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5 things we learned from the Chiefs holding on to beat the Broncos

It wasn’t the get-right game we expected, but Kansas City did enough to leave Denver with a win.

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs traveled to Colorado to take on the much-maligned Denver Broncos. In a game that Kansas City was supposed to dominate, the team barely avoided an upset — holding on for a 34-28 victory.

Here are five things we learned from the game.

1. Even at their worst, they ain’t that bad

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

In an old Garth Brooks song called “She’s Every Woman,” the last verse goes like this:

She’s anything but typical
She’s so unpredictable
Oh but even at her worst it ain’t that bad

That’s how I feel about the Chiefs after watching them storm out of the gates to take a 27-point lead — only to take a nap in the second and third quarters before awakening in the fourth and doing just enough to walk out with a win.

Considering the opponent and the plethora of mistakes the team made — not to mention the opportunities left on the field — this will go down as one of Kansas City’s worst performances on the season. Yet even at their worst, the Chiefs were still good enough to go on the road and extend their ridiculous winning streak against the Broncos to 14 games.

2. Mahomes turns out to be human after all

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

This game produced an entertaining highlight reel for both teams. But 20 years from now — when quarterback Patrick Mahomes is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — this wasn’t a performance we’ll remember as one of his best.

Still, he did throw a highlight-worthy pass that very well might make it into his montage that will be shown in Canton when he is inducted.

Facing third-and-2 from the 44-yard line, Mahomes rolled out to his right and tossed a no-look hook shot to running back Jerick McKinnon, who hauled in the pass and took it to the house. It was the sort of play that makes you wonder if Mahomes is actually an alien lizard man from another dimension.

But then, he followed up the diety-like act by throwing three mortal interceptions to remind us that he — like the rest of us — is a flesh and blood human.

Mahomes isn’t infallible. He makes mistakes. For the second straight week, we saw him play well — but not up to his normal standard of excellence.

There are a lot of possible reasons. Maybe it’s the play-calling. Maybe there is something physically or mentally off with him. Maybe it’s because he has a two-week-old infant at home who never lets him sleep.

Or maybe it’s just because Mahomes is a human who goes through bad stretches where he isn’t at his best.

He’ll snap out of it. He always does.

3. The defense is fool’s gold

Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

If you just looked at the defensive box score, you might come away thinking that the Chiefs' defense had a dominating performance — and in some ways, it did.

Kansas City sacked the Denver quarterbacks six times, while also tallying 11 quarterback hits, two interceptions and seven tackles for loss. By nearly every measure, we would consider this to be one of defense’s best performances this season.

Instead, the Chiefs allowed the Broncos to score a season-high 28 points — nearly allowing it to complete one of the most unlikely come-from-behind victories in recent memory.

I think the frustrating thing about the stat line is that the Kansas City defensive line is leaps and bounds better than the Denver offensive line — so the Chiefs didn’t need to blitz to get to the quarterback. Watching the game, it felt like Kansas City was winning its one-on-one matchups.

Unfortunately, the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo just can't help himself.

His blitz-obsessed scheme works well against lowly teams like the Broncos. But if you try to live by the blitz against good teams in the playoffs, you’re going to leave your young cornerbacks on an island — where they will be burned down the sidelines. A couple of times during Sunday’s game, we saw Denver wide receiver Jerry Jeudy do exactly that.

In Denver, the defense was good enough. But in the playoffs, good enough won’t be good enough.

4. Andy Reid doesn’t know how to just run the football

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Isiah Pacheco was once again the starting running back. But fellow running back Jerick McKinnon was the star of the night, catching seven passes for 112 yards — including his highlight-reel catch-and-run.

But this game should have been a big day for Pacheco, too. He finished with only 70 rushing yards on 13 carries.

With 3:35 left in the first half, the Chiefs were up 27-0. They would finish the half with the score being 27-14 after Mahomes threw a pair of ill-advised interceptions. Mahomes has to do better at protecting the football — but at the same time, when you’re up by 27 points in the first half, you should run the ball down their throats and eat the clock.

There is no excuse for Mahomes to throw the ball 42 times in a game where the Chiefs had a four-touchdown lead.

5. The Chiefs have a tendency to lose focus

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

“We were trying to fix it — and keep the pedal down,” said head coach Andy Reid of the team’s third-quarter approach. “In these games, you’ve got to stay on top of It, so that’s what we were doing.”

The key here is that the Chiefs were trying to fix their past mistakes — but in the third quarter, the momentum of the game had swung completely to the Broncos. Kansas City’s lead was down to six points after Denver scored on the opening drive of the second half.

It felt like the Chiefs had jumped out to a big lead — and then got bored, thinking they could coast to an easy victory. But that’s not how the NFL works. If you’re not locked in 100% for all four quarters, even the league’s worst teams will pounce on you.

The Chiefs tried to turn it back on in the second half — but by that point, it was already too late. They were stuck in a dogfight with an inferior team. Six of the Chiefs’ final eight drives resulted in either a punt or an interception.

Ultimately, the responsibility rests with the coaching staff. The coaches called a subpar game, refusing to move away from their ingrained tendencies. I hope the Chiefs learn their lesson. You can’t just turn it on whenever you want — not even against the Broncos.

But even at its worst, this team ain’t that bad. We’re talking about mistakes made by a 10-win team in Week 14. The sky isn’t falling — but these are things that need to be addressed before the playoffs.

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