After the Chiefs built up a 27-0 lead in the second quarter, some folks (not naming any names, ahem) were preparing for Chad Henne to take over as Kansas City coasted to victory.
Alas, some of the same problems that have recently plagued the team — turnovers, missed tackles, poor pass protection— once again reared their ugly heads. Fueled by Chiefs mistakes, the Broncos came charging back — and made a game out of it.
At the end of the day, the Chiefs made enough plays to win 34-28. Hopefully, we never speak of this matchup again. But while we’re still talking about it, here are some Chiefs who stood out.
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.
Running back Jerick McKinnon: The veteran was easily the team’s leading receiver after scoring on a highlight-reel 56-yard no-look cross-body pass. The screen game was a key against a good Denver pass rush — and McKinnon delivered, running decisively and finishing with authority. He was also given the task of helping to close out the game — which didn’t help his rushing stats — but catching seven passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns represented a phenomenal day for McKinnon.
Running back Isiah Pacheco: At the two-minute warning on Kansas City’s final drive, the team needed a first down to salt the game away. They turned to their new bell-cow back, who effectively ended the game by ripping a 10-yard run up the middle on a second-and-10. Showing his burst through the hole — and also his toughness and determination — he ran over three Broncos defenders, refusing to be denied his chance at the first down. It was a perfect exclamation point for his performance, which included 13 carries for 70 yards and another 23 yards on three catches. He’s showing that if there is such a thing as a rookie wall, he’d break through it on his way to another first down — and then sprint back to the huddle.
Linebacker Willie Gay, Jr.: Against the Cincinnati Bengals, we lamented that nobody on the defense seemed to step up and make a big play when the Chiefs needed one. But on Sunday, Gay took matters into his own hands. Sniffing out a fourth-and-1 play, Gay deflected the pass to himself, stiff-armed the quarterback and took it to the house — giving his team what should have been an insurmountable 27-0 lead.
#Sacknation: Kansas City’s pass rush had a very productive day. On most days, getting six sacks and 11 quarterback hits will lead to a dominant defensive performance. Edge rushers Chris Jones, George Karlaftis, Mike Danna and Frank Clark all had a sack. Juan Thornhill had another on a blitz — and even Darius Harris got into the action by sharing a sack with newcomer Brandon Williams. The pass rush was also clutch: Jones helped close out the game with a hit that caused the interception ending Denver’s final drive. Regardless of the competition, this should be a confidence-inspiring game for the pass rush.
Tommy Townsend: You never want the team’s punter to be busy — or even noticed that often. Townsend punted three times against Denver, but each was a booming kick — including a 76-yarder that was the longest of his career. Flipping the field can be important in pinning an offense back, limiting its options and applying pressure. In fact, each of these punts resulted in a drive where Denver was forced to punt. The net distance gained in those three drives? One yard.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes: We can’t overreact. Mahomes is still the best player in the game and the MVP. He added one touchdown to his Canton highlight reel with that flip to McKinnon — along with another beauty to JuJu Smith-Schuster where he ran around in a circle to avoid pressure and then threw while being hit. He ended the day with 352 yards passing and three touchdowns, which is a really solid day — if it wasn’t for the other thing that happened three times. Mahomes was intercepted on a great play by linebacker Josey Jewell when the Chiefs were ahead 27-0, sparking the beginning of Denver’s comeback. He threw another first-half pick that led to another Broncos score. Then — with under six minutes left in the game (and a six-point lead) — Mahomes managed to throw another pick to Jewell. Luckily, Chris Jones and L’Jarius Sneed teamed up to quickly get the ball back to the offense. Mahomes’ three picks created the only hope Denver had in the game. Had the Chiefs lost, those interceptions would have erased the tremendous plays he made. Anytime you turn the ball over three times, you put your team at risk of losing — and therefore belong on this list.
Fullback Michael Burton: The fullback run on short yardage is still dead. Head coach Andy Reid tried to pull it out in a key spot in the fourth quarter, but it led to a three-and-out.
Cornerback Trent McDuffie: There were plenty of coverage snaps where the Broncos quarterbacks wanted nothing to do with targeting Trent McDuffie. But the plays most of us will remember started with an easy interception that hit McDuffie in his facemask. Then there was a touchdown to Jerry Jeudy on blown coverage where it looked like McDuffie was out of position — or expecting someone else to take the receiver. Then there was a fourth-down pass interference call — questionable as it was — where McDuffie was a little slow to get his head around. It should have been a turnover on downs — but instead, it was a 40-yard gain that set up a touchdown that made the game close. There really isn’t any reason to worry about McDuffie — even as a first-rounder, he is still a rookie — but on this day, there were huge plays that didn’t go his way.