The next time the Kansas City Chiefs play the Tennessee Titans, let’s go ahead and assume it will be harder than it’s supposed to be. This one was a Rocky movie: an absolute slugfest from start to finish. Both defenses made things hard on the offenses — but only one was able to rise to the occasion when it mattered most.
Here are a few Chiefs who stood out during their brutal 20-17 overtime victory over the Titans.
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.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes: The offense was out of sync; there were too many times when it was completely unable to move the ball — and it took too many sacks. And then, Mahomes missed too many throws. But he also completely changed the game by — of all things — running the football. His 20-yard scramble — and the touchdown run that followed — put Kansas City in a position to tie the game. Mahomes did that on the ground too, converting a two-point attempt by running to the pylon. He led the team in rushing with 63 yards — and sadly, it wasn’t close. But Mahomes also found a way to get it done in the air as well, hitting eleven different receivers and making some incredible plays in overtime to set up the game-winning field goal. With 509 total yards of offense and two touchdowns, the legend grows.
Cornerback Trent McDuffie: The highly-anticipated return of the rookie first-round pick was pretty much flawless. McDuffie and the rest of the young secondary held the Titans’ wide receivers without a single catch, so you didn’t hear the cornerbacks’ names called much. McDuffie also made one of the better coverage plays you’ll ever see when he knocked a pass away from tight end Austin Hooper. By turning his head around and playing the ball, McDuffie proved it is actually possible to break up a pass without getting a pass interference call. At the end of regulation, McDuffie was also spotted with perfect coverage on Cody Hollister, showing he can be that sticky-in-coverage No. 1 cornerback that we hoped he could be when Kansas City moved up in the draft to get him.
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster: When things got rough, Mahomes’ go-to-guy was the Chiefs’ No. 1 wideout. Yes, tight end Travis Kelce is still that guy — but when the defense was taking him away, Smith-Schuster feasted on the inside. Making tough catch after tough catch on so many key third downs, Smith-Schuster’s 10 catches for 88 yards might go overlooked — but his contributions absolutely shouldn’t be.
Defensive tackle Khalen Saunders: In the second half, the Kansas City defense figured out how to stop running back Derrick Henry — and with him, the Tennessee offense — and held the Titans to 22 yards of offense in the final two quarters and overtime. In the middle of all those running lanes being clogged and quarterback pressure being applied were Saunders’ quiet contributions. Big No. 99 was a force, leading the team in tackles and closing on quarterback Malik Willis for a massive 12-yard sack that effectively closed out the game.
Tight end Noah Gray: The box score doesn’t tell the story, but Gray arguably saved the game. The No. 2 tight end had three catches, but none in his career — before or after Sunday night’s game — will likely top the 27-yard juggling gem on third down in overtime.
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap: Perhaps the veteran heard the chatter about the Chiefs needing to add a veteran pass rusher at the trade deadline. He certainly announced his presence during some key moments against the Titans. With Frank Clark sidelined, Dunlap stepped up with a tackle for loss — and was part of two sacks — as the defense dominated Tennessee in the second half and overtime. Now with 99.5 career sacks, Dunlap seems to be at the top of his game, contributing to a unit that might actually be able to win games for their team.
The entire offensive line: Each of them had very noticeable struggles in pass protection as the Titans’ defensive front collected four sacks. Andrew Wylie gave up a couple of sacks. Joe Thuney missed a couple of big blocks and was flagged to end a drive. Trey Smith was beaten. Orlando Brown Jr. had a rusher sack Mahomes even after he had been able to block him up the arc. Outside of Mahomes, nobody could run the ball. The team’s three running backs combined for 12 carries resulting in 14 yards gained.
Placekicker Harrison Butker: Once again, we saw a mixed performance. While Butker hit the game-winner in overtime, he also missed an extra point — and a field goal that would have kept Kansas City from going into overtime in the first place. Many Chiefs fans are starting to wonder if a change will ultimately be needed.
Wide receiver Skyy Moore: On punt returns — where the rookie has struggled so far — it looked like he’d get another shot. But Justin Watson fielded a short punt — and then it was all Mecole Hardman. Meanwhile, when Mahomes targets the wideout, it feels Moore likely the ball will be intercepted rather than completed. At some point, the rookie’s time should come — but it’s fair to start getting impatient. He continues to be outperformed by the rest of the receivers — including Watson and the newly-acquired Kadarius Toney.
Safety Juan Thornhill: Nobody in the NFL is likely to enjoy tackling Derrick Henry. But everyone in the league knows that the only way to do it is to hit him low. After a futile attempt to hit him up around the pads that left the safety on the ground, Thornhill will be on Henry’s 2022 highlight reel. Later in the first half, Thornhill had a great view of Henry scoring. Thornhill could only wave his pads as the big running back waltzed in for six.