The Kansas City Chiefs knocked off the Denver Broncos in front of the world on "Thursday Night Football," winning their first division game of the season 19-8. The Chiefs now enter their mini-bye with a 5-1 record.
Let's get into the initial thoughts following this one:
The Chiefs defense's top-five ceiling is real.
Watching quarterback Patrick Mahomes during the initial years of his career, it seemed absolutely and utterly impossible that the top unit of any Mahomes-led team could be the defense, but that's the reality after a quarter and change of the 2023 NFL season.
Head coach Andy Reid and Mahomes struggled in some ways — and we'll get to those — but first, we have to rave about this defensive effort.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has been talking up safety Justin Reid all offseason, noting the step forward he would take in his second year manning the secondary. It's become obvious, with his sack after two missed tackles early setting the tone and his interception late helping to close the deal.
As the Chiefs' offense trudged along in the mud early, the defense kept succeeding — with Nick Bolton (in his return) intercepting the football, the unit eventually forcing a punt after a Mahomes interception and a three-and-out when the Dave Toub "brotherly shove" failed to convert a fourth-and-2.
Defensive end George Karlaftis battled a hamstring issue all week and was questionable for the contest, yet he might have played his best game of the season injured. Karlaftis finished with three tackles, two pass deflections and half a sack. Meanwhile, defensive tackle Chris Jones made franchise history, recording his fifth sack in as many games.
It's important to remember here that though the Broncos record was bad entering the game, their offense has been playing much better in recent weeks than it did last season. The Chiefs made them look awfully Hacketty.
Chris Jones now has a sack in five straight games to start his season, breaking a tie with Derrick Thomas for the streak record. Unique little record but historic stuff.— Pete Sweeney (@pgsween) October 13, 2023
For years, Spagnuolo's squad has wanted to be a consistent reason the team won football games. It's good and bad, but that time is now.
...and oh yeah — inside-outside defensive lineman Charles Omenihu suits up next week.
Travis Kelce remains the guy, and it appears the supporting cast is taking shape.
Coming into a game against the Chiefs, you might assume that a team that plays them twice a year, every year — and has lost 15 games in a row to them — would know about No. 87. It's not like he has been in the news lately or anything, right?
I have to give you the necessary disclaimer — defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has forgotten more about football than I'll ever know — but wouldn't the first thing you do on every single play is, have one or two players devoted to handling tight end Travis Kelce?
The Broncos didn't — with Kelce finding himself seemingly wide-open all... game... long.
Of course, the tight end who still manages production even when extra attention took fool advantage, to the tune of nine catches for 124 yards and his first game of more than 100 yards this season.
The live-game snap-counters noted that Kansas City made a point of getting rookie Rashee Rice more involved on Thursday night — and though the final numbers won't dazzle, it's a positive sign that Rice continues to take advantage of his opportunities. The rookie finished with four catches for 72 yards with no mention of the "D" word — and his performance included what turned out to be a game-controlling 28-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
And now for the nitpick section of my instant reaction...
Let's be clear here: Kansas City is 5-1 atop the AFC, which means that its annual goal of raising another Super Bowl banner is right within reach. But because of that well-known goal, that is where our nitpicking section finds validity.
The offense was disappointing Thursday night as it went up against the league-worst scoring unit. What once felt like a rarity — Mahomes bewilderingly lofting a ball in the air only for it to wind up in the hands of a lingering defender — is teetering along the lines of a trend.
In short yardage, the Chiefs finally tried a sneak on fourth-and-short (of sorts) — the only problem is that they did it with the field-goal unit, and it failed. A later critical short-yardage try saw Kadarius Toney hand off the football (and surprise, that failed, too). Back to the drawing board.
Finally, the Chiefs were dismal in the red zone (1 of 5) against a Denver defense that entered at No. 22 in the NFL in that area (62%).
That's more than fine against the Broncos, a team very clearly yet to find itself. The Los Angeles Chargers are next week, with the Miami Dolphins looming the week behind that. And after the bye? A Super Bowl rematch.
Knowing Andy Reid, maybe it won't be much of a mini-bye for him after all.