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5 things we learned from the Chiefs’ most complete game in a while

Sunday’s Kansas City victory finally felt like a breath of fresh air.

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the big-talking Cincinnati Bengals on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, ending Cincinnati’s season with a 25-17 victory that also gave Kansas City its eighth straight AFC West title.

The Chiefs did it by simplifying the puzzle pieces, which helped in putting them all together. And even though things got off to a rocky start, Kansas City’s defense ultimately took over — and put Cincinnati away with a flourish.

Here are five things we learned from the whupping the Chiefs put on those Ohio chili eaters.

1. Defense might not win Championships anymore, but...

NFL: DEC 31 Bengals at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On a cold afternoon on the last day of 2023, Kansas City’s defense was more than enough to put some toothless kittens out of their misery.

The defense started slow, allowing points on Cincinnati's first three drives. But after that, they were out for blood— holding the Bengals to 15 yards or less on four of its seven remaining possessions.

The defensive highlight of the game came on the Bengals' longest drive. Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor elected to go for it on a fourth-and-1 inside the Chiefs’ 10-yard line. The Bengals sent running back Joe Mixon up the middle, but he was met in the backfield by linebacker Willie Gay Jr., who had knifed through the line to clobber Mixon three yards behind it.

It was the game’s turning point. From then until the final whistle, it was all Chiefs.

During the Bengals’ final possession, you knew that Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spanuolo was feeling himself when he dialed up back-to-back blitzes for safety Justin Reid. The fact that on both snaps, Reid got home to sack Bengals quarterback Jake Browning just made it more amusing.

Players always talk about finishing strong. But rarely do they do it with the kind of exclamation point the Chiefs’ defense added to Sunday’s performance, recording four of their six sacks during the Bengals’ final nine plays.

2. Rashee Rice is No. 1

NFL: DEC 31 Bengals at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Head coach Andy Reid has never had a rookie wide receiver record more receiving yards than Rashee Rice has in 2023. Rice caught five passes (on six targets) for 127 yards against the Bengals, bringing his season total to 938 yards. That’s 20 yards more than DeSean Jackson had during his rookie season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008.

Rice’s big day was highlighted by an impressive 67-yard gain in which his textbook hand placement on Cincinnati cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt’s shoulder pads prevented the defender from jamming him at the line of scrimmage. That allowed Rice to get the inside position so he could restack Taylor-Britt when the cornerback mistakenly played outside leverage after the Bengals’ safety failed to provide help over the top.

The Chiefs are trusting Rice, ramping up his usage at just the right time. Early in the season, it seemed like the Kansas City coaching staff was hesitating to use him for anything more than an occasional bubble screen — but if the former SMU wideout can stretch the field as he did on Sunday, it adds an entirely new dimension to what has looked like a mostly mundane offense.

3. Isiah Pacheco is exactly who the Chiefs need him to be

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Pacheco is not the perfect NFL running back. He has some vision concerns — and maybe he seeks contact a little too much. But he’s also a guy who is going to run angry every time he touches the ball — while also protecting it.

On a day when the team’s coaching staff sought to simplify its approach, he was exactly the sort of blunt-force instrument that was needed. He ran for a career-high 130 yards on 18 carries — and added 35 yards on seven catches.

The Chiefs knew that all they had to do was limit their mistakes on offense. That would allow them to put up just enough points for their defense to carry them to victory. Putting the ball in Pacheco’s hands was exactly the right move.

4. The defense is still getting better

NFL: DEC 31 Bengals at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

L’Jarius Sneed continues to terrorize the league’s top receivers. The Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase was just the latest star wideout to starve to death while marooned on Sneed Island — after Chase said that Kansas City didn’t have any superstars on their defense.

Well, that non-superstar just held you to three receptions for 41 yards, pal.

Chase can talk all he wants— because at the end of the day, the stat line and scoreboard are all that matter.

5. Eight is pretty great

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Let’s be honest: the Chiefs have not been a dominant team during the regular season. But as we head toward the regular season’s final game, I’m choosing to be positive.

Kansas City has just won its eighth consecutive AFC title under Reid — a difficult and impressive feat. The team also remains in the hunt for the championship. It’s just that this time around, they get to play the role of the underdog that nobody expects to win. And with the approach we saw on Sunday, who knows what the future may bring?

When the postseason begins, the past will no longer matter. The Chiefs will be undefeated. All they’ll have to do is stay that way.

It's Game Time.

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