On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs were on the road to face the cellar-dwelling Houston Texans. For the second straight week, the Chiefs did just enough to avoid the upset— winning 30-24 in overtime.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
1. Jerick McKinnon is primed to become the Chiefs’ next postseason legend
McKinnon played one of the best games of his career on Sunday, tallying 132 total yards with two touchdowns. But those stats only tell half of the story.
What is it about this 30-year-old running back that sets him apart from the other offensive skill players on the Chiefs’ roster?
Part of it is his versatility. McKinnon is by far the best pass-blocking back on the team. He is also one of the best receiving backs in the league, averaging an absurd 10.6 yards after catch.
But what really sets McKinnon apart is that when your back is against the wall, he’s the guy who should have the rock in his hands. He’s then one who has that dog in him — the guy who is still looking for that sliver of success he’s never tasted before.
Hungry dogs run faster - and McKinnon is playing like he’s starving.
2. Penalties are killing this team
It’s hard for a team to step up when they keep shooting themselves in the foot. The Chiefs committed so many defensive errors on Sunday that if the shooting-yourself-in-the-foot was really a thing, half of the team would have bloody holes in their shoes.
The Chiefs finished Sunday’s game with a total of 11 penalties for 117 yards. That’s a lot of free yards to give an inferior opponent. And these were just the penalties that were accepted.
Sure... referee Carl Cheffers is public enemy No. 1 for Kansas City fans — but on Sunday, it wasn’t all about him. The Chiefs played sloppily. On more than one occasion, that led to Houston points. On Sunday, three Chiefs had multiple penalties: L’Jarius Sneed, Juan Thornhill and Willie Gay Jr. One of the more inexcusable penalties was an unnecessary roughness call that went against Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce in the first half.
It doesn’t matter what Texans safety Desmond King did to bait Kelce into reacting. The tight end is a veteran — and one of the team’s leaders. He has to be able to control his emotions in that kind of situation.
It’s too late in the year for the Chiefs to be playing with so little discipline.
3. Give Andy his crown
After the game, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid stepped to the podium and peered out across the gallery of reporters, his cold blue eyes dropping the room’s temperature by a couple of degrees. Thinking about all of the preseason predictions that Kansas City would fail it win its seventh straight AFC West title, a slight grin formed at the corners of his mouth as he cleared his throat.
“Nowadays,” he said. “everybody wanna talk like they got somethin’ to say but nothing comes out when they move their lips — just a bunch of gibberish — analysts act like they forgot about me...”
OK, so Reid obviously didn’t stand at the podium and freestyle Dr. Dre and Slim Shady — but if he had, could you have blamed him?
Everywhere you turned during the offseason, it seemed someone was picking the next flavor of the week to dethrone the Chiefs as kings of the AFC West. But on Sunday, Kansas City closed the deal, winning their seventh straight division title— a streak that ties the Los Angeles Rams for the second-longest streak in NFL history.
In the end, the Chiefs' title defense was rather anti-climactic. Kansas City essentially sewed up the division when they beat the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 11. It’s just taken a little time for the math to run its course.
Regardless of how the team has played over the last month, nobody deserves to flex on the NFL more than Andy Reid. Give the man his crown. And next time the AFC West decides to take a shot at the King, they should try to avoid missing so badly.
4. Mahomes is enough to carry the Chiefs against bad teams
Patrick Mahomes was near perfect on Sunday. It was the sort of performance that you expect from the NFL MVP against the league’s worst team. Mahomes was surgical, completing 36 of his 41 pass attempts for 336 yards and three total touchdowns. Mahomes’ stat line could have been even more impressive if wideout Justin Watson had brought in a long pass that hit his hands.
After throwing three costly interceptions against the Denver Broncos in Week 14, Mahomes needed to come out and have a strong showing. But he did more than that. He lifted an entire team, keeping it afloat long enough it could walk away with a narrow overtime victory.
Mahomes’ greatness is enough to carry this team to victory against bad teams. But in the playoffs, there will be no bad teams.
5. This team is who we thought they were
The red flags have been there all season. Time is running out to fix the problems. The same issues that have plagued this team all season almost cost them a win on Sunday.
Special teams: Harrison Butker has not been healthy all season. It’s clear that it has affected his performance. He missed the game-winning field goal and a point-after attempt. At this point, you can’t go into any meaningful game having faith that he will make the kick when it matters.
Pass protection: This season, Kansas City’s offensive tackles have been inconsistent at best. Mahomes has been pressured on 20.5% of his dropbacks, which ranks 11th-highest in the NFL. The issue is that when the Chiefs' offensive tackles miss, they seem to miss badly, leaving Mahomes completely exposed to unimpeded pass rushers.
Defense: The simple fact is that the Chiefs don’t win one-on-one matchups along the defensive line. So to generate pressure, they must rely on blitzing. The defense has also struggled when things have gotten more difficult — like when they must go back on the field after the offense commits a turnover. In these kinds of situations, a defense must be at its best. But instead, the Chiefs have rolled out the red carpet leading to the end zone. And finally, the unit has struggled to create turnovers.
At this point, these aren’t things the Chiefs simply need to fix. They are legitimate deficiencies. If Kansas City is going to make a run at the Super Bowl, we’d better hope that Mahomes has enough heroics in him to carry the team all the way.