The Kansas City Chiefs' Monday Night Football game against the Las Vegas Raiders had all the ingredients of a game they might lose. Staring down a 17-0 second-quarter deficit — with the Buffalo Bills on the schedule next week — the idea that the Chiefs fell into a trap game seemed like it might come to fruition.
"I thought they just were more physical than we were," said quarterback Patrick Mahomes of the Raiders in the first quarter after the game. "At the end of the day, they came out, and they rushed the passer well, they ran the ball well — and those two things are how physical you are."
The Chiefs took over down 17-0 in the second quarter. That's when several things happened to swing the momentum back to the Chiefs — beginning with a message from Mahomes to his offensive line.
"We're going to win or lose this game because of y'all," Mahomes told his protectors in the second quarter.
Starters Orlando Brown Jr., Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Andrew Wylie (and spot starter Nick Allegretti) heard their quarterback's point.
"I think that was after Chandler Jones kind of got around me, and I just challenged them," said Mahomes. "[The Raiders were] playing man coverage, we have to attack downfield, but you're going to have to protect — and they responded. You saw from the end of the second quarter on, those guys kind of held those guys at bay — and those are some great pass rushers — so you like to see that out of a veteran offensive line now."
Mahomes earned a first down with an 18-yard pass to wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Then there was a temporary setback, with defensive end Maxx Crosby earning his second sack of the game for a loss of seven yards.
That's when running back Jerick McKinnon broke off runs of 30, nine and two yards on three straight plays. Three plays after that, tight end Travis Kelce broke the plane of the goal line for the first of four times on the night.
"Jet's a guy — he's been here, he has that attitude, he'll come down and pass-block, run, whatever you want him to do," said Mahomes of McKinnon. "[He'll] catch the ball out of the backfield and he kind of set it off where they got the sack and kind of backed us up again, and to run the ball, break tackles, carry people. It kind of got the momentum going back in our favor to say, 'Hey, we got to fight if we're going to win this game.'"
The Chiefs love what they have in third-year back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and rookie Isiah Pacheco, but sometimes a team needs to turn to a grizzled nine-year veteran.
"He was doing well," said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. "I mentioned to (offensive assistant) Dan [Williams] that it's that veteran leadership that he brings to the table— and also being patient — so he just kind of pumped the brakes and waited until the line took care of business, and then he hit it from there. He showed great patience there."
On the next drive, Kansas City fell victim to the infamous roughing-the-passer call — and even though the Raiders were gifted three points as part of a possible 10-point swing, the Arrowhead Stadium crowd had been set ablaze. The Chiefs came out of the locker room and scored a touchdown on their first drive of the third quarter.
"The first drive I thought was good," noted Reid. "They were playing some man coverage on us. The run game was just kind of going OK that first half — or at least the first quarter and part of the second quarter — but we felt like we could bear down with the run a little bit more and get some positive yards there, so we started with that and kind of built-in some more play-pass and quick-game off of that, had some big plays."
Valdes-Scantling continued with significant gains — and, all the while, Kelce finished the job in the red zone.
The momentum shift began with a message from Mahomes to the offensive line, the second of these that it's needed in as many weeks. It continued with McKinnon's spark runs and was solidified by the crowd turning on the officials.
After the offense woke up, the defense did just enough to seal the game.