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In Tampa Bay, the Chiefs’ offensive line answered internal and external challenges

The front five was locked in for Week 4 — fueled by more than just the words of the opponent.

Kansas City Chiefs v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

When Tampa Bay Buccaneers outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett downplayed the ability of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line last week, you heard no words of retaliation or rebuttal.

What was there to say? On the field, the Chiefs’ front five weren’t exactly backing up their reputation.

Against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3, the Chiefs’ offensive line simply failed the team, creating only enough running room for 29 rushing yards on 17 carries by running backs; starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire had zero rushing yards. That was accompanied by leaks in pass protection, which carried over from the Week 2 game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

But in the 41-31 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday night, the Kansas City offensive line played like it had something to prove. In the running game, it flipped a switch — controlling the line of scrimmage and allowing the Chiefs’ backfield to total 154 rushing yards on 32 carries. It was a key factor not only in Kansas City establishing the lead, but also in protecting it for the rest of the game.

Chiefs head coach Andy Reid gave the group a shout-out in the opening statement of his postgame press conference.

“I was proud of the offensive line for the job that they did,” Reid told reporters. “They had a certain mindset about them — and they came out and presented that for four quarters.”

While Barrett’s challenge was the headline, it might have been an internal challenge from Reid that sparked the high-level performance — as running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire revealed after the victory, saying that Reid had “challenged” the offensive line.

Edwards-Helaire said he and rookie running back Isiah Pacheco also accepted that challenge, using the offensive line’s resurgance to consistently turn a handoff into six or more yards; 15 of the duo’s first 28 carries went over that mark.

As we see on this play, the initial push off the snap is noticeable — which can be credited directly to effort and intensity.

This group may not have expressed a response to Barrett — but it’s because they let their play do the talking. Even before the Tampa Bay linebacker’s comments, they had plenty of motivation to do that.

Center Creed Humphrey talked about the group’s sense of urgency with KSHB 41 Sports Director Mick Shaffer, who interviewed Humphrey on the field after the game.

“After last week, we wanted to get that taste out of our mouths of the loss. We just wanted to come out and execute, show ourselves what we can do — so we’re excited about the outcome tonight.”

“Obviously we felt we had a big challenge on our hands; they have a very talented front, very talented players on all different levels of that defense. So it was a good challenge for us. We knew we had something to prove after last week, we know we didn’t play our best so we wanted to come out and prove something tonight.”

As he told Shaffer how much of a blast the evening was, Humphrey’s teammates Andrew Wylie and Nick Allegretti walked past — pointing to and cheering on their teammate. The moment perfectly encapsulated the theme of the evening for both the team and the fans.

But it was fun because of a well-prepared, well-executed game plan for the offensive line. Not only did it dominate in the ground game, it also seemed to hold a clean pocket when it was needed — despite a final tally of three sacks allowed. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes said he could feel the boost in performance.

“They accepted the challenge; they made our team roll today,” declared the quarterback. “That’s a great defense, a great defensive line. I think they heard the talking — not only from them, but everybody — about how they didn’t play well last week. They accepted that challenge. When they dominate like that, it makes my job a lot easier.”

Part of that challenge may have come from an opposing player who once dominated a previous version of the unit — from which only right tackle Andrew Wylie now remains. But the players who now wear the colors and the logo understand the significance of the Super Bowl LV loss — as left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. revealed to Kansas City Star columnist Vahe Gregorian.

Whatever fueled the group, each of them played a key role in the performance. Humphrey and left guard Joe Thuney helped spring a few of the biggest gains by running backs — and both offensive tackles succeeded when they needed to pull on a lead block or set the tone on the front of a run.

Right guard Trey Smith — who injured a pectoral muscle during the game — continued to bring the attitude. Former Kansas City offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz highlighted a particularly nasty block in pass protection.

Brown also had an impressive, overwhelming pancake on an edge rusher in pass protection; it happened to come on Mahomes’ fourth-quarter interception.

Overall, Sunday’s game is one that the team (and its fans) can use to show that the group is one of the NFL’s most talented offensive lines. It’s also a reminder that it’s hard for individual players to bring this energy and maximum effort to each week of the regular season.

But that is the world in which the Chiefs now live. The line will have to work on making Sunday’s performance a more consistent result — because it’s always getting an opponent’s best shot. It’s just part of the learning process as this group navigates the 18-week regular season — knowing that its best days need to be in January and February.

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