Given how two of the team’s best defensive players described the game in the locker room on Wednesday, you would assume they played heavy roles in the win.
“We came together as a team and won the game,” defensive end George Karlaftis recalled, despite not appearing in the game. “That was a team win. It felt great to finish the regular season with a win. Take that energy into the playoffs.”
Linebacker Drue Tranquill was in on only a pair of special teams snaps Sunday and was happy with the defense’s continued dominance, even without its stars. The only touchdown of the afternoon came as Chiefs safety Mike Edwards returned a fumble 97 yards for a scoop-and-score.
“I thought we played a good game,” Tranquill stated. “Defensively, obviously [we] scored. We were able to play good red zone defense for the most part and limit them to field goals.”
Karlaftis and Tranquill will be playing on Saturday night as the Chiefs welcome the Miami Dolphins for a Wild Card round playoff game. Although Kansas City defeated Miami 21-14 in a Week 9 meeting in Germany, the experience gave both players a healthy respect for their upcoming opponent.
Karlaftis admits the seemingly unending supply of fast skill position players surrounding quarterback Tua Tagovailoa presents a challenge.
“They’ve got weapons all over,” the second-year player observed. “They’ve got a track team out there. They have fast guys everywhere. They’ve got a great O-line. They’ve got Tua. They’ve got running backs. They’ve got the receivers, obviously. They’re a handful, so we’ve got to stay disciplined.”
In the first matchup, the Chiefs did not score in the second half and nearly allowed the Dolphins to overcome a 21-point halftime deficit. Tranquill knows the Chiefs will need a stronger close to the rematch in order to extend their season.
“Obviously,” he explained, “you look at tape when you’ve played an opponent previously. You do that in division. [There’s] a lot to learn from that game: [we] started out fast [but] didn’t so well, specifically on defense. So, we’ll have to play a complete game. They’re a good football team.”
In Germany, Tranquill played 95% of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps while fellow linebacker Nick Bolton recovered from wrist surgery. Bolton returned for the Chiefs’ Week 13 20-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills — a game Tranquill missed while in concussion protocol. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo anticipates the two will continue splitting snaps against the Dolphins this weekend because of how much he wants to get both players on the field.
He and linebackers coach Brendan Daly will divide the playing time between Bolton and Tranquill based on the game's flow.
“That’s a product of the fact that we’ve got confidence in both of the guys,” Spagnuolo said before Wednesday’s practice of the playing timeshare. “I think now maybe Nick’s to the point where his stamina is back up. Brendon and I talk all the time — it’ll kind of be a within-the-game kind of decision.
“We feel comfortable with both of those guys out there — or either one of them at one time and certainly Drue anywhere. Drue right now is playing a lot of different positions, and that’s a credit to him. The more that we can get him out there, I think that’s good for us.”
After being part of a Chargers team that surrendered a 27-point lead last postseason, Tranquill is ready for his first playoff game as a Chief, no matter his role.
“There’s nothing like playoff football,” he declared. “You obviously play 17 games for an opportunity to be in this position. We’re super stoked to be here. Obviously, there’s a championship culture here. Me being in my first year here, I’m just super excited. I love the vibes — high energy, and Arrowhead’s going to be rocking on Saturday.”