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Chiefs-Texans rapid reaction: Trying to make sense of the ‘flawed’ AFC West champs

It was another close call against a bad football team on Sunday — but the division-clinching game still must be appreciated.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Houston Texans 30-24 in overtime on Sunday, improving their record to 11-3 and clinching the AFC West. In their loss, the Texans dropped to 1-12-1.

Let’s talk about what transpired at NRG Stadium:

The best in the west — again

Nobody who follows the Chiefs is going to consider what they watched on Sunday an enjoyable experience — that is, until running back Jerick McKinnon crossed the goal line in overtime. But more on that later.

Kansas City was underwhelming for most of the afternoon, underperforming on defense and offense against a team that came in with one victory over 14 weeks. Similar to what happened after last week’s game scare against the Denver Broncos, I imagine Kansas City’s problems will be examined in detail over the next six days leading into the Christmas Eve matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.

And we can be honest: there is a lot to be concerned about heading into the postseason — when every week is a battle against the conference’s best teams.

For now, let’s take a second to appreciate the fact that the Chiefs are AFC West champions for the seventh straight season. For quite a while before head coach Andy Reid arrived in Kansas City, football hadn’t been much fun. But beginning with Alex Smith (and continuing with Patrick Mahomes), Reid has reestablished the franchise as one of the NFL’s best — a team that lower-tier clubs try to replicate.

Before Sunday, only two NFL franchises could say they had won seven division titles in a row (since the merger in 1970) — the Los Angeles Rams from 1973-79 and the New England Patriots, who won titles from 2009-19.

Make it three.

While the Texans came for a fight, needing overtime to win this game is a fair concern

It’s easy to make the case that the Texans are the NFL’s worst team. Their defense entered the game No. 25 in points allowed (24.2) as it gave up a league-worst 165.8 rushing yards per game. In addition, the Texans entered the game with two of their top receivers, a starting cornerback and their best offensive player — rookie running back Dameon Pierce — unable to play. They have chosen to run a two-quarterback system in the NFL.

Still, the Chiefs needed overtime to win.

In the full scope of professional football, the Chiefs (who had 502 net yards on Sunday) are looking at problems that half the league would love to have.

Somehow, despite sometimes shaky offensive line play, lousy coverage and tackling, frequently turning the football over — and a Jekyll and Hyde kicking game — they have managed to win 11 games. And as it happens, all those listed problems reared their head on Sunday — yet Kansas City again found a way to win.

For the eighth time this season, the Chiefs lost the turnover battle. For the fifth time this season, they lost the turnover battle and won. On Sunday, the last turnover made for the last laugh, with defensive end Frank Clark knocking away a ball that linebacker Willie Gay Jr. picked up.

As the Chiefs continue to face average-to-below-average teams over the next three weeks, perhaps these problems won’t cost them a win. But if they want to do something in the postseason, it is imperative that they use those next three weeks to get better in all those areas. Maybe you can get out of Wild Card weekend making mistakes, but the Divisional Round (with four of the conference’s best remaining teams) is likely to be a different story.

It must be said that the Chiefs weren’t exactly assisted by the limitless flags Carl Cheffers and his officiating crew chose to throw (there were 10 accepted penalties for 102 yards). But to an extent, that is out of the team’s control. Right now Kansas City needs to focus back in on what it can control.

Jerick McKinnon can do no wrong

Welcome to the most-pleasant portion of my reaction to this game.

On a team that includes Patrick Mahomes, Chris Jones and Travis Kelce, it could be argued that over the last three weeks. the 30-year-old, nine-year veteran running back has been the Chiefs’ best player. In that stretch, he’s recorded 24 carries for 125 yards, 17 catches for 191 yards and five total touchdowns.

McKinnon had another two touchdowns on Sunday to go along with his 122 yards from scrimmage. His final touchdown ended the game.

McKinnon is the best pass protector on the team, and he is the perfect option for Mahomes to keep opposing defenses honest. When rookie Isiah Pacheco earned a some time on the bench after his fourth fumble of the season, McKinnon stepped up.

Once Pacheco re-entered the game, he continued to be a key player. I’m not that without him, the Chiefs could have avoided two consecutive terrible upsets.

The final word

While the Chiefs are a flawed football team, they are also AFC West champions — securing playoff football at Arrowhead for the seventh straight year.

I think for fans (and yes, the players) to have the confidence they need for a deep playoff run, they will have to put better looks on tape over the next three weeks.

They’ll get back to that on Monday. As for today, they — and we — should try to enjoy it.

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