The Kansas City Chiefs handily defeated the Las Vegas Raiders 31-13 in their final regular-season game on Saturday afternoon. With the win, they finished the season 14-3.
The victory gives the Chiefs the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC — and a bye week through the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs.
That was exactly what the doctor ordered before the postseason.
It seemed that on many days, these 14-win Chiefs won despite.
Sometimes that meant despite the opposing team scoring 28 or more points (which happened on three occasions). Other times it was despite the team losing the turnover battle (which happened on five occasions). In other games, special teams made fans want to pull their hair out before Kansas City won — despite those mistakes.
I came into this week believing the Chiefs needed to put together a clean, complete game over a lesser opponent. We all lived through two close calls against the Denver Broncos and one against the Houston Texans, who will likely have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft next spring.
A clean, complete game would give fans the confidence they wanted ahead of the playoffs; hell, it would give the players the confidence they wanted ahead of the playoffs.
So Saturday’s game in Las Vegas was just what the doctor ordered. The offense scored on four of their five possessions in the first half — including three touchdowns.
On Patrick Mahomes’ only touchdown, he rolled to his left, baiting two defenders before side-arm flipping the ball to... who else? Running back Jerick McKinnon scored his ninth touchdown in six weeks.
The New York Giants selected Kadarius Toney with the No. 20 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Since he arrived in Kansas City, there have been several times that he flashed that first-round upside. And if you were closely listening to the ESPN broadcast closely, you know that the Chiefs saw that, too.
Louis Riddick just said that Brett Veach believes in a few weeks, WR Kadarius Toney could be the best receiver the Chiefs have.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) January 7, 2023
The Chiefs’ offense did stall to start the second half — but just as it has in recent weeks, it pushed through for an Isiah Pacheco touchdown on its third drive.
Kansas City has pushed its running-back-by-committee all year. It was once again on display Saturday. Even Ronald Jones (and his fresh legs) found the end zone. In fact, every active Chiefs running back scored a touchdown.
The defense held up its end of the bargain, too. Defensive end Chris Jones continued his season of dominance, notching two sacks — and especially after a week off, he looks poised for another couple of games. In 2022, Jones tied his career high of 15.5 sacks.
There are also two late-season developments worth noting here. Both could pay significant dividends in the postseason.
First, rookie defensive end George Karlaftis has broken through. During Karlaftis’ first 10 games, he registered a half a sack. In the season's final seven games, he recorded 6.0. He should be a key player in helping the Chiefs make the likes of Josh Allen and Joe Burrow... uncomfortable. After Frank Clark left the game with an injury, Mike Danna had two sacks — forcing a fumble on one of them. Karalftis was there to recover the football. The young defensive end is living safety Justin Reid’s message: the team’s rookies aren’t rookies any longer.
And second, safety Juan Thornhill has had two picks in three games. He is showing signs of being a ball-hawk who could make a difference in the postseason — when the margins of victory are much smaller. Thornhill’s interception gave him three for the season, matching his 2019 rookie campaign.
And oh yeah... although the play didn’t count, it looks like the Chiefs are having fun again.
Not letting a phantom holding call erase this from our memory.— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) January 7, 2023
The Chiefs win a lot when they lose the turnover battle. In games when they win it — as they did on Saturday? Good luck.
That includes special teams.
Everybody knows the special teams had an up-and-down season, to put it conservatively. Dave Toub’s unit desperately needed an outing like Saturday’s.
It was unclear if kicker Harrison Butker would even play in this game after he popped up on Wednesday’s injury report with back spasms. Just in case, the Chiefs signed their old friend Matthew Wright. He was even spotted warming up before the game.
But the Chiefs didn’t need him. Butker was perfect. He made all four extra points — and had no problem with a somewhat-hurried 44-yarder to end the half and extend the lead.
Punter Tommy Townsend landed two punts inside the 5-yard line and three inside the 10-yard line. Then he did this:
Feelin' himself @tommy_townsend pic.twitter.com/cANzZr4Vf4— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 7, 2023
Yeah... the Chiefs are having fun again.
Patrick Mahomes, your NFL MVP
It wasn’t the classic, dazzling Mahomes outing that might have served as an exclamation point — but on Saturday, all he had to do to lock up his second MVP award was play mistake-free. And win the game.
His final stat line against the Raiders was a modest 18 of 26 for 202 yards and a touchdown, enough for the NFL’s single-season offensive yardage record. His stat line for the season?
435 of 648 (67%), 5,250 passing yards, 45 touchdowns (including four on the ground) and 12 interceptions
As offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy might say, Saturday’s game was only about the alphabet for Mahomes.
He got the “W” in Las Vegas — and with the win, the Chiefs head straight to the Divisional Round. That gives them a significant advantage in winning the Lombardi Trophy — and yeah... time will tell on that front.
For the first time since 2018, it looks like at least one trophy is coming back to Kansas City.
The final word
A lot is going to be made about how the bye week happened for the Chiefs, considering the circumstances surrounding Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin and how the NFL opted to change the rules on the fly. That’s to be expected.
But all year, the Chiefs controlled what they could control, doing their best to win the games in front of them. They fought through adversity — in some weeks, winning despite one thing or another. They overcame an injury to their top draft pick — among others — and even had to deal with replacement kickers (plural emphasized).
With the departure of key components of both the offense (Tyreek Hill) and defense (Tyrann Mathieu and Anthony Hitchens), there were identities to discover.
Entering the season, the Chiefs were doubted — and maybe rightfully so. The 2022 regular season was never easy — but in the end, the result was the same.
Division champions. No. 1 seed.
And now... onto the playoffs.