On Saturday night, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Miami Dolphins on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. The coldest home game in franchise history turned out to be a 26-7 win that sent Kansas City to next weekend’s Divisional round — while Miami starts thinking about 2024.
Here are the Chiefs who caught our attention in the Wild Card matchup.
Wide receiver Rashee Rice: Over the season, the second-round rookie has steadily progressed. After finally becoming the team’s No .1 wideout down the stretch — and coming close to breaking Dwayne Bowe’s franchise record for rookie receiving yards — Rice now has an impressive record of his own: his 130 receiving yards on Saturday is the most-ever for a Kansas City rookie in a postseason game. He was credited with one touchdown catch, but really caught two; the second was called back after a penalty. And after leaving the game after being shaken up on a third-quarter play, he returned to the game. It’s fine to be concerned about the team’s wide receiver group — but one thing is certain: general manager Brett Veach hit a homer when he selected the former SMU wideout.
Placekicker Harrison Butker: It’s always fun telling younger Chiefs fans stories about Kansas City’s Hall of Fame placekicker Jan Stenerud. During the years the Chiefs were dominating opponents by fielding an all-time great defense, the groundbreaking Norweigian-born kicker sometimes outscored the other team all by himself. That’s exactly what Butker did on Saturday night, putting 14 points on the scoreboard with four field goals and a pair of extra points. Forget ButtKicker.com. He’s ButtKicker.money
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes: Let’s face it: his Saturday stat line — 23 of 41 for 262 yards and a touchdown, giving him a passer rating of 83.6 on the night — isn’t anything to write home about. But crucially, there were no interceptions — and Mahomes, as usual, made things happen. He rushed for 41 yards to move the chains when all else failed. And in one third-quarter play near the goal line, Mahomes knocked heads with Dolphins’ safety DeShon Elliott, cracking a hole in his helmet. The Chiefs had a spare available — although after the game, Mahomes said it was “frozen” because of where it had been stored — so he was able to continue playing. There can be no excuse: that shattered helmet must someday be on permanent display in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. it would say more about the Chiefs’ quarterback — and Saturday night’s win — than can be written here.
Running backs Isiah Pacheco and Clyde Edwards-Helaire: On a night when every analyst predicted that success for both teams would depend on their ground games, the Chiefs’ rushers combined for 110 yards on 31 carries That 3.5 yards per attempt isn’t likely to excite many observers, but what it doesn’t reflect is the attitude both players brought to the game. On multiple plays, they dragged Miami defenders to the line of gain. Edwards-Helaire did that on a critical third-and-4 in the fourth quarter, converting through sheer determination — and clearing the way for Pacheco’s touchdown run that put the game away for good. (We should also note that Edwards-Helaire had a fumble in garbage time, too). We know Pacheco will be with the Chiefs for years to come — but it’s not unreasonable to think that Edwards-Helaire has earned a chance to come back on a reasonable contract.
Tight end Travis Kelce: While he had three drops on Saturday, he gained 71 yards on seven receptions — the kind of production that before the playoffs, leads directly to 1,000-yard seasons. Kelce absolutely made the right move to put himself on the bench in Week 18. He was a critical part of Kansas City’s big win.
Linebacker Nick Bolton: The team’s MIKE linebacker did what he does, leading the team with 10 tackles — and as usual, playing a key role in stopping the run. Miami was never able to get its ground game going — they collected just 76 yards, including nine yards on six carries for rookie sensation De’Von Achane — which made everyone else’s job that much easier.
Defensive end George Karlaftis: Right behind Bolton was Karlaftis, who collected six tackles (one for loss), 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits — and whose motor made him a factor in one play after another.
Last but definitely not least...
Defensive backs L’Jarius Sneed, Trent McDuffie Justin Reid and Mike Edwards: Between them, they tallied 13 tackles (three for loss) and five passes defended — including Edwards’ first-quarter interception. Although Mahomes didn’t have great numbers on Saturday, Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s were even worse: his passer rating of 63.9 was the second-lowest of his season. In the Week 9 matchup between these teams, one of the key stats was this: in a season when he averaged 115 yards per game against all other opponents, Miami wide receiver Tyreek Hill was held to just 62 yards. On Saturday, Hill scored a touchdown on a brilliant 53-yard play against McDuffie — but on a critical third-and-10 in the fourth quarter, McDuffie dropped Hill for a six-yard loss the wideout will remember for a long time — and shut down the Dolphins’ last-chance drive. In the rematch, Hill was once again held to 62 yards; his long-awaited return to Arrowhead turned out to be... well... no big deal. It needed to be said.
Wide receiver Mecole Hardman: Back from the Jets (and back from injury), the speedster had just one catch on three targets. Even worse, he looked lethargic; there were definitely plays where he could have made a better effort. One of them might have been good for another touchdown. (Kelce also dropped a pass that probably would have gone for a score). In a season where the Chiefs needed help at his position, it is surprising that Hardman hasn’t been able to re-establish himself as a contributor; on Saturday night, he couldn’t even draw an obvious pass interference penalty. But at least now, he’ll get at least one more chance to make his mark.
Right tackle Jawaan Taylor: Rice’s second touchdown was nullified because of a block-in-the-back penalty against Taylor — another example of the bad plays that have hampered the Kansas City offense this season. Thanks to the Chiefs’ amazing defensive performance in this game, it was a sustainable error. But in 2023, those kinds of mistakes — which, to be fair, have not been limited to Taylor — have repeatedly cost Kansas City games. In the postseason, the margin for error is even thinner.
Note: Applying the labels “winners” and “losers” is not intended to be a judgment on the talent or character of any of these players. It’s just a simple way to grade their performance in a single game. No disrespect is intended.