Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 27, Minnesota Vikings 20
The story of the Chiefs’ offense in Minnesota was its patience — an ability to “matriculate the ball down the field.” The unit totaled 333 net yards, averaging over five yards per play. Over the team’s first six possessions, five of the drives lasted nine or more plays. The Chiefs converted nine of the 15 third downs they faced.
Out of the gate, the running game paced the unit. On the team’s opening drive, running back Isiah Pacheco earned 21 rushing yards (and a touchdown) on four carries. Two runs converted third downs — one of them coming off a direct snap.
After that, however, the Vikings were able to blunt Kansas City’s offense. For the rest of the first half, the Chiefs’ drives repeatedly stalled, ending in field goals rather than touchdowns. But after halftime, the passing game (using its deep group of pass catchers) finally came alive.
Wide receivers Rashee Rice and Kadarius Toney were the primary options on short throws, taking turns finding room after the catch to help continue drives. The duo finished with nine catches for 59 yards. While they took care of shallow patterns, Justin Watson found space for two deep completions that totaled 56 yards.
The team tried to work wide receiver Justyn Ross into the game, utilizing his frame and size to thread the needle between zone defenders on a 20-yard completion that converted a third-and-17. He totaled 28 yards on two catches — but also had two drops, dampening the first game in which he’s made a significant contribution.
Offensive Player of the Game: Tight end Travis Kelce
Late in the first half, Kelce left the game with a non-contact injury. But he returned after halftime to lead the team in targets (11), receptions (10) and receiving yards (67) — and had a touchdown. He made an incredibly-tough catch to move the chains on one important possession, then set up his score by improvising his third-down route in the red zone.
While Father Time may have made an appearance in Kelce’s life on Sunday, the 34-year-old tight end apparently just told the old guy to get lost.
Kansas City’s defense — especially the defensive backs — came out with an aggressive mindset. It’s part of what led to four penalties on one first-half drive that ended in a Minnesota field goal.
Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed was very aggressive with Vikings’ wide receiver Justin Jefferson. That’s part of the reason Jefferson only totaled 28 yards on three catches, completing just half the targets he saw. On one occasion, he also earned a penalty for being too aggressive at the line of scrimmage.
Safety Justin Reid earned a penalty himself, swinging Jefferson to the ground after a catch. While his hard hitting was a negative in that instance, it was a positive on the opening play of the game — when his helmet popped the ball loose for a turnover.
Cornerback Trent McDuffie earned a quarterback hit by blitzing off the edge early in the game. In the first half, safety Bryan Cook flew into the backfield for a tackle-for-loss — and also recovered Reid’s forced fumble. Safety Mike Edwards blitzed off the edge on a second-down play and made a tackle-for-loss.
The back end’s physicality and aggression was matched by Kansas City’s linebackers. Drue Tranquill led the team with nine tackles, while Willie Gay Jr. earned six by being quick to the flat and quick to cover up short throws. Early in the game, linebacker Leo Chenal was sent on a second-down blitz to obtain an easy sack.
The Chiefs’ pass rush was highlighted by defensive tackle Chris Jones earning a sack that eventually led to a punt — although the punt was faked. It was the only sack for the defensive line until edge rusher Mike Danna ended the game with a sack on the Vikings’ Hail Mary.
For the majority of the game, the Chiefs only impacted Vikings’ quarterback Kirk Cousins when they blitzed — which happened quite often. On many crucial passing downs, Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo trusted his defensive backs in man coverage, sending a handful of players at Cousins.
Defensive Player of the Game: Cornerback Trent McDuffie
While Sneed had a more consistent role, McDuffie was more of a Swiss Army knife throughout the game, finishing with six tackles, three quarterback hits and three passes defended.
McDuffie had at least one rep where he covered up Jefferson down the field. He also made plays against the other pass catchers, while showing up in the box as both a run defender and a blitzer. It was another impressive showing for 2022’s first-round pick.