What a difference a week can make. Seven days ago we were lamenting the Kansas City Chiefs’ ugly 20-17 loss to an inferior Indianapolis Colts team. We had whole units of the team on our losers list — simply because the errors were so widespread, it was tough to narrow it down.
But on Sunday night, the Chiefs seemed to put it all together against a really good Tampa Bay Buccaneers team, turning in a 41-31 victory. The defense made quarterback Tom Brady’s offense completely one-dimensional, while the offense was both balanced and efficient. It was the kind of all-around performance we expect from an Andy Reid team — coming at a time it was really needed. Sitting at 3-1 feels drastically different than the alternative: a 2-2 record coming off two straight losses.
There were plenty of good performances under the Sunday Night Football lights, but here are a few of the Chiefs who stood out — and a couple who didn’t.
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: If you just look at the box score (249 yards, three touchdowns and an interception), it was an average day for Kansas City’s star quarterback. But watching him was once again an absolute joy. Mahomes outmaneuvered the vaunted Tampa Bay defense on the ground (four rushes for 34 yards) and with some of his signature creativity. The scrambling touchdown flip to running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire will be on his permanent highlight reel — but it was also encouraging to see Mahomes connect deep to wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (for 36 yards) — and even get tight end Jody Fortson and rookie wideout Skyy Moore involved. If anyone was still thinking about Sunday’s game as a Super Bowl rematch, Mahomes showed what it could have looked like with competent play in front of him.
The offensive line: Speaking of which, the Chiefs’ big uglies heard the challenge and rose to the occasion against a really good front seven. After last week’s struggles, we wondered if we had overrated the offensive line. Now, however, it appears that it simply might have been an off week in Indianapolis — because in Tampa Bay, the offensive linemen imposed their will. The Buccaneers are among the league’s toughest teams against the run, but the Chiefs rolled to a 189-yard performance (with two touchdowns) and an average over five yards per carry. Still, Mahomes was sacked three times — easily the most of the young season — but it didn’t feel like he was under pressure as often. Most importantly, he looked like he was comfortable — and trusted his offensive line. That’s what it’s all about.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire AND Isiah Pacheco: Both running backs deserve to be on the winners list. They took advantage of the gaping holes opened up by the offensive line, running with urgency and authority. Edwards-Helaire (19 carries for 92 yards and two total touchdowns) and Pacheco (11 runs for 63) showed just how effective a running-back-by-committee could be — and how a balanced Kansas City offense can be dominant. On the highlight-reel touchdown, Edwards-Helaire showed the ability to improvise with Mahomes, which made up for the fourth-down pass he couldn’t haul in. Even if they don’t get 30 carries in many weeks, keeping both of these guys involved — and feeding Edwards-Helaire in the passing game — should continue to be a focus as the season grinds on.
The run defense: All of a sudden, it’s a pattern. Kansas City has been shutting down the top rushers for every opponent this season. James Conner managed only 26 yards, Austin Eckeler only 39 and Jonathan Taylor had 71. On Sunday night, it was almost as if the Buccaneers didn’t even try; their top running back Leonard Forunette carried the ball only three times for minus three yards. The Chiefs’ defense made Brady’s offense completely abandon the run, ending the game with only six attempts for three net yards. As the season goes along, we start to see the identity of a team evolve. Now it feels safe to say that the Chiefs are a team you just can’t run against.
L’Jarius Sneed: Another week, another game-changing play for the cprnerback. The only sack on Brady resulted in a fumble recovered by Chris Jones. Sneed battled in coverage all day — and as usual, was a sound tackler. But as a blitzer, Sneed is an absolute weapon.
Matthew Wright: The newest kicker to replace the injured Harrison Butker, Wright got the job done on Sunday night. He was perfect on five extra points and two field goals, helping keep the margin of victory comfortable enough. Have we gotten it through our thick skulls yet? Competent kicking is something we shouldn’t take for granted. Even if it ends up being the only game he plays for Kansas City, it was a solid performance for the former Jacksonville Jaguars placekicker.
Travis Kelce: From Mahomes’ very first pass of the night — and right up to the point where the Chiefs had an insurmountable lead — the star tight end was outstanding both as a receiver (nine catches for 92 yards and a touchdown) and as a blocker, helping pave the way for the dominant rushing effort. The NFL’s best tight end also surpassed Rob Gronkowski, entering the all-time top five for receiving yards by a tight end. And he’s far from done.
Jerick McKinnon: With the Edwards-Helaire and Pacheco emerging, the veteran running back’s role is likely to be very limited. What we learned this week is that McKinnon’s role should probably not include short-yardage runs. The goal line creativity was nice — on one play, he took the snap and handed it off to Edwards-Helaire — but otherwise, it was not McKinnon’s night.
Justin Watson: It was a quiet return to Tampa for the wide receiver. His snaps were down (18%) and he was only targeted once — so it was probably not the revenge game he envisioned. Rookie Skyy Moore was a little more involved on Sunday — perhaps at Watson’s expense. We’ll see if that is a trend that continues, or if they will continue to alternate games where they are more involved.
Leo Chenal: We thought his usage would be game-plan dependent, so it shouldn’t be surprising that Chenal wasn’t really involved against a Tampa team that threw the ball 52 (!) times. The rookie had only four defensive snaps this week, which may be another clear indication that the Chiefs don’t trust him in coverage quite yet.