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Chiefs-Titans rapid reaction: Great teams win when they don’t play their best

Kansas City made way too many mistakes against Tennessee — but when it counted most, the team came through.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs George Walker IV /

In the first game out of their bye week, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Tennessee Titans 20-17 in overtime.

With the win, the Chiefs are now 6-2. That ties for the AFC’s best won-loss record.

Mahomes Magic is real

At the midpoint of the fourth quarter, everything that could possibly be going wrong for the Chiefs was going wrong. The crowd at Arrowhead Stadium was dead. The team was lifeless as it watched a rookie quarterback and his elite running back control the game on the other side.

Moreover, the Titans’ front — led by defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons, who had called his shot — was absolutely bullying the Chiefs without having to call a blitz. Kansas City could not manage any kind of push in the running game — and Patrick Mahomes was far from comfortable.

But, alas, we should have remembered that it is in those moments in which Mahomes is most comfortable. Knowing the team needed a spark — on third-and-17 in the fourth quarter — Mahomes scrambled 20 yards for the first down.

Then, a little bit later — in a play reminiscent of the 2019 AFC championship game — Mahomes scrambled to his right, running 14 yards to the end zone to bring the Chiefs within two.

A couple of flags later, he scrambled to the other side, sneaking just to the right of the pylon to tie the game.

Like an NBA superstar such as LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, Mahomes put the team on his back when it seemed like it was beaten and the game was over.

We should have known, of course. With Mahomes, the game is never over.

Good teams win when they play well, but great teams win when they play poorly

Against the Titans, the Chiefs made mistake after mistake.

Kicker Harrison Butker, who had entered the season with his sights on becoming one of the game’s top kickers, missed both an extra point and a 47-yard field goal.

In the second quarter — as Kansas City held onto a 9-7 lead (after the missed extra point) — safety Justin Reid bit on a Derrick Henry run a little too hard, rookie linebacker Leo Chenal was washed out of the play and Henry cut back to split both Reid and fellow safety Juan Thornhill for his longest run of the season: 56 yards. To be fair to the Chiefs, they did a solid job with Henry the rest of the night, but it was that explosive play that led to what might have become the game-winning touchdown.

Later, tight end Travis Kelce dropped a pass that was tipped up in the air for an interception — one that would lead to three more Tennessee points. Kelce threw his helmet in frustration.

The tight end’s reaction depicted what most of the night was like for Kansas City — but when it came to mistakes, the team wasn’t even done.

On third-and-16 in the third quarter, Mahomes beautifully placed a ball that a wide-open Mecole Hardman needed to have — and the wideout dropped the pass. The play would have undoubtedly given the Chiefs new life — but instead, they punted back to the Titans.

Everybody likes to talk about Andy Reid’s record after the bye week because of how consistently good his teams have been in those games. That theme exists because after a week of rest and introspection, his teams are usually well-prepared and sharp.

But on Sunday night, the Chiefs were anything but sharp — yet they still managed to salvage a victory from the jaws of defeat for one reason: great teams find a way to win. Just the same, Reid will be the first to tell you that the team will have much to address over the coming week as it begins to prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But even if the Chiefs had played a perfect game, Reid he would have told you the same thing — and that’s the reason his after-bye record improved to 21-3.

Flags aren’t fun

We will not complain that too many flags went against the Chiefs — or that that too many flags went against the Titans.

We will, however, complain that there were too many flags... period.

The Chiefs and Titans were matched up in a 2019 AFC title rematch on Sunday Night Football. Instead of the intrigue of Henry and a third-round rookie in a spot start against the mighty Mahomes, what football fans got was the “Clete Blakeman Show.”

At the game’s end, Blakeman’s crew totaled 18 penalties for 120 yards — and no sequence in the game was without penalty. That is not entertaining. Putting any Kansas City bias aside, except for Henry’s explosive run and Mahomes’ magic at the end, the game was rather dull.

That is on Blakeman. Someone ought to let him know that nobody showed up to Arrowhead — or tuned in to NBC — to see him.

The final word

On a day in which the Chiefs could tie the Buffalo Bills for the best record in the AFC after their upset loss to the New York Jets, they almost blew the golden opportunity.

But regardless of what transpired at Arrowhead — with much to dissect in the coming days — the Chiefs found a way to get it done. And now, after eight games with nine to play, a case could be made that the pressure has now shifted back to Buffalo, which owns the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to its Week 6 win.

That could have happened only if the Chiefs had found a way to win without playing their best game. On Sunday night, that’s exactly what happened.

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