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Remembering the Chiefs’ top 5 defensive plays of 2021

Before we move on to the new-look defense, let's remember some of the best defensive plays from last season.

NFL: JAN 16 AFC Wild Card - Steelers at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Training camp is less than four weeks away, and Kansas City Chiefs fans' excitement level to see this new defense is starting to heat up. The defense will look a bit different this year, given the numerous offseason additions to all three levels. Before we look at what this new defense will do in 2022, let's take just a moment to remember the highlights of the 2021 defense.

(Note: Last week, we remembered the offensive highlights.)

Here are the rules for how I evaluated the highlights and rankings:

  • Each playmaker could have just one play in the top five. For example, Chris Jones had multiple great moments, but only his best one from the season will make the list.
  • Make all the jokes you want, but this was a tough list to make. The honorable mentions include safety Daniel Sorensen's pick-six against the Broncos, cornerback Charvarius Ward out-jumping CeeDee Lamb for an interception and any time the Chiefs rattled quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense.

With that, let's get to the list:

5. Mike Hughes begins the game with a bang.

Josh Jacobs left end for -2 yards. Josh Jacobs fumbles (forced by Jarran Reed), recovered by Mike Hughes at LV-23 and returned for 23 yards, touchdown.

After huddling and jumping on the Chiefs' Arrowhead at midfield to start the game, the Raiders fell on their face on the very first play from scrimmage.

Running back Josh Jacobs took the handoff on a stretch play to the left, looking for any gap to sprint through, but good team defense created a wall. Defensive tackle Jarran Reed got penetration and punched the ball out as Jacobs tried to spin from his grasp, knocking the ball into the direction of cornerback Mike Hughes. Hughes smartly scooped it up and completed the play by darting to the end zone for a touchdown. It was an unreal way to start the game. Fans in attendance were still trying to settle for the afternoon, and it was already action-packed. This would lead to another 48-9 thumping of the Raiders as all of Kansas City celebrated.

Hughes won AFC defensive player of the week after securing two fumble recoveries, nine tackles and the touchdown that set the tone for the entire afternoon.

4. Chris Jones dominates the Cowboys

Dak Prescott sacked by and Chris Jones for -2 yards and Jarran Reed for -2 yards.

This may be cheating... a little.

This is more about the complete game Jones had against the Dallas Cowboys, but it was special. Jones showcased a complete game and reminded people why he was one of the best defensive players in the league in this game. With three and a half sacks and a fumble recovery, Jones put on a clinic with a wide array of moves. The sack in the fourth quarter to force a late three-and-out was terrific. What made it a little better was who it was against: All-Pro Zach Martin. Jones bullied Martin before knocking him off balance and finished the play with a sack on quarterback Dak Prescott.

On the game's final drive, Jones tipped the pass in the red zone to assist in the game-sealing interception made by cornerback L'Jarius Sneed.

3. Tyrann Mathieu starts his season with a splash

Lamar Jackson pass short right intended for Sammy Watkins is intercepted by Tyrann Mathieu at BAL-34 and returned for 34 yards, touchdown.

After missing the first week of the season on the COVID-19 list, safety Tyrann Mathieu made his season debut. On the game's first drive, Mathieu read Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson perfectly and stepped in to make the interception. The ball looked like it was intended for Mathieu the entire time after receiver Sammy Watkins slipped on the route. Mathieu navigated through the return, showcasing his patience and making a quick cut, slipping past Jackson and falling into the end zone for the score. Never looking like he was running full speed, Mathieu used his football savvy more than anything to finish the pick-six.

Mathieu would get another interception later in the game, which was also a beauty.

2. Tershawn Wharton flashes the athleticism

Taylor Heinicke's pass short right intended for J.D. McKissic is intercepted by Tershawn Wharton at WAS-24 and returned for no gain (tackle by Cornelius Lucas).

At this point in the fourth quarter, the game had been decided. The Chiefs were going to beat the Washington Football Team 31-13, and garbage time was the only thing remaining in the contest. That didn't stop defensive lineman Tershawn Wharton from going 100 miles an hour.

Wharton used his speed to be the spike defender on the stunt with Frank Clark, getting into the space that quarterback Taylor Heinicke was looking for his check-down receiver. With his eyes on the quarterback, Wharton put his hands in the air, looking to deflect the ball, and he ended up pinning it to the offensive tackle's helmet before coming down with it. It was great awareness and athleticism from the Missouri S&T grad. He showed hand strength to secure the ball as the offensive lineman tried to jar it loose.

Wharton had a few big splash plays last season. He had a couple of big stops against the Los Angeles Chargers in that wild win in LA on Thursday Night Football that stalled the Chargers in the red zone. I'm personally looking forward to his third year in the defense.

1. Bolton's game-winner

Melvin Gordon right guard for -4 yards. Melvin Gordon fumbles (forced by Melvin Ingram), recovered by Nick Bolton at KC-14 and returned for 86 yards, touchdown.

On a cold, January night in Denver, the Chiefs were sleep-walking through a game against the division rival Broncos.

Quarterback Drew Lock had played a fine game against a defense that looked disinterested for most of the night. At this point in the game, Lock led the Broncos into the red zone, looking for a two-possession lead late in the fourth quarter. He handed the ball off to running back Melvin Gordon, who was met by his ex-teammate, Melvin Ingram. Ingram delivered a hit as the handoff occurred. Ingram came screaming off the edge unblocked and straight to the backfield and didn't hesitate to pop his shoulder into Gordon, forcing the fumble.

Rookie linebacker Nick Bolton picked the ball up, spun away from Lock and stumbled his way 86 yards for the touchdown. The Chiefs took the lead and never looked back, extending their win streak over the Broncos to 13 consecutive games.

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