughest matchups on the field were Kansas City’s offensive tackles against Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby. It’s safe to say that it didn’t go well on either end of the line. Crosby in particular feasted on Wylie, racking up two sacks, three tackles-for-loss and multiple pressures. It’s becoming a concerning pattern.
Juju Smith-Schuster: The veteran wideout had one of the best catches of the game early in the second half, plus another catch-and-run that set up one of Kelce’s touchdowns. But otherwise, Smith-Schuster struggled to connect with Mahomes. The team’s most reliable receiver ended up bringing in just three of his eight targets. On Monday night, it appeared that the quarterback and receiver weren’t quite on the same page.
Carl Cheffers: As a rule, we don’t like to blame referees when games don’t go the way we expect. But the roughing-the-passer call against Chris Jones was so outlandish and so egregious that it lands a non-Chief on this list. Jones clearly tried to brace himself when going to the ground to keep his full weight from landing on Derek Carr. It was a textbook sack that has no business having a penalty called on it — just like the one that happened with Tom Brady on Sunday. But even more devastating was that Jones had managed to take the ball away from Carr even before he took the quarterback down. So the bad call cost Jones a sack and a turnover — while the team lost three points as the inexplicably extended drive ended with a Las Vegas field goal.