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Chiefs-Dolphins rapid reaction: Kansas City defense shines in Wild Card win

Kansas City won its Wild Card game on Saturday night on another strong defensive performance.

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

On Saturday night, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Miami Dolphins 26-7 in their Wild Card matchup.

Let's dive into some initial thoughts from the game:

The defense has carried its excellence into the postseason.

The best part of the 2023 Chiefs team has been its defense — and in the first game of the postseason, that excellent defense we have watched all year showed up in a big way.

Sans a long touchdown to former Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill — in which a great player made a great play — the defense dominated the Dolphins all night.

The Dolphins have tremendous receivers in Hill and Jaylen Waddle, but their success begins with their running game featuring Raheem Mostert and De'Von Achane. Kansas City's front never allowed the backs to get going, which led to long passing situations the Chiefs were ready to combat.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo disguised and mixed his coverages well, confusing Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who never found a rhythm and made bad throws all night long. For all the questions there might have been about the Arrowhead faithful not showing up in sub-zero-degree weather, they were plentiful, loud and into the game all night — and especially early in the game, their noise was a factor.

Defensive end George Karlaftis registered 1.5 sacks, linebacker Nick Bolton led the Chiefs with nine tackles and safety Mike Edwards recorded an interception. Thanks to the secondary led by L'Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie, Hill finished with 62 yards in his return, while Waddle was held to 31 yards. Had it not been for Hill's 53-yard touchdown, it would have been an extremely quiet night for Miami's receivers.

Rashee Rice, Travis Kelce, Isiah Pacheco.

All week, we talked about the Chiefs' identity — and what it needed to be in the playoffs. Now, it has been established that it needs to feature wide receiver Rashee Rice, tight end Travis Kelce and running back Isiah Pacheco.

Rice's night was historic, as he set the rookie record for yardage in a single game with eight catches for 130 yards. He also had the touchdown. Rice was a consistent outlet for Mahomes as the Dolphins peculiarly blitzed most of the night — looks that Kansas City's quarterback has always had success against. For all the flak the Chiefs' front office takes for the state of the wide receiver position in 2023, it got one in Rice — a good one.

Kelce shook off a couple of drops throughout the game to provide Mahomes with another option, and he concluded the game with seven catches for 71 yards. I believe that as Rice and Pacheco continue to show that they deserve the defense's attention, Kelce will find himself open again. That happened on Saturday night.

Feed Pacheco and win the game. Head coach Andy Reid shrewdly gave Pacheco more than 20 carries, which served the team well. It started on the first drive, where the running back compiled 39 of his 89 yards in the game.

Everything ticks a little better when you establish the run, and it led to the Chiefs offense having success...that is, between the 20s.

Does defense really win championships?

The Chiefs will have to hope so if they keep settling for field goals in the red zone.

Make no mistake: a win is a win — certainly in the playoffs. But this has to be the last game of the 2023 season in which Kansas City has problems in the red zone. 2 for 6 is not going to work against Buffalo or Baltimore... or ideally for the Chiefs, beyond those teams.

Regardless of the struggles this season, the yearly goal isn't to win a single playoff game. Should the Bills beat the Pittsburgh Steelers as expected on Monday, the Chiefs will have two extra days to sort it out.

It's got to be the priority.

It's Game Time.

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