With the win, the Chiefs head into their bye week with a 5-2 record.
The Chiefs rebounded from a start that almost couldn’t have been worse.
The Chiefs have made somewhat of a habit during two of the last three weeks of getting themselves in an early, multiple-score hole. That happened once again on Sunday, with the 49ers opening the scoring with a quick field goal.
On the next drive, quarterback Patrick Mahomes forced a ball into traffic, where safety Talanoa Hufanga made a diving interception on the tip. The 49ers scored in four plays with the short field.
Down 10-0 on the road, Mahomes refocused, orchestrating a nine-play, 73-yard drive, finishing with a pop pass to wide receiver Mecole Hardman. After another 49ers field goal, the Chiefs dialed up Hardman again on a jet sweep, and the Chiefs took their first lead on a 25-yard run.
This was one of Hardman’s better outings, as he had two rushing touchdowns to go along with four catches for 32 yards and the receiving touchdown. The offensive line played better as the game went along, with the Chiefs finding the end zone another five times.
The theme since the preseason and training camp (and one we have mentioned more than a few times on these pages) is that the Mahomes and the offense would win by using a bevy of pass-catchers rather than just the one-two punch of tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill.
Sunday’s win over the 49ers was the latest example of that methodology in action, as Mahomes worked in eight receivers for a catch, led by wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had 124 yards and a game-sealing touchdown, and wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had 111 yards, including the key play of the game: a third-and-11, 57-yard catch that would lead to a touchdown that put the Chiefs up two scores in the fourth quarter.
There have been some growing pains, but you can see Kansas City’s offseason blueprint coming together and working a little better each week, showing that the Chiefs can be a championship-caliber offense without two specific stars.
The Chiefs may have switched their running back starter, but they continued riding the “hot hand.”
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport caught the attention of Chiefs fans Sunday morning when he revealed that it would be rookie seventh-round running back Isiah Pacheco replacing veteran Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the team’s starter.
The plugged-in reporter was right, as Pacheco was the first running back to touch the football. But as we would find out, the change did not signal the end of the Chiefs running-back-by-committee, which they feel gives them the best chance to win considering the unique skill sets of Pacheco, Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon.
“We’ve got trust in all of them,” head coach Andy Reid said this week. “They’ve all got kind of their plays and times that we try to use them. It just depends on the game. So, this game might be different than the last game. We try to give them as close to equal opportunities as we can.”
In previous weeks, we have seen how that thought process can hurt you. With the offensive line not getting a ton of push, the Kansas City running game was less than stellar in the team’s losses. Against the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills, the Chiefs rushed for less than 70 yards.
The rushing numbers Sunday were not dazzling, but you could see why the Chiefs have roles for all their backs. Surprisingly enough, Pacheco kept his kick-return duties despite being needed on the first play of offensive drives. In a tight 14-13 game beginning the third quarter, Pacheco broke out a 48-yard return, meaning he was a bit winded when the Chiefs began their offensive drive.
So on came Edwards-Helaire, who began the drive with a 3-yard gain. Two plays later, the offensive line opened up a gaping hole for the veteran, and he hit it hard for a 16-yard touchdown to give the Chiefs a 21-13 game.
The third back in the bunch, McKinnon, would be the recipient of a key third-and-20 screen pass that he ran for 34 yards, and on the next play, wide receiver Justin Watson had a touchdown.
It appeared to be Pacheco as the lead back toward the end of the game as the Chiefs had a lead. So he may be the first guy up, but all three will continue to be used.
The Chiefs’ defense stepped up in a big way when it mattered.
The Kansas City defense did not have a perfect game, but what was impressive was how it made the important, game-changing plays when it mattered.
After punt returner Skyy Moore’s blunder (a conversation for another day), rookie cornerback Joshua Williams picked off an absolute duck thrown by 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the end zone. The pick gave the Chiefs a halftime lead.
“Sack Nation” reemerged, with Chris Jones tallying a critical sack of Garoppolo in the first quarter, linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and L’Jarius Sneed splitting a sack in the second quarter, and defensive end Frank Clark and Khalen Saunders splitting a sack in the fourth quarter.
Right after the Clark-Saunders sack, Clark zoomed around the edge and got Garoppolo for a safety, ending the game. We haven’t seen Clark — the closer — in a long, long time. But he was there on Sunday. Jones later added a strip-sack that led to Chad Henne time.
Led by Nick Bolton and back-to-back key plays in the third quarter (a run stop and excellent coverage against tight end George Kittle), the Chiefs managed the talented tandem of Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey, who somehow played much of the game.
There are still ways for the defense to improve, but they should be proud of their effort in Santa Clara.
The final word
Entering the bye week — always a time for introspection — there’s no doubt that the Chiefs might look at themselves in the mirror after Sunday and wonder how they lost games against Indianapolis and Buffalo when they can play like that against one of the top defenses in football.
That being said, beginning 5-2 while facing the toughest schedule in the NFL is nothing to sneeze at, and I think Sunday showed what can happen when Kansas City has a short memory, looks past mistakes that happen and steps on a good team’s throat.
The bye week is always sweeter after a win, and after this San Francisco rout, the Chiefs should feel good about what they have accomplished and what’s ahead.
That identity question popped up again this week — and at this point, I think it’s fair to say the Chiefs’ identity is still one of the best teams in the AFC.
Are they the best team? Will they win the conference?
Time will tell.